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DES MOINES - A total of 32 bargaining units representing public employees face decertification, but an overwhelming number of city, county and school district employees in Iowa have voted to maintain their union affiliations, according to unofficial results Wednesday from the Public Employment Relations Board.
Board totals indicate that 33,252 employees were covered by votes that took place over a two-week period that ended Tuesday afternoon. Of those, 28,448 voted to keep their union representation while 624 cast 'no” votes.
The massive balloting was the largest election so far required under controversial collective bargaining legislation approved by the 2017 Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature. Eventually, all of Iowa's 1,200 public bargaining units and more than 120,000 public employees will be involved in similar elections. State employees vote next year.
Preliminary results indicate that 436 units agreed to keep their union affiliations, while 32 did not achieve the required simple majority of eligible members.
Mike Cormack, a former legislator and current Public Employee Relations Board chairman, said Iowa is one of only two states with a stipulation that eligible bargaining unit members who do not participate in the recertification balloting are counted as 'no” votes - a provision in the legislation, House File 291, modeled after a Wisconsin law. Supporters said the measure was needed partly to hold public sector unions more accountable to their members.
'In passing the anti-union bill last spring, Iowa legislators told unions that recertification elections were needed for members to choose their own representation,” said Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association - the state's largest teachers' union, which had 220 local associations representing almost 22,000 employees.
'Today, local associations overwhelmingly chose the union to help represent their best interests and the interests of their students, schools and the communities in which they live,” she said, pointing out that 216 of 220 ISEA locals passed their elections. 'So it appears that recertification elections were just another obstacle the Legislature placed in front of Iowa's public employee unions in an effort to weaken them.”
Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, said his union's covered employees voted 100 percent to recertify, but 'because of a rigged law and an alleged voided ballot, we lost one bargaining unit of four employees by a single vote.” He said he plans to appeal.
Homan called the outcome a 'sweeping victory” for public employees who voted to recertify their bargaining units and 'value their voice” in the workplace.
He said the vote shows workers rejected GOP actions last February in 'gutting” collective bargaining rights in Iowa.
'They passed this egregious law thinking they could break up. That everybody would get rid of us. We're still here, we're still standing, we're still fighting,” he said. 'I am confident that workers will once again claim victory in the November 2018 election when those politicians who stabbed them in the back are sent packing.”
Bargaining units that will be dissolved once a 10-day appeal period expires were spread throughout the state and include school employees, bus drivers, public works and road workers, courthouse and public safety employees.
Under Iowa's previous collective bargaining law approved in the 1970s, public sector workers held votes to certify their unions as their paid representatives to negotiate contracts. They only faced elections if one of their members petitioned for decertification.
But the rewrite of Iowa's collective bargaining law now requires that public sector unions recertify every time they face a new contract negotiation. If a local association is unsuccessful in its vote, its contract is considered void, according to the Public Employee Relations Board.
'Iowa's working families sent a clear message to Gov. (Kim) Reynolds and the Republican-controlled Legislature today: we are not letting you take our unions away from us,” said Matt Sinovic, executive director of the nearly 70,000-member Progress Iowa.
AFSCME and ISEA have filed separate court challenges to the new collective bargaining law. A Polk County District Court judge has heard arguments in the AFSCME case and his decision is pending. A separate judge recently rejected ISEA's motion for a summary judgment.
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