Iowa Governor Stops Expansion of Union Benefits

Published July 1, 2008

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) has vetoed a bill aimed at expanding the matters subject to collective bargaining for public school teachers throughout the state.

The bill, HF 2645, would have required negotiation for supplemental pay, evaluation procedures, preparation time, class size, discipline processes, certain retirement benefits, and dues checkoff, among other topics.

Culver, a self-described “supporter of workers rights and collective bargaining,” asked majority Democrats in the general assembly to allow public input on the bill. However, the bill passed both legislative chambers without a public hearing.

A motion to reconsider provided more time for public input and negotiations, but in his veto message Culver concluded the bill was still “vaguely written with the potential for far-reaching, unintended consequences that could obligate the citizens of Iowa to substantial new public expenditures.”

City officials in Des Moines predicted a 7 percent property tax increase would be required if the bill were enacted.

Teachers Disappointed

The Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) expressed disappointment with the governor’s actions. ISEA President Linda Nelson said the governor “missed the opportunity to recognize educators as true professionals and full partners in educational decision making.” She said the legislation “would have leveled the playing field for educators and other public employees at the bargaining table” by granting them rights similar to those enjoyed by private-sector employees.

Organizations such as the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) and Professional Educators of Iowa (PEI) fought hard against the union-backed bill and praised the governor’s veto. PEI criticized the bill for taking educational and personnel decisions out of the hands of local school authorities.

Supporters of HF 2645 argued the measure simply extended private-sector rights to public-sector employees. IASB noted HF 2645 did not establish the same strike and arbitration procedures as found in the private sector.

In the private sector, workers are allowed to go on strike, and arbitration is usually voluntary, or binding arbitration is voluntarily agreed to. HF 2645 banned strikes by public employees and provided for binding arbitration, which could place an arbitrator in the position of single-handedly raising government expenses (and thus taxes to cover the costs).

The HF 2645 veto was the second major defeat for Iowa labor unions in as many years. In 2007 labor unions nearly persuaded the legislature to repeal Iowa’s right-to-work law but were not able to overcome public opposition and procedural hurdles.

Scott Dilley ([email protected]) is labor policy analyst at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.

For more information …

“Culver vetoes union-backed bill, pay raises for himself & other statewide elected officials,” Radio Iowa: