A few dozen advocates and opponents of a labor-related bill testified tonight during a public hearing at the capitol.The bill, which has cleared the House Labor Committee, would require non-union workers in state government agencies to pay a fee to the union in their workplace for representation in contract negotiations and in worksite disputes. 

Bill Gerhard, president of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, argued that unions deserve “reasonable reimbursement” for the work they do on behalf of non-union members. 

 “Would you expect to get car insurance without sending in a premium check or send your kids to college without paying tuition or go to the country club or golf course without paying a green fee?” Gerhard asked. “Then why would you expect union representation in matters of collective bargaining, arbitration and grievances without people paying their fair share?”

Bill Brown, chairman of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s board of directors, said the bill cuts a “deep swath” through Iowa’s “Right-to-Work” Law.

“Calling these fees reimbursements is a feeble attempt to mask forcibly taking money from non-members in order to advance the interests of unions and renders our Right-to-Work Law meaningless,” Brown said.

Toby Shine’s family runs a recycling business in Spencer. “I think this will hurt us very badly in the economic development business,” said Shine, who is a member of the Iowa Economic Development Board.  “…The last 10 years I’ve worked very hard with the State of Iowa trying to create jobs and some wealth in this state and I can’t think of anything that would gut that more than taking a step in the direction of killing the Right-to-Work Law.”

In addition to business groups, a few unions oppose the bill because it would not apply to workers outside of the executive branch of state government.  Ken Mertes, president of Communications Workers of America Local 7103 that represents much of western Iowa, said few of the members of his union would be covered by the bill since it only applies to state government workers.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight, so why am I here?” Mertes said to open his testimony.  “I’m thinking that if we can pass this bill and you find out that the world is not going to come to an end…you’ll see that this would be a fair thing to do for all the employees (in Iowa).”

Some who testified accused Democrats of pushing the bill as political payback for union supporters.  Robin Anderson of the Mason City Area Chamber of Commerce told legislators they were “great people,” but she added a caveat.

“I bet if I asked you individually if your vote was for sale you would tell me, ‘No,'” Anderson said.  “And yet I’ve had legislative leaders tell me, ‘You know, Robin, the political reality is it’s an election year and we’ve got to get something for the unions.'” 

Union leaders, in turn, accused opponents of the bill of exaggering the impact of the legislation.  Danny Homan is president of AFSCME Council 61, the union that represents the largest share of workers in the executive branch of state government — workers who would be covered by the proposed legislation.

“It costs money for the union to represent all workers in contract negotiations, grievances and arbitration proceedings, lawsuits and other forms of representation,” Homan said.  “Reasonable reimbursement would permit the union to recover a portion of the expense it incurs in providing representation to non-members.”

The future for the bill that was the subject of tonight’s public hearing is uncertain.  A similar bill was proposed last year but failed to pass the Iowa House.