DES MOINES — Unionized state workers on the “front line” of the COVID-19 pandemic at state prisons, colleges and other institutions deserve a 3 percent yearly pay boost in light of the sacrifices they make for the good of Iowans, a top public union leader said Monday at the start of new contract talks.
“I believe that is a reasonable increase based on everything that state employees have done through this pandemic,” said Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, after requesting a 3 percent across-the-board wage increase for its state workers in each of the next two fiscal years.
“A lot of these folks have truly been on the front line every bit as much as a lot of the people that get all the credit for being on the front line,” Homan said in an interview. “Correctional officers clearly right now are on the front line with all of the outbreaks that we have inside of our facilities.”
Homan sat down with state negotiators Monday on a Zoom call to open contract talks aimed at reaching a new two-year labor agreement beginning July 1.
The state’s collective bargaining team is expected to make its opening offer later this month before moving into closed-door talks aimed at reaching a pact by March 15 to avoid going to binding arbitration.
AFSCME represents roughly 19,000 members that includes nurses, corrections officers, university employees and transportation workers, among other public employees. The current state contract provides base wage increases of 2.1 percent that runs through the end of the fiscal year in June.
Monday’s talks began as the state budget has a surplus of about $300 million, with cash and emergency reserves full at 10 percent.
“If they want to afford it, they can afford it,” said Homan, adding “I would really hope that (Gov. Kim Reynolds) would reward these dedicated public servants with a 3 percent across the board.”
The AFSCME leader presented a contract proposal he said was based on a 2015-17 contract that existed before the Iowa Legislature significantly revamped the state’s collective bargaining law.
In February 2017, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature stripped most elements for which public employees may bargain during contract negotiations. The law, which was signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad and upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, limits most public-sector union contract negotiations to base wages capped by the cost of living, while eliminating such issues as health insurance and supplemental pay as mandatory topics for discussion.
In previous talks since the 2017 law was put in place, state negotiators have taken the position that wage increases are one of the few items unions still may negotiate, but even those are capped. Homan expanded the discussion Monday to include pay grades, pay days and other topics that state negotiators may chose to ignore when they return with a counter proposal later this month.
“They can take the position that they aren’t going to talk about any of the other stuff and to me that sends a very powerful message to every public employee in this state that works for the state that this governor does not appreciate what they have done and what they are doing for the citizens of this state,” he said.
“If this governor takes the position that she’s going to go back and continue to give them a stripped-out contract that has no grievance procedure or any other things in it, then she’s sending the message, she’s sending the message to them that they don’t matter and I don’t think that’s the appropriate message to send to people who have put their lives literally on the line now that we have had two correctional officers die. They have put their lives on the line to protect and do their job,” Homan said.
The governor is “trying to buy off” state employees “by giving them two extra holidays,” the AFSCME leader asserted. “While they appreciate that, the vast majority of state employees that work 24/7, 365 didn’t get to take advantage of the holiday because they were working. It doesn’t apply to all people.”
Earlier this month, negotiators for the roughly 600-member State Police Officers Council requested a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase for next fiscal year and 3.5 percent in fiscal 2023 at the start of talks with the state Department of Administrative Services. State negotiators are slated to provide an initial contract offer to that union’s representatives Tuesday.
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