Each legislative session is governed by a set of deadlines that help keep the session on pace and give necessary structure to our work. There are two funnels each session, the first of which is March 3. In order to meet these impending deadlines and respect the full legislative process, we have to work quickly on legislation we want to get accomplished this year.
One of the bills currently going through the process is House File 291, dealing with collective bargaining and public employee personnel reform. This bill has gone through many weeks of drafting and addresses several components of Chapter 20 (and other chapters) in the Iowa Code. This specific section of code hasn’t had a thoughtful review in over four decades, and during that time, the balance has gradually tipped away from the taxpayers who ultimately pay the bill. The goal of the legislation is to hold government unions more accountable to those they represent and to modernize and rebalance some aspects of the law to reflect today’s economic realities.
Public sector workers are invaluable to our state in many ways and have some of the toughest jobs around. Because we recognize the important work public employees do, the proposed changes to Chapter 20 were carefully weighed and subjected to the full legislative process.There has been a lot of false speculation and misinformation circulated about what the bill does and doesn’t do. Here are some facts related to common points of concern.
The Republican plan does not repeal the right to collectively bargain.
Chapter 20 will not be repealed. Public unions will still have the right to represent bargaining units and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with public employers. This bill does not affect private sector unions whatsoever.
The proposed changes will not subject employees to workplace discrimination, unsafe environments, or violations of their rights including due process for termination.
Current state and federal law provides protections against discrimination, harassment, retaliation or any other unlawful practices. It is already illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, creed, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability. This bill does not undo those protections.
The current collective bargaining law does not provide a balanced playing field during negotiations for employers and employees.
The current law is tipped in favor of government unions. For example, arbitrators cannot even consider if the state has enough funds to pay for wage and benefit increases, but they can consider their ability to increase taxes in order to generate more funds to pay for these benefits. That is unfair to taxpayers and other key responsibilities of state government.
Health insurance will not be eliminated for public employees under this bill.
Page 46, line 3 of bill explicitly states the employer must offer health insurance. Similar to retirement systems like IPERS, it will be required to be offered but will not be handled through the bargaining process for most public employees.
The proposed changes will not alter or diminish the quality of any retirement systems.
Since its inception, Chapter 20 has prohibited the negotiation of state employee retirement systems. State pension systems have never been a subject of negotiation and the quality of the system has never been influenced or changed by the bargaining process. Pension systems have been protected from collective bargaining for 40 years and will remain protected.
Republicans are not aiming to disenfranchise unions.
The plan gives government workers more freedom and choice in their workplaces. If a union is unresponsive to their needs they are free to vote against certification of that union. If the union is providing value and needed services to those it represents, that union will thrive. If the goal was to “union-bust,” then the plan would entirely eliminate any collective bargaining rights for government employees, which is the case in several other states.
Exceptional employees will be able to be rewarded while it will be easier to get rid of those who consistently underperform.
The proposed bill will give local governments the ability to recruit and retain employees for hard-to-fill positions, and unencumber the process for terminating ineffective employees. Meanwhile, all the same protections for due process and wrongful termination will still exist. The proposal will help protect exceptional employees rather than shielding poor performing ones.
This bill will help bring our collective bargaining law into the 21st century with these pragmatic changes. Now is the time to rebalance the scales and make sure that Iowans have a fair and equitable system that works for public employers, employees, and taxpayers.