A partisan face-off at the statehouse over labor legislation has stalled as Senate Republicans refuse to emerge from a private meeting and allow the debate to take place. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs talked with reporters at about nine o’clock Thursday night. "This is pure delay. It’s not deliberation," Gronstal said. "They’re watching basketball games."
Gronstal will meet with the top Republican in the Senate Friday to discuss the stalemate, but Senate Republican Leader Ron Wieck has said he’s not interested in starting debate on the bill until Monday.
Midday Thursday, Democrats in the Iowa House voted to advance a bill that would expand the issues public sector employees may bring up during contract negotiations. Representative Todd Taylor, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, is a member of AFSCME, the union which represents government workers and Taylor says the proposal will even the playing field between workers and management. "They used to be able to not have to consider certain things and they could say, ‘All the things you’ve earned over the years, we’re going to take those away if you don’t take our proposal on wages’ and that’s hostage bargaining," Taylor says. "It’s going to end hostage bargaining."
Democrats like Senator Mike Connolly of Dubuque say the bill extends the same bargaining rights to public sector workers that union workers in the private sector have today. Connolly recently retired after a long career as a teacher and administrator in the Dubuque School District. "When I first started teaching there was no collective bargaining. You’d go to the board and kind of beg for a raise," Connolly says. "You know, that was a big win for teachers statewide when we got collective bargaining and the issue was you couldn’t strike."
The superintendent of Dubuque schools has called Connolly to lobby against the bill. "I worked in management for a while, for 10 years, and so I told them that my heart is on the other side on this. They think this will make their job tougher," Connolly says. "I just think it gives the public sector a little more parity with the private sector on collective bargaining. I think that’s the right thing to do."
During House debate on Thursday, Democrats objected to the presence of a Sioux City schoolboard member. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, said legislative rules did not give the man permission to be on the House floor and she asked that he be escorted from the room. House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City was livid. "God forbid we let our school board members know what’s being debated today," Rants yelled. "We’ll, call in the state patrol and we’ll haul ’em out of the House."
Doug Batcheller, the schoolboard member at the center of this squabble, told reporters later he had done "something inappropriate" by wandering onto the House floor without a guest badge and the matter was "inconsequential" compared to the issue being debated.