Thousands begin voting on AFSCME, ISEA unions

School, city and county workers first up under new law

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Thousands of city, county and school district employees in Iowa will begin voting Tuesday on recertifying their union representation in a process union leaders call “unfair” and “punitive.”

“There is nothing fair about this election. Nothing. That’s what the public needs to know,” said Danny Homan president of the state’s largest public union, AFSCME Iowa Local 61, which is challenging the law in court.

More than 23,000 employees at school districts with Iowa State Education Association locals and 1,700 city, county and school employees represented by 42 AFSCME locals will vote until Oct. 24 to determine whether they will continue to be represented by the unions. The recertification votes are required under collective bargaining legislation approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature.

Any suggestion Iowa public employees are not satisfied with their union representation is manufactured by “Republicans attempting to screw with labor unions … (and) make it difficult for labor unions to exist in this state,” Homan said. AFSCME in Iowa has never faced a decertification vote in the 40 years union members have had the right to reject their representation, Homan said. ISEA has had two out of more than 400 locals in that time, an ISEA representative said.

Despite what ISEA President Tammy Wawro of Cedar Rapids called an “arbitrary and punitive” test of the union’s strength, 13 of 13 ISEA locals approved recertification in the first round of referendums last month.

“Failure is not an option,” Wawro said. If a local association is unsuccessful in its recertification vote, its contract is immediately considered void, according to the Public Employee Relations Board.

Although he didn’t predict AFSCME would replicate ISEA’s earlier sweep, Homan dismissed questions about his confidence that the union would continue its representation.

“That’s kind of an oxymoron question,” Homan said. “If I’m paying for the election, don’t you think I have a chance or why should I pay for it?”

Lawmakers set an “unreasonable standard” for the elections by requiring that more than 50 percent of all employees covered by the contract must vote to recertify union representation, Wawro said. Typically, elections are decided by a majority of those voting — but in recertification elections under the new rules, the votes of those workers who don’t vote will be counted as “no” votes.

“If people don’t have enough interest to vote, why do those votes even count?” Homan asked. “Why aren’t the votes of people who choose not to vote counted as ‘yes’ votes? That’s because Republicans want to make it difficult to recertify.”

Perhaps, he said, the same election standards should hold for Legislature and governor.

“If I choose not to vote in the November general election, my choice not to vote is just that — a choice not to vote,” Homan said. “It’s not a ‘yes’ vote or a ‘no’ vote for anybody.”

The provision to count non-voting employees as “no” votes means the elections aren’t a “union thing,” Wawro said.

“You don’t have to be a member to vote ‘yes,’” who is on leave from being a Hiawatha fifth-grade teacher. “You just have to care about your profession, your family, your students. So vote ‘yes’ on recertification.”

Eventually, all of Iowa’s 1,200 public bargaining units and more than 120,000 public employees will be involved in similar recertification elections. State employees will vote next year.

AFSCME and ISEA have filed separate challenges to the new legislation that stripped many of the bargaining rights Iowa public employees enjoyed under a previous law. A Polk County District Court judge has heard arguments in the AFSCME case is and his decision is pending. ISEA expects a decision in its case the week of Oct. 23.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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