From Rep. Dave Heaton

Written by Theresa Rose on February 14, 2017

They UPFRONT

February 14, 2017

TITLE:   Chapter 20 – Collective Bargaining

 

If one thought that this legislative session was going to be an easy one they were sadly mistaken.

 

Two weeks ago we passed the Deappropriation Bill that was necessary because revenues were not giving us enough money to pay for our current budget.  A week ago, we passed an allowable growth bill that would only provide 1.1 percent to our K-12 school districts.  Estimates from the REC (Revenue Estimating Conference) projected $200 million of new money.  The decision to provide $40 million was the best we could do, given the other built in expenses that our budget has to address.

 

This week, we will be debating proposed changes in collective bargaining, better known as Chapter 20.

 

In 1974, Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Act (now Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code) was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by a Republican Governor, Robert D Ray.  The act reflected careful compromise by Iowa’s public employers and employees, many of whom had come together to advocate for Iowans to adopt a fair and binding legal process to settle disputes.

 

By all accounts, the system established by the act has worked well for over forty years to promote negotiated settlements of public sector contracts, to prevent strikes, and to promote widespread prosperity and stable communities by aligning standards of employment with regional and occupational trends.

 

No public sector strikes have occurred since the law was passed, and an average of ninety-eight percent of public sector contracts negotiated in Iowa each year are settled voluntarily.  Those that reach impasse are forwarded to a third-party arbitrator, whose decision is final and binding, and who is required by statute to take into account budgetary constraints and comparisons between the contract terms in question and conditions of employees in similar employment.

 

There are those here in the House who feel that over the years, our Chapter 20 has slowly tipped in favor of the unions.  I feel that from the outset, it was the intention of the Legislature 40 years ago to create a balance between labor and management as they sought to find agreement in contract negotiations.   It is the requirement of the arbitrator that he must choose between the authors of both parties, and can only pick one or the other.

 

Current law reads that the arbitrator shall consider raising taxes to be part of the decision. Proponents of the bill feel that the arbitrator should be limited to the resources that are currently available.

 

Ultimately, the bill proposes that the arbitrator’s decision would be limited to a wage increase of three percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.  This does not preclude an employer from offering a wage that is greater than the CPI or three percent increase – this only applies if the contract goes to arbitration.   It is felt that this limitation will encourage the two parties to agree before going to binding arbitration.

 

The bill asks for certification of the agent who will be negotiating on behalf of the employees. It will requires a majority vote of all those who are eligible.  Members would have the right to choose whether their union would be the negotiating agent.

 

Currently, union dues can automatically be pulled from their members’ paychecks.  The bill does not discourage electronic transfers of union dues, but the dues must come from the union member’s bank account, rather than automatically deducted from their check.

 

The bill mandates that base wages must be considered and that health insurance must be offered.  However, health insurance would not be part of the negotiation but determined by the employer.

 

Public safety employees, including highway Patrol, police and fire personnel, sheriffs and their deputies, and motor vehicle enforcement officers of the DOT are not included in this legislation.  They will continue to operate under the current rules of Chapter 20.   Correctional officers of our prisons were not deemed exempt.

 

The bill moves many categories that were originally part of collective bargaining to the sole responsibility of the employer; procedures for staff reductions, sub-contracting public services, leave of absence for political activities, (run for public office) health insurance, evaluation procedures, and employment benefits.

 

Negotiations yesterday removed the following from the list of prohibited items and moved them to permissive; release time, grievance procedures and seniority and any wage increase, employment benefit, or other employment advantage based on seniority.

 

The passage of this bill, House File 291 has come a long way since it was first introduced.  There have been movements that addressed certain issues that were previously prohibited to issues that can be discussed between management and employees if mutually agreed to.  Those include; hours, vacations, holidays, leaves of absence, except for political activity, shift differentials, overtime compensation, seniority, job classifications, health and safety matters, in-service training and other matters mutually agreed upon.  The difference between the current proposal and the current Chapter 20 is that there must be an agreement between the two parties in order to discuss these issues.  In the past, these topics were mandated to be part of collective bargaining.

 

I truly want to find a balance in this proposal.  I recognize that a lot of the topics have now been moved to mutual agreement, but that asks for a lot of trust that those topics will be discussed and agreed to.

 

The debate on this bill will take until the end of the week.  I have not yet made a decision as to whether I will vote yes or no on this bill.  I will listen to the debate and will be making up my mind.

 

Visitors to the capitol were:  Reverend Gene Bray of Harvest Baptist Church, Mt. Pleasant;

 

If you have any issues or concerns, please contact me. Be sure to include your name and address with any communication to my office.

 

 

Dave Heaton, State Representative,

State House, Des Moines, Iowa 50319

Phone: 515-281-7327~Fax: 515-281-6958

E-mail: dave.heaton@legis.state.ia.us

Web page: http://www.daveheaton.net