Guest Columnists

Collective bargaining 'reform' is more like gerrymandering

Some legislators are acting like collective bargaining changes are just “reform”.

“Some of these unions haven’t been certified in years.” That’s a common line. Terry Branstad likes that one. So is this one: “The law hasn’t been looked at in 40 years.” Linda Upmeyer likes it.

Branstad wants to “give workers a choice”. Upmeyer wants “to reform a 40-year-old law”. These sorts of talking-points sound good. But they are rubbish.

With respect to the first, the Public Employee Relations Board has already laid down a democratic process for certifying and decertifying elections in the administrative rules put forth under Chapter 20 [621, Chapter 5]. That process is as follows: if unionized workers are unhappy, they get 30 percent of their workers to sign a petition requesting an election. Then Public Employee Relations Board holds an election. That’s it. It is a fair and straightforward rule.

So when even 30 percent of the workers are unhappy, they can hold an election. That some unions have not been certified in years just indicates that over 70 percent of Iowa’s union workers are content. Call me about changing the law once even 30 percent of union workers are unhappy.

And crucially, the process is the same for certification and decertification. If 30 percent want a vote either way — for unionizing or to cease being unionized — they have the right an election. A truly democratic process treats all choices on the same legal basis. Branstad’s proposal does not. It is democratic in name only. He just wants democracy when it might go his way.

Forcing yearly decertification votes is really about unjustly tilting the law against unionized workers. Being unionized will be harder than not being unionized for purely legal reasons. This proposal is not, and is not intended to be, democratic — that is, reflective of the people’s will. It codifies into Iowa law an undemocratic bias against unions.

The Public Employee Relations Board has just 10 employees and there are 1,205 unions spread across all of Iowa’s 99 counties. To hold yearly decertification votes, 10 people would need to manage three to four elections daily. That will cost a lot of time, labor, and taxpayer money. This shows Branstad is counting on the destruction of many unions for his proposal have any chance of working. And even in this “best case” scenario, Iowans’ taxpayer dollars will be sunk into his assault on state workers.


As for the speaker’s talking point, she cannot mean to look at every law that is 40-years-old. A number of old laws have worked well for 40 years or more. One such law is this: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” You may recognize that as the 19th amendment to our beloved U.S. Constitution. It is more than twice as old as Chapter 20. But I do not believe the speaker wants to revisit this law just because it is over the hill. So it cannot be just about the age of the law.

I believe the speaker says things like this because otherwise her case for reforming Chapter 20 has to rely on Chapter 20 working poorly. But Chapter 20 works phenomenally. Chapter 20 was passed to halt strikes. There have been zero strikes since the law passed in 1974. So Chapter 20 works 100 percent effectively. Chapter 20 was a deal: workers gave up the right to strike in return for the ability to make modest gains under the law. Chapter 20 was a bipartisan and fair compromise that was carefully crafted over two years with input by labor, the public, and public officials.

So the speaker cannot say the law does not work. So we are back to needing to revisit the law just because it is over 40. And that is a ridiculous position.

All this talk of democracy and dusting off old laws, this collective bargaining “reform”, is really more like gerrymandering — rigging the system until the result goes your way. In this case, they want to rig our system of laws against Iowa’s workers. I hope Iowans will see that.

• Landon D. C. Elkind is a graduate worker at the University of Iowa and president of UE Local 896 — COGS.

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