Government

Iowa employee unions seek wage increases

Talks start on new two-year labor pact

Officials from the Iowa Department of Administrative Services (left) and representatives of the State Police Officers Council begin collective bargaining talks Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, aimed at  a new two-year contract that would take effect next July 1. (Photo by Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
Officials from the Iowa Department of Administrative Services (left) and representatives of the State Police Officers Council begin collective bargaining talks Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, aimed at a new two-year contract that would take effect next July 1. (Photo by Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds and majority GOP legislators spent the 2018 election cycle boasting about Iowa’s growing economy and state government’s strong financial position so often that employee unions now say the state can afford to pay them higher wages the next two years.

The union representing state law enforcement employees argued Tuesday that pay increases are needed to make salaries more competitive in a tight job market where agencies are having a tough time attracting and keeping quality candidates in high-risk, high-stress jobs.

Negotiators for the roughly 600-member State Police Officers Council on Tuesday requested 3 percent across-the-board pay increases for each of the next two fiscal years at the start of talks with the state Department of Administrative Services.

The goal is to reaching agreement on a new two-year contract effective July 1.

Likewise, union representatives for about 2,400 social-service, scientific and professional workers, after going two years without a base wage increase, asked for a 4.5 percent across-the-board raise for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 and a midyear bump of 2 percent each year for maximum pay grades.

Union leaders say the state is in a position where it can afford to increase base wages.

“I think they put a lot of work into what they’re proposing, and they want to gain more for their members. And we’ll give it all due consideration, and we’ll be back with our proposal in two weeks,” said Janet Phipps, director of Administrative Services and chief state negotiator.

State officials are set to receive an initial contract proposal Thursday from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, the largest state employees’ bargaining unit with nearly 19,000 members.

“Our priorities are to be able to attract and maintain and retrain quality law enforcement personnel,” said Sue Brown, executive director of the State Police Officers Council. “While we have added some people recently, we are still not keeping up with the retirements that are going on, and there is an inability to get quality candidates to become troopers and law-enforcement officers.

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“Our contract is geared at maintaining reasonable wages and a compensation package that will lead to hopefully building our numbers and be able to sustain a 24/7 police presence in the state of Iowa,” added Brown, in presenting the union’s 12-page initial offer.

State negotiators are slated to issue their response Dec. 18 at the start of a new collective-bargaining process.

Jason Bardsley, a trooper from Des Moines who is president of the police officers council, said the initial proposal to also calls for boosting minimum pay grades by 3.5 percent, providing status-quo health benefits, and adjusting overtime policy, clothing and meal allowances and other workplace issues.

He said the upgrades are designed to keep pace with surrounding states and other employment areas competing to hire good law-enforcement candidates.

“We trying in our contract to make this job attractive and attractive enough for people to stay here,” said Bardsley, whose union represents about 600 Iowa troopers, special agents with the Division of Criminal Investigation and the Division of Narcotics Enforcement, state fire inspectors and agents, Iowa conservation officers and park rangers.

Becky Dawes, who along with Greg Cross, presented initial proposals for Iowa United Professional social services and science units, said many workers in human services areas are facing burnout and need a bump in compensation to boost sagging morale.

“We think it’s a fair and reasonable proposal,” Dawes said.

United Professional negotiators included provisions that would revert to language in their previous contract pertaining to health insurance and other benefits that no longer are subject for negotiations under a 2017 rewrite of Iowa’s collective bargaining law.

That law is being challenged, however, in lawsuits that come before the Iowa Supreme Court next week, and IUP wants to preserve the contract language should the court decide to strike down the 2017 changes.

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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. Two unions filed lawsuits challenging the new law, saying it violates the Iowa Constitution by creating separate classes of public employees: some who retained most of their collective bargaining rights, and others who lost most.

The law 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 are allowed to bargain on a wider range of issues than others, so the Police Officers Council proposal Tuesday included provisions covering benefits and wages.

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

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