Tempers flared between Democrats and Republicans as the Iowa House debated a bill which expands the issues union workers in state and local governments, as well as public schools, can bring up during contract talks.
House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, says current law is too restrictive on what matters can be discussed between a public sector union and management. "When you take a look at collective bargaining right now, we are just trying to open the scope of things that people can talk about," Murphy says. "I think it’s a little ridiculous, especially after 9/11, that we have law enforcement officers who, because of collective bargaining agreements, may have to buy Kevlar vests or a gun because it’s not in the contract."
House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City repeatedly railed against the bill, arguing taxes will go up if union bargaining requires, for example, the hiring of new teachers in local schools. "Remember that old game Truth or Dare? You’ve gotta tell the truth about it, or you pay the consequences," Rants says. "…Well, in this case, the only people who are going to pay the consequences are the property taxpayers."
Representative Mike May, a Republican from Spirit Lake, says it’s naive to think the bill won’t raise property taxes. "And at some point we break the backs of taxpayers," May says. "We can’t continue down this road."
Republicans also argued tuition could go up at Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa if union contracts force the schools to hire more professors.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says Republicans are exaggerating the bill’s impact. "Since the scope of bargaining was written, it’s been talked about in every legislature for the past 34 years. This makes modest changes to our law. It allows for bargaining for wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment," Gronstal says. "…Of the 34 states that have collective bargaining, 27 of ’em have this."
Democrats argue the bill’s a step in the right direction because it will allow contract talks to cover a variety of key issues, like the terms of a worker’s dismissal. The bill passed the House on a 51 to 47 vote, but it’s hung up on a technicality this afternoon as House Republicans have gone into a private meeting. The House can’t vote while Republicans are in that closed-door session, so the Senate can’t take up the measure.