Government

Iowa offers small pay hike to unionized law officers

Contract talks begin for unit that represents 600 workers

An Iowa state trooper talks in 2017 with a driver he pulled over for speeding on eastbound Interstate 80 near Iowa City.
An Iowa state trooper talks in 2017 with a driver he pulled over for speeding on eastbound Interstate 80 near Iowa City. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — State negotiators opened the latest round of contract talks with unionized government employees Tuesday by offering a pay increase of one-half of 1 percent for each of the next two fiscal years.

Nathan Reckman of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services made the wage proposal to representatives of the roughly 600-member State Police Officers Council on a Zoom call.

The council’s negotiators last month requested a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase for fiscal 2022 and 3.5 percent in fiscal 2023 as part of a new two-year collective bargaining pact effective July 1.

Department interim director Paul Trombino, the state’s lead negotiator, and top council representatives did not comment on the state’s proposal in open session.

Also, officials with the governor’s office and the council’s bargaining unit did not respond to requests for comments after the Zoom meeting.

Council President Jason Bardsley expressed hope the sides could meet in the middle.

“We understand the state’s position on where they’re at, but we also would like to make sure that they understand that we’re trying to stay competitive in a job field that is very hard to attract people to and we want to stay competitive with some of the other larger agencies in the state of Iowa and that’s what we’re going to try to move forward in the future to do,” Bardsley said in an interview.

Even though the state’s wage proposal was a modest increase, Bardsley said “it’s better than contracts in the past that we’ve received from them. We’ve received zero and zero on the first offer in the past from them, so by receiving a half and a half it didn’t surprise us but you always sort of hope that the one day that maybe they just offer something right up front on the first one and you’re done, but that’s a dream.”

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Negotiators now will schedule closed-door talks aimed at reaching a labor contract covering the next two fiscal years by March 15. Should the two sides reach an impasse, their differences will be resolved with binding arbitration under state law.

The bargaining unit is made up of about 600 state troopers, special agents with the Division of Criminal Investigation and the Division of Narcotics Enforcement, state fire inspectors and agents, Iowa conservation officers and Iowa park rangers. The union and state negotiators had agreed on a 2.5 percent annual across-the-board wage increase in the current contract.

On Monday, Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, the state’s largest public employees union, requested a 3 percent across-the-board wage increase in each of the next two fiscal years for its members.

AFSCME represents roughly 19,000 members that includes nurses, corrections officers, university employees and transportation workers, among others.

In February 2017, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature overhauled the state’s collective bargaining laws, stripping most elements for which public employees may bargain through union representation.

The law, which was signed by then-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.

Public safety employees, though, are allowed to bargain on a wider range of issues than other state employees, including health insurance benefits.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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