Iowa doesn't need two classes of public sector unions

People walk down the staircase at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
People walk down the staircase at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Republicans in control of the General Assembly weren’t lying when they said legislative proposals to change collective bargaining would put everything on the table.

Less accurate were some lawmakers’ assurances that a “Wisconsin-style” gutting of public-sector unions wasn’t in the works.

The changes to the law concerning public-sector unions contained in bills filed this week aren’t merely tweaks or modernizations to collective bargaining. Nor are they warranted. Unlike in Wisconsin, these bills weren’t drafted in response to massive deficits that could negatively impact thousands of state residents.

So we’re at a loss to understand why lawmakers would recast Iowa’s law in the image of Wisconsin’s six-year-old labor changes, by filing collective bargaining bills that would create a two-tiered public employee system. They leave existing rules in place for some public workers while gutting bargaining rights for everyone else.

Iowa has had more than 40 years of labor peace in the public sector because of the collective bargaining statute enacted under Republican Gov. Robert Ray in the 1970s. There have been no teacher strikes, firefighter walkouts or incidents of “blue flu.”

And, contrary to popular belief, Iowa public sector salaries are not exorbitant, but rank in the center nationally. Iowa teacher pay is 25th in the nation. Correctional officers in Iowa earn an average $45,100 each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Iowa labor laws could benefit from thoughtful updates. Legislators should review all-or-nothing arbitration and policies that allow state lawmakers to co-opt negotiated union benefits.

But thoughtfulness is sadly lacking in the bills Lawmakers are being asked to consider.


If passed, union workers — neighbors that teach our children, patch our potholes and safeguard our prisons — will be unable engage in negotiation of working conditions, benefits or any other consideration beyond base wages. Only a new class of public sector workers, defined in the bills as “public safety employees,” will retain the ability to bargain on work hours, vacations, insurance, holidays, leaves of absence, shift differentials, overtime, supplemental pay, transfer procedures and other items.

As much as we respect the jobs police officer and firefighters do, Iowa shouldn’t create a two-tier system where one public profession is placed above another. Iowans who work as dispatchers and administrative assistants within those departments are vital too. As are public employees who work in other jobs.

Iowa needs strong state employment policies that treat all workers fairly and equally. These proposals miss the mark entirely.

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