Labor promises court fight over collective bargaining act

'It's extremely unconstitutional,' leader of largest state public union says

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DES MOINES — The fight’s not over, and now it’s personal.

The leader of the state’s largest public employee union said he plans to file a lawsuit Friday challenging the constitutionality of legislation significantly reducing its members’ bargaining rights.

“This battle is not over. This war is not over,” AFSCME Local 61 President Danny Homan said Thursday after the Iowa House and Senate approved changes in the state’s public employee collective bargaining law that “pits employees within state government against each other” by treating police and firefighters differently than other public employees.

“It’s extremely unconstitutional,” he said about the measure that was passed 53-47 in the House and 29-21 in the Senate after a debate than spanned three days.

Under the bill, police and firefighters have more collective bargaining rights than do other public employees. That’s unfair, according to Homan and other union leaders who spoke at a Statehouse news conference that took on the tone of a rally.

“If you’re a policeman or firefighter somehow you have more risks on your job than a correctional officer,” Homan said. “I call that bull---. My members get beat up every day.”

The lawsuit, which Homan expects will be joined by at least three state employees and filed in Polk County District Court, will be his parting shot in a long, contentious relationship with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. He claimed a GOP senator had told constituents the legislation was a going-away gift to the governor, who as a state representative in 1974 had voted against Chapter 20, the collective bargaining law.

“Well, I’m giving Terry a different present tomorrow. I’m giving him a lawsuit,” Homan said.

“This has been payback against me and the union I represent because we’re not taking a back seat and we haven’t bent over and let Terry do whatever he wants,” said Homan, noting AFSCME has sued Branstad three times before. “We’re going to continue to fight this.”

Public schoolteachers are fired up like never before, said Tammy Wawro, a Cedar Rapids teacher and president of the Iowa State Education Association.

“We’re feeling the love from our members,” she said, adding that memberships have increased this week as the bill was debated.

“We are united and we are stronger because of what they have given us — which is a fight we are ready to fight in a way we were never ready to fight before,” Wawro said.

Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO President Ken Sagar added his voice to that.

“We didn’t start this fight, we did not want this fight, but we will not give up on this fight for the rights and lives of working Iowans,” he said.

The United Faculty at the University of Northern Iowa has indicated it is prepared to join litigation to prevent the implementation of the new law, much of which takes effect as soon as signed by Branstad.

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

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