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Collective bargaining bill passes Iowa House committee
Despite 15 hours of debate and delay by Democrats, Republicans in the House Labor Committee were finally able to pass a bill Friday morning that would weaken collective bargaining rights for Iowa’s public employees.
Democrats offered 48 amendments, starting at noon Thursday and culminating in a 9 to 5 party-line vote around 6 a.m. Friday morning. The bill – House Study Bill 117 — was left unchanged and will now go to the full House.
The legislation makes numerous changes to collective bargaining laws, ranging from allowing the legislature or governor to veto decisions made by an arbitrator to denying unions the ability to negotiate their health insurance or retirement plans. Restrictions or limitations on outsourcing would be lifted, and unions would no longer have any say regarding layoffs. The bill also allows employees to become “free agents,” who can negotiate their terms of employment directly with employers even if they are in a union shop.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said Thursday: “Make no mistake, it repeals collective bargaining rights, plain and simple. And that’s all it seeks to do.”
Gronstal called the bill a “blatant attack on the middle class,” while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) said it was a “widespread assault on subtleties, (meaning) the right for workers to come to the table and negotiate these things.”
On Tuesday, around 1,000 people gathered at the state Capitol in dueling protests; most were union workers or union supporters, the remaining few were tea party activists protesting what some called “arrogant unions.”
Demonstrations in protest of collective bargaining legislation have spread to Minnesota, Ohio and Colorado.
In Wisconsin, similar legislation would significantly curb the power of public union employees by cutting bargaining rights on everything but wages. Thousands of protesters have flooded the Wisconsin statehouse in the last week in protest of the bill.
More importantly, the state’s 14 Democrat senators fled the state last week in an effort to stall the bill, saying they will return only if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will compromise, which Walker has publicly refused to do.
Thursday, state troopers were sent to the senators homes to find at least one who could return to session to vote. Wisconsin law prohibits legislators from being arrested during the legislative session except when charged with a felony or treason.
Tuesday, several Indiana Democrats fled to neighboring Illinois to stall the passage of a Republican-backed labor bill. The move prompted Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, to urge his party members to not act on the state’s labor bill until Democrats return to work.
While Iowa’s two parties are in disagreement over Iowa’s own collective bargaining legislation, Democrat and Republican leaders can concur on one thing: No one is going anywhere.
“The people won’t see Iowa Representatives fleeing to Wisconsin or anywhere,” McCarthy said. “In Wisconsin, the stakes are high. We’re talking about the return of a single Wisconsin senator, and the party risks being dismantled. The stakes in Iowa are high, but not that high.”
Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said Republicans are optimistic the provisions outlined in House Study Bill 117 will be discussed by all sides.
“I’m not under the illusion the Democrats will take this bill as is, but I’m not resigned to the idea they won’t talk about it,” he said. “And I’m not convinced that this will be blocked by the Senate.”
Paulsen said Republicans will ensure House Study Bill 117 will be “as public of a discussion as possible,” by heavily involving Democratic leaders and union representatives.
“Even if they don’t like the bill, they will be included in discussing it,” he said.
The Democrats, alternatively, were skeptical. Gronstal pledged his party will “fight (House Study Bill 117) every step of the way.” McCarthy said the bill’s contents do not offer “room for discussion.”