AFSCME lawsuit challenges collective bargaining law

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DES MOINES — A major rewrite of Iowa’s public sector collective bargaining law has become law, but the head of the state’s largest state workers’ union vows the fight to protect bargaining rights isn’t over.

“This is not the end,” AFSCME Local 61 President Danny Homan said Monday. “This is only the beginning. We intend to use every legal opportunity we have to challenge the constitutionality of this law.”

Earlier Monday, the union and four members of the AFSCME bargaining team filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court challenging the constitutionality of House File 291, approved by lawmakers Thursday and signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad Friday.

Homan explained the basis for the challenge is the law’s unequal treatment of employees. One of the most glaring examples is not including campus police officers in the definition of public safety employees.

“These are law enforcement officers who do everything that a city cop would do,” Homan said. “They respond to domestic abuse, drunken driving to disturbing the peace. They do it on campuses … where people do pretty crazy stuff.”

More specifically, the suit claims the law, through that arbitrary definition of public safety employees and the arbitrary classification of bargaining units into those whose members are at least 30 percent public safety employees and those whose members are not, deprives the plaintiffs of the “constitutional guaranty of equality of all before the law” as set forth in the Iowa Constitution.

Branstad’s office declined to comment on the merits of the lawsuit, the governor’s spokesman, Ben Hammes, suggested Homan’s motives were political.

“It’s not surprising that Danny Homan, the former vice chair of the Democrat Party, has desperately decided to run to the courts with expensive litigation,” Hames said. “Since the 1970s, organized labor and their special interests have hid behind an outdated law that routinely won out against the best interests of Iowa taxpayers who make public employment possible.

“From the beginning, these necessary reforms have been about bringing fairness for Iowa taxpayers, flexibility for public employers and employees, and greater freedom for local governments, state government and school districts to effectively manage their resources,” Hammes said.

Joining AFSCME as plaintiffs are Jonathon Good, a correctional officer at the Clarinda Correctional Facility, Ryan De Vries, an Iowa State University police officer, Terra Kinney, a motor vehicle enforcement officer and Susan Baker, a drafter at University of Northern Iowa.

“Each and every one of these employees is being treated disparagingly because of this law,” Homan said.

The impact of the law is not theoretical for Homan and his bargaining team which has an arbitration hearing on their state contract offer Wednesday. The state’s final offer addressed only wages, Homan said.

“For any Republican legislator that says we as a union have the ability to sit down with the employer and talk about things that are not listed as illegal is wrong,” he said. The last offer from the states “thanks to Republicans in the Iowa Legislature, is a proposal that strips every state employee of every protection and or right they have under the current agreement effective July 1.”

“Everything we said would happen did, in fact, happen,” he said.

The change in state law in the middle of negotiations is “like playing a football game for 3.5 quarters and then with eight minutes left in the game they change the rules.”

“To me, this is inherently unfair, Homan said.

The changes shouldn’t come as a surprise to Homan because Republicans ran on making improvements to Chapter 20 “and the Democrats campaigned against Republicans on this issue,” Branstad said at his weekly news conference.

“I remember Sen. (Mike) Gronstal making that a big issue,” he said about the former Senate majority leader who was defeated in November. “The Democrats lost six senate seats. I think this tells you why. Iowans were tired of Mr. Gronstal blocking consideration of this.”

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