IOWA CITY — The governor-appointed Public Employment Relations Board has reprimanded the state regents system for bad-faith bargaining and prohibited practices in its dealings with two public-sector unions at the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa.
The cases date to 2017 when the Iowa Legislature was moving ahead on — but had not yet finalized — measures stripping most collective bargaining rights from unions for public employees.
The controversial legislation, later adopted and signed into law by then-Gov. Terry Branstad, said that for most public unions only “base wages” must be negotiated unless both sides at the negotiating table agree to bargain over things like benefits and working conditions.
Both UNI’s United Faculty and the UI’s Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, also known as COGS, filed complaints with the state employee board accusing the regents of bad-faith bargaining for refusing to move forward with contract negotiations in early 2017 — while the GOP-controlled Legislature was considering the bargaining changes.
“A party cannot unilaterally refuse to negotiate or unreasonably delay negotiations solely because legislation may be forthcoming that is conducive to its objectives,” according to the finding, dated last Friday, from the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board in response to the COGS complaint.
That, however, is exactly what the regents did and admitted doing, according to the findings.
The Board of Regents’ chief negotiator, Mike Galloway, on Jan. 31 told COGS by email that he couldn’t proceed with negotiations or make additional proposals because “my client has informed me that I cannot agree to anything until the introduction and subsequent passage of the reforms to Chapter 20,” the section of Iowa Code pertaining to public unions.
“The Board of Regents’ failure to actively and substantively discuss the 2017-2019 contract during this time period demonstrates a lack of commitment to the process,” the decision said. “The anticipated legislation is not justification for the Board of Regents’ delays and refusal to engage in the collective bargaining process.”
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The employment board also rejected the regents’ accusation that COGS committed a violation by trying to negotiate on no-longer-mandatory contract items, but it conceded in both the UI and UNI cases that righting the wrongs is “difficult.”
“The passage of time, the change in law, and the underlying facts are critical factors in fashioning a remedy,” according to the finding.
On the UNI complaint, the employment board said it doesn’t make sense to send the parties back to bargain over a contract that expired.
Instead, it ordered the regents to “cease and desist” any further violations and to publicly post notices of its violations for 30 days — once students and faculty have returned and begun the 2019 fall semester.
The regents will post the required notices by Aug. 27, according to a spokesman Brock Ascher, who said potential appeals could affect the timing. Ascher declined to comment more on the findings “as they are subject to potential appeal by either party.”
Nate Willems, who filed the complaint on behalf of the UNI union, declined to comment on whether the decision might compel a lawsuit from United Faculty.
“Certainly we have a variety of remedies we asked for that IPERB declined to include in the decision,” he said. “We are going to need to scrutinize that further.”
United Faculty President Becky Hawbaker said she was thrilled with the decision — especially in that it reversed a prior finding from an administrative law judge in the regents’ favor.
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“We were really thrilled and felt supported in a way that we have not felt supported for years,” she said. “Especially in the two years since we lost most of our bargaining rights.”
The faculty complaint laid out in detail the unfolding of contract negotiations in late 2016 that halted after a single session Dec. 15, during which Galloway, the regent representative, marked “tentative agreement” next to a number of accepted proposals.
In the following weeks, however, Galloway did not return phone calls and rejected proposed mediation dates on the unresolved issues.
The regents, according to finding, argued negotiations followed a traditional schedule. Any delays, according to the regents, were justified by funding uncertainties.
But the board rejected that, finding the regents also rejected non-monetary proposals.
Although the reprimand can’t undo the past, Hawbaker said, affirmation of what she and her colleagues perceived as bad-faith bargaining is gratifying.
“Even if it turns out to be only a symbolic victory, it’s so important to call a spade a spade,” she said. “This makes it clear that you shouldn’t play games when negotiating.”
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