The Midwest is quickly becoming ground zero for state legislative efforts to curb union activities, and it is everyday workers who are paying the price.
Just days after Missouri enacted so-called right-to-work legislation, Republicans in Iowa are pushing forward with an effort to restrict collective bargaining for public sector workers. State and local government workers in the Hawkeye State would be prohibited from negotiating issues such as health insurance, seniority or extra pay. The bill would also make it more difficult for unions to collect dues.
Jesse Case, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 238 based in Sioux City, said the measure would hit women and veterans particular hard, given their sizeable presence in the 184,000 public sector workers in the state. “The bill is over-reaching,” he said. “The current law, passed with bipartisan support, has worked well for Iowa communities for more than 40 years. By attacking these jobs, they are attacking some of the best jobs in the state.”
Iowa Teamsters, whose members include many working in law enforcement, have been active in an effort to defeat the legislation since lawmakers made it clear they planned to unveil the anti-union bill. Despite the recent inclusion of language that would exempt public safety employees from certain provisions of the legislation, the union is not backing down in its opposition.
Even Teamster retirees are expressing their outrage. Dick Bacon, the former President of Local 90 in Des Moines, said he has been coming down to the state Capitol to make his voice heard because there is too much at stake for all workers to remain silent. “What’s going to happen is this could spill over into the private sector,” he said.
The current collective bargain process has protected Iowans for years by ensuring adequate staffing levels, recruitment and retention of top talent, quality public schools and efficient public services. But some members of the Iowa Legislature instead want to pursue reckless, failed approaches similar to those that have already devastated schools, professional standards and state budgets in the neighboring states of Wisconsin and Kansas.
Not surprisingly, groups like the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity are advocating for the legislation via advertising by mail, television and radio. Empowered by the cash they dole out to GOP lawmakers, they are making a full-throated case that Iowa doesn’t need to provide fair wages and benefits to its government workers.
Even the infamous union-hater Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has encouraged his fellow Republicans in the state capital to move forward on this anti-collective bargaining legislation as quickly as possible. Those who favor the measure know they must get it done before more the public gets wise to their motives.
Curtailing the abilities of public sector workers to negotiate their salary and benefits will not only hurt those who serve the public trust, it will hurt all Iowans. If billionaire bullies like the Kochs are successful here, they will not be satisfied with just this victory. They will likely come after all workers in the state next.
Hard-working Iowans deserve better from their elected officials.