Republicans, including Governor Branstad, intend to press for changes in the state law which outlines how state managers and union leaders negotiate the pay and benefit packages for state workers. “I think there’s clearly a need for that,” Branstad says. “This law has been there since 1974 and a lot of things have changed since then.”
But Democrats say they’ll block such a move. Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, is a member of the Senate Labor Committee. “I don’t believe this legislation will go anywhere this year or next,” Courtney says. “And I will do everything in my power to keep it from going anywhere.”
Republicans argue the labor/management relationship in state government is “out of balance.” Branstad has repeatedly criticized former Governor Culver, a Democrat, for signing off on a pay raise for state workers who’re members of the AFSCME union.
“Management has not done a very good job of protecting the interests of the taxpayers and the people of Iowa in terms of the delivery of services and we need to dramatically change the way we’re doing things,” Branstad says.
One of Branstad’s advisors has outlined changes that would give the governor and legislature authority to reject part of a negotiated agreement with a union representing state workers. Senator Courtney says that’s ridiculous. “I was a negotiator for many years and that’s not the way collective bargaining works,” Courtney says. “If you don’t like the agreement you got, then next time try to negotiate a better one.”
Courtney suggests Republicans may have a bigger goal with their push to rewrite Iowa labor laws. “Take away arbitration and all that kind of thing and just go back to, if you don’t get what you want, strike and strike and strike until both sides can come together,” Courtney says. “I don’t think we want that in state government. I really don’t think we want that.” Branstad says it’s time for a “fresh perspective” about the labor/management relationship in state government, but he isn’t publicly calling for completely junking the state’s 36 year old labor law and allowing public employees — including teachers — to go on strike.
“We’re going to carefully review what makes sense and how we can come up with something that’s sustainable for the long term,” Branstad says. In the past few years unions lobbied the state’s Democratically-led legislature for changes in labor laws, such as giving union workers their own “choice of doctor” when they’re injured on the job, but Republicans were staunchly opposed to those changes and none of the changes became law.
Democrats lost majority control of the Iowa House in the 2010 election, but still retain a narrow majority in the state senate, giving Democrats the ability to block the changes Republicans are seeking now.