Higher education

Iowa district court judge sides with regents in nurse union lawsuit

SEIU considering appeal in case sparked by collective bargaining law

A district court judge has sided with the Iowa Board of Regents in a lawsuit accusing it of breaking the law by not recognizing a contractual agreement with a union representing hundreds of University of Iowa health care professionals.

Service Employees International Union Local 199, which represents 3,500 UIHC workers, filed the lawsuit in March after legislators stripped Iowa’s public sector collecting bargaining laws of all mandatory topics for talks except wages.

The Board of Regents had been negotiating a new two-year contract with the union when word of a major collective bargaining overhaul began to swirl. Both sides had exchanged initial offers and began talks, but union representatives said the board eventually halted negotiations pending passage of the new law.

Before the measure passed, however, the union voted to ratify the board’s original offer. SEIU representatives argued the contract offer became valid once the union ratified it.

In a ruling last week, Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell disagreed.

Rules require public employers to meet to either accept or reject any tentative agreement before it becomes effective, court documents said.

“The Board of Regents did not meet and accept the tentative agreement that was ratified by the union,” the judge ruled.

SEIU President Cathy Glasson, who is one of seven Democrats running for governor, said her group disagrees and is disappointed. The union is weighing its options, she said, “which obviously would include a possible appeal.”

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As for the contract status, Glasson said, it is SEIU’s position that the two-year contract it ratified is valid.

“However, UIHC continues to refuse to recognize that we have a contract,” she said in an email. And, she added, the university has substituted a legally binding contract with its own “employee manual,” which “clearly states on one of the first pages that any of the items in the manual are subject to change at the employer’s discretion.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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