DES MOINES — State negotiators Tuesday offered mostly status-quo health insurance and a 1 percent pay increase in each of the next two fiscal years to a public safety unit that is the only government employee union allowed to discuss benefits in contract talks under a 2017 rewrite of Iowa’s collective bargaining law.
Janet Phipps, director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services and lead state negotiator, said the state was seeking minor “tweaks” in some overtime and workplace issues but few other changes in working to reach a two-year agreement with about 600 unionized law officers represented by the State Police Officers Council. If no agreement is reached by March, it goes to binding arbitration. The new contract would take effect July 1.
Earlier this month, SPOC negotiators made an initial offer for a 3 percent across-the-board pay increases for each of the next two fiscal years, along with 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.
They said the wage increases are needed to make Iowa’s 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.
“It’s the state’s first offer,” said Jason Bardsley, a trooper from Des Moines who is president of the police officers council, which represents about 600 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. “It’s probably what we expected coming back on their offer. So we’ll move forward. We’ll negotiate and see what we come up with.”
The state this week also offered union representatives for about 2,400 social-service, scientific and professional workers a 1 percent wage increase. Iowa United Professionals is seeking 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 financial position where it can afford to increase base wages.
State officials are set to make a counter offer Wednesday to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, the largest state employees’ bargaining unit with nearly 19,000 members. It is seeking a 3 percent wage increase annually in its two-year pact.
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Contract talks between the state and its public employees’ union are underway while the Iowa Supreme Court considers legal challenges to legislative action approved in 2017 and signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad that scrapped Iowa’s 1974 collective bargaining law and replaced it with a sweeping overhaul.
AFSCME and the Iowa State Education Association filed lawsuits challenging the law, saying it violates the Iowa Constitution by creating separate classes of public employees: some who kept 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.
During oral arguments before the Iowa Supreme Court this month, Matthew McDermott, a lawyer representing the state’s position in defending House File 291, said the changes enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Branstad present a “legitimate public policy decision” by a separate branch of government that should be upheld by the six justices who heard the case.
“The state reformed our collective bargaining system in a way that conceivably and rationally gave state and local governments more flexibility to control their budgets and balance the state’s legitimate interest in preserving public safety,” McDermott told the justices, who are expected to rule next year.
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