Workers’ woes

Packed house weighs in on collective bargaining legislation

T-R PHOTO BY JEFF HUTTON State Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, addresses a packed house Saturday morning during the Marshalltown Education Association’s legislative breakfast at the Fisher Community Center. Audience members shared their concerns that collective bargaining bills in the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate will negatively impact union workers and public service workers across Iowa.

“I will be voting no when this bill comes over to us from the Senate.”

State Rep. Mark Smith faced a Fisher Community Center auditorium audience of union and community members Saturday morning during the Marshalltown Education Association’s legislative breakfast.

A round of applause greeted him after he confirmed that he would vote against legislation calling for wide-ranging changes for many collective bargaining units across the state.

“I think it’s a poorly-drafted and confusing piece of legislation,” the House Minority Leader said. “This (legislation) is, overall, an assault on everyday working Iowans.”

Smith, D-Marshalltown, was the sole area lawmaker present at the breakfast, with state Rep. Dean Fisher and state Sen. Jeff Edler unable to attend.

MEA President Sue Cahill told the audience the two Republican lawmakers would not be in attendance, adding the date of the meeting had been pushed back a week and moved locations. Even so, an audible chuckle spread through the room at the announcement.

Cahill said she had a 30-minute conversation with Edler Friday, and asked him for his thoughts on House Study Bill 84 and Senate File 213, and she said he claimed he was still doing research and collecting the thoughts of his constituents.

She said the senator had expressed his support for “local control” in their conversation.

From the gathered audience came a myriad of questions, ranging from “Is this (vote) going to go right down party lines?” to “What’s the best way to make sure our elected officials hear our voices?” to “What is the next step?” should such legislation pass.

Smith said the legislation, even with provisions for the negotiation rights of public safety-majority bargaining units, can still have negative consequences for union firefighters, police and other such positions outlined in the bills’ language.

“There is a provision for public safety workers to be exempt and to be allowed to continue to collectively bargain,” Smith said. “There are provisions later in the bill that talk about disciplinary actions … that circumvent that.”

He said even public safety union members can have their pensions taken away under the bills’ current language, and could be fired without just cause just as members of non-public safety majority units could.

“We are told that there will be amendments to it on the Republicans’ side that may clear up some of those (conflicting parts of the bill),” Smith said. “I’m also told the bill will start in the senate, we should see those changes at that time and be able to react to them.”

Miller Middle School teacher Katie Sawer asked Smith what to do if the legislation passes into law. Smith invoked a line from the Civil Rights Movement, “We shall overcome,” and said to talk to lawmakers in a face-to-face and civil manner as much as possible. He also said it’s important to remember these changes being proposed in the November 2018 mid-term election.

Several union members who work at the Iowa Veterans Home were in attendance, and expressed concerns that the bill would have negative consequences for military veteran union members, as well as several IVH employees who care for them.

A question from one IVH employee had to do with how holiday pay would be handled under the proposed legislation.

“It will not be an item that you can negotiate on, it will be a decision by management,” Smith said of holiday pay.

He also thanked the IVH employees for their work.

“Not only are these folks providing excellent care to our veterans, they are working long hours,” he said.

Smith said the proposed legislation goes against Republicans’ message of local control, adding he disagrees with the separate idea of a statewide insurance plan. He also referenced possible upcoming legislation spearheaded by Sen. Brad Zaun to make “drastic changes” to Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, or IPERS.

Concerns among the audience also centered on how union members’ families could be affected by those members being fired without just cause, or possibly paying for things like insurance out-of-pocket.

“We need to pull together as a state,” Smith said, imploring that audience members take time to discuss their concerns not only with local lawmakers, but lawmakers throughout the state.

A public hearing over the bills is set for the Iowa Supreme Court chamber of the State Capitol building, room 102, at 6 p.m. Monday. Additionally, Cahill said a demonstration against the proposed legislation is set for 2-4 p.m. today at the Capitol.

For more information on legislation coming out of the Iowa General Assembly, go to