Branstad signs historic collective bargaining overhaul

Public employee union vows to ask court to block new law

Supporters of collective bargaining gather in a room following a vote on a bill limiting public-sector unions at the Sta
Supporters of collective bargaining gather in a room following a vote on a bill limiting public-sector unions at the State Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. The House and Senate passed the bill after Republicans cut off the debate using a “time certain” procedural move to expedite passage of the bill. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Acting just 10 days after sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law came to light in the Republican-controlled Legislature, GOP Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law Friday the measure that unions representing public employees vow to fight in court.

Branstad privately signed House File 291 less than a day after majority Republicans in the House and Senate used extraordinary means to end a protracted, acrimonious floor debate and expedite action to pass the bill. Most of the 68-page bill took effect with Branstad’s signature.

The bill passed the Iowa House 53-47 with six Republicans joining 41 Democrats in opposition. It then cleared the Iowa Senate, 29-21, with 20 Democrats and one independent voting no.

One Democrat objected to the way the legislation was “rammed” through the process, predicting it would “poison” the rest of this year’s legislative session.

Branstad saw it differently, however.

“I’m very pleased to sign this bill into law,” said Branstad, a six-term governor who had voted in his previous capacity as a legislator against the collective bargaining law that has been in place since 1974.

“These necessary reforms to our antiquated 43-year-old public employee collective bargaining law bring fairness for Iowa taxpayers and flexibility to public employees,” he said in a statement. “This bill also gives local governments, schools and state government greater freedom in managing their resources with the opportunity to reward good public employees.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds also applauded the changes as “long overdue reforms.”

Over high-pitched objections, legislative Republicans ended debate spanning more than three days by passing “time certain” cutoffs Thursday that expedited final votes on the measure that scales back the rights public-sector workers have had to negotiate over wages, benefits and working conditions.

HF 291 limits most public-sector union contract negotiations to base wages only, while eliminating such issues as health insurance and supplemental pay as mandatory items for bargaining. The law it replaces allowed about 184,000 public-sector workers for the state, counties, cities and school districts to bargain for wage, benefits, and other workplace issues with impasses resolved by binding arbitration in exchange for employees giving up the right to strike.

“They rushed through a bill that really hurts our public servants and workers,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids. “They didn’t campaign on this issue and they told people they were going to do minor tweaks to collective bargaining, and what they did was they gutted collective bargaining in order to serve their out-of-state, dark-money supporters who want to bust unions.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock said the collective bargaining bill got “a full, open debate following Senate rules” and now gives more control and needed tools to managers in state government, county boards of supervisors, city councils and school boards to “keep the best employees, keep the best teachers in the classroom and remove those more efficiently, more effectively that are not holding up to the standards of the team.”

Republicans who won voter support in 2016 by margins of 59-41 in the House and 29-21 in the Senate are united in their “strong, new vision” for Iowa, he added. Thursday’s vote and Friday’s gubernatorial seal of approval was another step to put taxpayers at the table and Iowa on a course for future growth, Dix said.

After Thursday’s rapid closure on the bill, the leader of the state’s largest public employee union said he expected his organization would file a lawsuit as early as Monday challenging the constitutionality of legislation significantly reducing its members’ bargaining rights.

“This battle is not over. This war is not over,” AFSCME Local 61 President Danny Homan had said Thursday.

The bill signed into law treats police and firefighters differently than other public employees at the negotiating table — essentially giving public safety workers more rights than others.

Hogg, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, said he believes the public unions have a “good chance” in seeking injunctive relief from the courts in challenging provisions that make “unconstitutional distinctions between classes of public workers.”

The Democrat said he senses that the way the collective bargaining issue was handled by Republicans “has awaked a sleeping giant” of workers, teachers and average Iowans upset over it.

“If they had wanted an Iowa solution they would have worked with cities and school boards and counties to come up with some minor reforms of the collective bargaining system, which is what they promised they were doing,” Hogg said. “But instead they went the dark money route and really gutted collective bargaining and I don’t think Iowans are going to stand for that.”

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On HF 291, overhauling collective bargaining rights of Iowa’s public employees:

Iowa Senate

All Republican senators voted in favor.

All Democratic senators voted against.

David Johnson from northwest Iowa, the only Senate independent, voted against.

Iowa House

All but six Republican representatives voted in favor.

All Democratic representatives voted against.

The six Republicans who voted against the bill are; Clel Baudler of Greenfield; Mary Ann Hanusa of Council Bluffs; David Heaton of Mount Pleasant; Shannon Lundgren of Peosta; Andy McKean of Anamosa; and Tom Moore of Griswold.

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