October 1, 2014

Governor doesn’t favor Wisconsin type labor law changes

Governor Terry Branstad says he does not favor the same kind of sweeping changes in Iowa’s labor laws that Wisconsin’s governor is seeking, but Branstad is asking legislators to pass a law that creates a new sort of “veto power” over state worker pay and benefit agreements, giving the governor and legislators authority to reject negotiated union contracts which legislators or the governor find unacceptable.

Branstad also wants health care benefits for state workers to be set by the governor and legislators and no longer be part of contract negotiations. “We have a dinosaur contract where they’re paying nothing (for health care) and when you don’t pay anything, you don’t have any skin in the game,” Branstad said. “Obviously you’re not involved in controlling the costs.”

Branstad, however, says his proposals do not go as far as Wisconsin’s governor has suggested. “This is not Wisconsin,” Branstad said. “It’s Iowa and I’m proud it’s Iowa and we are going to do things that we think make sense to make Iowa more competitive.”

Former Governor Chet Culver signed a deal on pay and benefits for union workers that Branstad’s been criticizing for the past three months. “This is not right. It’s not fair. We just need to get back to a system that’s more equitable and more fair,” Branstad said this morning. “And you know, if they would agree to forego that and come back and agree to something reasonable — the president’s saying a two-year freeze for national employees — if this would be done, we could avoid some of these layoffs.”

Two of Branstad’s new agency managers announced plans last week that would lead to state worker layoffs. The governor of Wisconsin has proposed dramatic changes in that state’s collective bargaining law for all public employees in the state, drawing thousands of protesters to the capitol in Madison.

Labor groups in Iowa plan a protest Tuesday afternoon at the capitol in Des Moines as a show of solidarity with union workers in Wisconsin.

The governor suggests his fellow Republicans should rethink their plan to force University of Iowa officials to sell a valuable painting that was a gift to the university. House Republicans say the Jackson Pollock painting is worth $140-million and they’ve drafted a bill calling for its sale, with the proceeds providing scholarships to art students.

“They need to be very careful in reviewing the implications of that,” Branstad says. “And especially the intent of the donor and the implications in terms of potential future donors.” Branstad told reporters today (Monday) he doesn’t like to publicly threaten to veto any pending legislation, but he made it clear passing the bill could have a chilling effect on “significant” donations to the university in the future.

“I do understand their intentions are to have more money available for scholarships, so the intentions are good,” Branstad said. “But, you know, the unintended consequences in terms of donations to the universities is something that also should be considered.” Branstad also pointed to public comments from a prominent Des Moines philanthropist who has donated millions of dollars worth of artwork to a sculpture garden in downtown Des Moines. Branstad, a graduate of the University of Iowa, has only seen the painting “in pictures in the newspaper.”

The huge painting, titled “Mural”, was given to the University of Iowa by prominent art dealer Peggy Guggenheim. In the 1960s during a previous debate about selling the valuable artwork, Guggenheim wrote the university, saying she wanted the painting back if the university didn’t want her gift anymore.