Government

Iowa unions face new round of certification votes

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Dan Homan didn’t spend much time at home last month.

The president of the state’s largest public employee labor union was on the road through much of August, holding town hall meetings as he prepares for his union’s recertification vote next month.

“We have to reach out to people and let them know what’s at stake,” Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, said recently while driving to Fort Dodge.

This is the second year that public-sector labor unions in Iowa will have to go to the polls to get recertified. It’s the first year that state workers will vote whether to retain their unions.

The 2017 collective bargaining law that significantly curtailed bargaining rights for public-sector workers requires regular retention elections for bargaining units.

The first elections were held last fall, and the vast majority of unions were recertified.

This year, though, state officials estimate about 70,000 people will be eligible to vote, about twice what it was last year. The elections will be held from Oct. 15 through Oct. 29.

Unions have bitterly criticized the law. They especially don’t like the part governing recertification elections because it requires a majority of people covered by a contract — not a majority of those who cast ballots — to approve of a union for it to be recertified.

Union officials say that’s unfair and would be like requiring a politician to get a majority of eligible voters to win, rather than just a majority of those who turn out.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Despite the hurdle, Homan said he feels confident this year. But, he said, he’s making sure workers know the stakes are high. He’s making 22 stops around the state to let workers know the potential economic consequences of a defeat.

“If they don’t recertify, employers can start cutting wages,” he said. Homan estimated about 22,000 people will be eligible to vote in his union’s recertification election.

There also will be elections for unions representing state patrol officers, as well as other state workers. But it’s not just state workers who are affected.

The Iowa Public Employment Relations Board, which oversees the election process, has listed about 600 bargaining units that will potentially face recertification elections. Most of those bargaining units represent people who work for local governments.

Last week, in a meeting room at the Davenport Public Library’s Eastern Avenue branch, the interim chair of the employment relations board, Jamie Van Fossen, briefed roughly 15 people about the rules for the elections.

Voters can cast ballots online or by phone. But because voting by phone is complicated, he said, “I’d encourage folks to vote online.”

Retention elections are held about 10 months before expiration of a union’s contract, according to the state.

Some of the largest school districts don’t face recertification votes this year. Last year, 216 of 220 teacher union locals passed their elections.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

Still, about 25,000 people covered by the Iowa State Education Association, or ISEA, are covered by elections around the state this fall.

Coy Marquardt, associate executive director of ISEA, said there is a lot of internal communication going on in preparation for the elections. Lots of local union leaders are reaching out to their members, as well as others who might vote.

This year’s recertification elections not only involve state workers for the first time, but they come with another wrinkle, too. The elections will begin just a few weeks before the Nov. 6 general election.

Typically, public employee unions are an important part of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote effort. That raises the question of whether unions have the resources to devote to recertification elections and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Union officials don’t expect that will be a problem. They say most people vote early in the two-week window.

Also, Homan said as he talks about the consequences of a recertification vote, he’s making sure his members know who is responsible for the law.

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature passed the law over Democrats’ objections. They say it was needed to even the playing field between government and labor, and will be good for taxpayers. Supporters said the recertification provision is aimed at making unions accountable.

Critics say the law was aimed at busting unions, and it will hurt workers by limiting pay and curtailing benefits.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Homan said he thinks public employees will be even more motivated to go to the polls Nov. 6 and vote for Democrats after hearing about the consequences of the law — which he says he’s making clear at every stop he makes.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.