Collective Bargaining bill passes - Teachers disappointed in elected officials

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

 

Educators are giving Iowa’s elected officials a failing grade for passing a bill that drastically limits the collective bargaining power of public sector employees like teachers.

“I’m disappointed,” said Central teacher Mark Wiley, who heads the 28-member Central Education Association. “We want to retain and acquire the best teachers out there. With a contract that offers little to its employees, (we won’t be able) to achieve our objective.”

After lengthy debate, Iowa’s Republican-controlled House and Senate last Thursday afternoon (February 16) passed legislation that prohibits public employees from negotiating over several workplace issues including health insurance, evaluation procedures and extra pay. Similar to a collective bargaining law that was passed on Wisconsin in 2011, it limits contract negotiations for 184,000 public workers to base wages only.

With few exceptions, the vote followed party lines. Governor Branstad added his signature on Friday.

“I’m very pleased to sign this bill into law,” Branstad said in a statement released to the press. “These necessary reforms to our antiquated 43-year-old public employee collective bargaining law bring fairness for Iowa taxpayers and flexibility to public employees. This bill also gives local governments, schools and state government greater freedom in managing their resources with the opportunity to reward good public employees.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will succeed Branstad as governor when he becomes ambassador to China, also applauded the changes as “long overdue reforms.”

Teachers, who make up the largest public employee group in Clayton County, see things differently, however.

  “As teachers, we want to have a voice,” Wiley continued, speaking for himself and not necessarily the entire CEA. “We feel our voice is important to the effectiveness and productivity of the school and education. If we can’t sit around a table with the administration and talk about our differences, then we have nothing to gain and everything to lose in our educational environments.”

Wiley added that Central teachers have always had a good working relationship with Superintendent Nick Trenkamp and the school board, who will now determine work-related conditions that were recently negotiable.

All three lawmakers representing Clayton County voted in favor of the new law. Kristi Hager (R-District 56) said she supported the bill only after amendments related to termination and availability of insurance were added. Michael Bergan (R-District 55), in his weekly newsletter, admitted that approving the bill was a difficult decision but one he eventually made with “trust and confidence that elected our communities (will) negotiate terms that are in the best interest of all.” State Senator Michael Breitbach (R) didn’t address his reasons for his support but, instead, invited constituents to discuss to topic with him at upcoming forums.

As debate on the bill continued last week, Iowa union and school leaders rushed to finalize employment contracts before the new legislation could be approved. More than 140 districts settled contracts in the last week and seven of 40 districts with multi-year contracts extended them, said Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa teachers union. Iowa has more than 350 school districts.

In Clayton County, MFL MarMac has two years left on a three-year contract. Central is entering the second year of a two-year contract with a total package that includes at 3.15 percent increase.

After rapid closure on the bill, the leader of the state’s largest public employee union said he expected his organization would file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of legislation significantly reducing its members’ bargaining rights.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, said thinks public unions have a “good chance” in seeking injunctive relief from the courts in challenging provisions that make “unconstitutional distinctions between classes of public workers.”

The Democrat said he senses that the way the collective bargaining issue was handled by Republicans “has awaked a sleeping giant” of workers, teachers and average Iowans upset over it.

“If they had wanted an Iowa solution they would have worked with cities and school boards and counties to come up with some minor reforms of the collective bargaining system, which is what they promised they were doing,” Hogg said. “But instead they went the dark money route and really gutted collective bargaining and I don’t think Iowans are going to stand for that.”

 
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