116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Teachers' unions in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City sped through contract negotiations last weekend, reaching agreements in a matter of hours that in the past took months.
The rush, union representatives said, was spurred by collective bargaining measures that Iowa legislators began debating this week.
The identical bills - House File 291 and Senate File 213 - would strip the rights of public employees not working in public safety to bargain for insurance, hours, vacations, holidays, overtime pay and health and safety matters unless both sides agree.
Kim Miller, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Education Association, which represents more than 900 teachers, said some discussion points were sidetracked during negotiations in favor of coming to an agreement before any legislative shifts.
'It was more important to get this done and have this set for another year,” he said. 'To have some semblance of order for at least another year, instead of having the i's dotted and the t's crossed.”
The Iowa City Education Association reached an deal with the Iowa City school district in a day, too, said association Co-President Mitch Gross in a statement.
Many local officials, including county supervisors and city council members, felt the writing was on the wall for collective bargaining changes after the November election gave Republicans the majority in the Iowa House and Senate.
State Sen. Rob Hogg, a Cedar Rapids Democrat opposed to the bill, said he's hearing labor and city management around the state are striking deals to avoid - at least for now - the changes.
'That's one of the fundamental points here - which is this bill is not being asked for by labor or management across the state. This is a bill that is driven by ideological interests, many of which are funded from outside the state, and it really isn't about Iowans. Because if it was about Iowans, you wouldn't see that happening.”
Fearing legislation like the bills now being debated, supervisors and union representatives in Linn and Johnson counties struck up agreement extensions late last year.
Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said the county's existing agreements still had about two years left before negotiations were necessary, but the parties decided to extend those to 2021.
'The reason we did it was because we feared this kind of thing happening,” Sullivan said. 'We've never done anything like this before. We typically wait until you get to the last year of an agreement. This was pretty unique.”
Linn County officials also extended agreements with union employees through 2020.
'We know that we bought time with that,” said Supervisor Brent Oleson. 'It buys us as an organization and workers a few years to transition to this new scheme that was just put forward a few weeks ago.”
Oleson said while union representatives and the county were eager to extend agreements, both sides still came to the table representing their parties. In the end, the agreement locked in a 2 percent rate increase for employees, which fits in well with inflation projections, Oleson said.
In Cedar Rapids, the City Council approved a one-year extension to its agreement with AFSCME Local 620, which represents Cedar Rapids employees, as part of the consent agenda Tuesday.
Cedar Rapids was approached by AFSCME about extending its contract two months ago, before proposals at the Statehouse surfaced, and the city reached a more favorable deal, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said.
The agreement includes a 1.75 percent across-the-board pay increase effective July 1, 2019, down from 2.75 percent in the current three-year contract. And AFSCME employee monthly premiums for health benefits will increase, matching rates of non-bargaining workers effective Jan. 1, 2020.
'This has nothing to do with what has come before the Legislature in the last few days with Chapter 20,” Pomeranz said. 'This had to do with the union making a request based on potential impact to their medical benefits.”
Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.