- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Republicans who hold majorities in the Iowa Legislature introduced legislation Tuesday that unions say would significantly limit how public employees can bargain for their working conditions in the state.

The 68-page bill, filed in both the House and Senate, has been under wraps for weeks as Republicans have declined to offer specifics about their plans. Democrats said they were not given an opportunity to offer input on the legislation and saw it for the first time along with the public.

The scope of the proposed changes is unclear, and it caused confusion in the initial hours after its release. The bill would remove health insurance as a mandatory bargaining issue. Union leaders representing some of the roughly 180,000 public employees in the state also said it appears to prohibit negotiation on several issues that are now covered under the law, including evaluations, transfers, grievances and seniority.

“This bill has so many moving parts,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61.

Several Republican-controlled legislatures nationwide have made changes in recent years to how public workers can organize and bargain in their respective states. Union leaders said they’re still reviewing the bill and how it stacks up with efforts around the country. Iowa is already a right-to-work state, which means workers aren’t required to join a union.



Charlie Wishman, the secretary-treasurer for the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, pointed out language in the bill that would require unions to manually collect dues from members instead of automatic deductions currently in place. It would also require workers to hold more frequent votes on whether to dismantle a union.

“This is a 68-page bill that pretty much is full of union busting,” he said.

Republicans view the legislation differently. Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix said the bill would create competitive wages for the best workers by giving employers more flexibility. He said it was time to update the law, which was backed by a Republican governor in 1974.

“Embracing change is always a challenge,” he said. “I understand people are used to what we’ve had in current law. But as they learn about it, hopefully they’ll begin to review it in a manner that they see the opportunity for them as well.”

GOP lawmakers indicated they would fast track the bill by approving procedural votes Wednesday and Thursday. Full votes in both chambers could happen early next week under that schedule. The legislation has a stamp of approval from Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will become governor when Branstad resigns to become the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Tammy Wawro is president of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents 34,000 Iowa school employees. She said her initial examination of the measure shows it would remove “proper cause” as a reason for suspending or firing a public employee.

Wawro added that lawmakers initially indicated the bill was aimed at tipping the scales between employers and public workers.

“They took the scale and they threw it out the window,” she said.

The bill would make some exemptions for first responders, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters. That wasn’t comforting to Joe Van Haalen, a Des Moines firefighter and president of his union local. He was one dozens of public workers gathered at the Capitol to voice opposition to proposed changes. He wore his work helmet to make sure it was clear to the public that first responders were there.

“We know the ultimate goal is to get rid of union representation for workers in the state of Iowa,” he said.

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