A state agency is rushing to hire a private vendor to handle elections this fall that involve more than 40,000 government workers.

Just before an employment contract is set to expire every two or three years, Iowa’s new collective bargaining law requires votes by government employees in those workplaces that are organized into bargaining units. Iowa’s public-sector unions now have to win support from a majority of employees in the bargaining unit, not just a majority of those voting in the certification election.

Labor lawyer Jay Smith says that’s a higher bar than for other elections. “Every single person in the collective bargaining unit, whether they vote or not, you’ve got to get 50 percent plus one,” Smith says.

It essentially means workers who don’t return a ballot are counted as a “no.”

“So there’s some organizing that’s going to have to go on for my clients, labor unions, to go and reach those people to see if they want to vote in the affirmative to retain the bargaining representative,” Smith says.

The Iowa Public Employment Relations Board has set re-certification votes during September and October for more than 600 city, county and state worksites where contracts are expiring. The board’s website does not yet list the exact dates or details, however.

Two major unions have gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of this new law. Critics say these “recertification” votes are designed to break the unions. Supporters of the new law says some employees weren’t born when the votes that originally unionized their workplace were held.

Wisconsin has has a similar law on the books and unions there have lost more than a third of their members since the law went into effect in 2011.

(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)