Senator Bill Dotzler.

The governor and Republicans in the state legislature want to end automatic payroll deductions for the dues paid to public sector unions. The collective bargaining bill being debated in the Iowa House and Senate this week would make that change and require government workers to vote regularly on whether they want to have a union in their workplace.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad said the vote to establish the Iowa State Education Association as the union for Iowa teachers happened in the 1970s.

“Is it really fair that the teachers of today are stuck with a bargaining unit that was agreed upon in the ’70s, before they were even born?” Branstad said during a news conference in his office last week. “It seems to me this is an antiquated law that needs to be updated and the people that are actually employed today ought to have some voice in it.”

Critics say these two moves could be the “death knell” for unions that represent government workers in Iowa. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who was a union worker at John Deere, said Republicans are trying to “stack the deck.”

“You want to get rid of the labor unions because you know how difficult it would be to collect those dues individually, but I’ve got news for you,” Dotzler said Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve got a feeling that this is going to really incite members of the labor union and they’re going to sign up through the union and have that sent automatic.”

Republicans say tax dollars shouldn’t be used through the payroll process to funnel dues to unions. Florida legislators had a similar debate in 2011 about union dues. According to Politifact, analysts in that state concluded there were “positive, but insignificant” savings by ending the state payroll deduction for union dues. According to the Iowa Legislative Services Agency, requiring regular votes about whether a union should represent government workers would have “an unknown fiscal impact.”

For the past two days, Democrats have been staging a sort of filibuster on the bill Republicans in the state legislature have crafted that would scale back union bargaining rights for teachers and government workers in Iowa.

Early this morning, Dotzler predicted that the GOP’s plan will “backfire.”

“Sleep drunk. Don’t know what you’re doing,” Dotzler said. “You can make that excuse down the road when your constituents turn on you. ‘Well, I was there at three o’clock in the morning and if I’d had some sleep, maybe I’d have thought through that.'”

Republicans began offering some rebuttals late Wednesday afternoon. Representative Dawn Pettingill, a Republican from Mount Auburn, said there’s nothing “nefarious” in the bill and she read email from supporters of the bill.

“It’s time to revert the progressive agenda in our state. I pray for you, your families and your colleagues in this difficult time. Stand your ground and keep the faith and persevere,” Pettingill said as she read one message aloud.

Representative Rick Olson, a Democrat from Des Moines, said the bill will kill the bargaining rights of teachers and government workers in Iowa.

“If it was necessary to reform Chapter 20, it could have been tweaked, not twisted. It could have been modified, not mutilated,” Olson said. “House File 291 burns hard working public employees to the ground.”

Olson compared the bill to “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” a reference to a Union general’s pivotal and destructive march through Georgia during the Civil War.

Tempers began to fray as the debate wore on into the nighttime hours for the second straight day. Democratic Representative Mary Mascher of Iowa City and Representative Steven Holt, the Republican from Denison who is the bill’s floor manager, had a testy exchange.

“It’s really unfortunate that you aren’t being clear and honest,” Mascher said and, as Mascher continued to speak, Holt talked over her: “I’m being quite clear, I’m just not willing to play gotcha questions.”

The House suspended debate on the bill shortly after 10 p.m.  The Senate is still debating early this morning and Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids hinted he and his fellow Democrats are ready to debate for days.

“I’m prepared,” Hogg said. “We can spend the next 240 hours here at the senate, doing this.”