Collective bargaining is a bargain for taxpayers

In the wake of the election results in November, there has been talk that Republican majorities in the state legislature will propose changes to the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The fact is, Iowa’s system works fairly and equitably for both taxpayers and public employees already.

Studies suggest that Iowans are even getting a bargain from those who provide the vital services that protect and ensure the safety of our communities. According to a 2014 report by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, state employee wages in Iowa are 4 percent less than those of private sector employees across the state. Adding in benefits for total compensation also shows male and female public-sector workers in Iowa earning 7.9 percent and 10.8 percent less than private sector workers, according to a 2011 study by the Iowa Policy Project.

Unfortunately, however, legislators are being pushed by outside interests to derail our current system that has worked well for more than four decades, providing taxpayers consistent and quality public services, and hardworking public employees fair wages and benefits.

In fact, labor and management bargaining together has yielded many savings for Iowa’s taxpayers over the years. Since 2010, efficiency processes adopted in the state’s employee contract has saved an estimated $336 million in taxes.

Public employees have tightened their belts, too. In tough times, they have negotiated agreements with no wage increases, accepted mandatory unpaid leave, suffered large layoffs, and now pay a larger share of wages in to a retirement plan, and pay a portion of their health insurance premiums.

Iowans should beware. In Wisconsin, one-party rule has been disastrous. Since decimating the collective bargaining law for public employees in 2011, that state’s job growth has lagged behind the national average, fell to 35th overall, and ranks worst in the Midwest. Shortages of teachers and corrections officers, two professions affected by the change in collective bargaining, has also created crises in education and public safety in Wisconsin.

Public employees are the cops and firefighters who keep us safe. They’re nurses who care for our veterans, schoolteachers that educate our kids, DOT drivers who clear the snow so we can get to work safely, and corrections officers who ensure violent criminals are locked up where they belong.

These Iowans, like all Iowans, deserve a system that allows them to bargain collectively to earn fair wages and reasonable benefits.

• Danny Homan is president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, which represents more than 40,000 public employees in Iowa.

Correction: An earlier version of this column overstated the amount of taxes saved through efficiency processes. The correct number is $336 million.

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