Protestors gather at the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa for the March for Iowa's Teachers on Feb. 12 (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)
Protestors gather at the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa for the March for Iowa's Teachers on Feb. 12 (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)

Teachers rally to protect collective bargaining rights

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By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

Hundreds turned out at the State Capitol for the March for Iowa’s Teachers on Sunday afternoon to protest a bill striping public employees of their collective-bargaining rights.

The march was hosted by Iowans for Public Education. Supporting groups included the Badass Teachers Association, Indivisible Iowa, Iowa Action, and the Women’s March Iowa Chapter.

“Preservation of Chapter 20 is really the big deal today. This collective bargaining that’s been working for Iowans for 40 years is going to be gone unless we do something now,” said Consultant and Organizer for Iowans for Public Education Claire Celsi.

Chapter 20 outlines the collective-bargaining rights guaranteed to public employees in the state of Iowa. It was introduced in 1974 by a bipartisan group, and signed into law by a Republican governor.

As it stands, House File 291—the bill in question—would seriously limit workers’ collective-bargaining rights, while maintaining legal prohibitions on strikes.

“I think there’s a big misperception in the public that we are given these rights, and we earned these rights. We sat down at a bargaining table,” said Vicky Rossander, a teacher leader with the West Des Moines Public Schools.

The bill would remove the provision requiring employers to provide proper cause for all employee terminations and suspensions.

“I gave up 22 years of raises to have things like health insurance, have one personal day of leave, and I think that people think that somehow we were just given this and we weren’t,” Rossander said.

Although it preserves existing collective bargaining rights for public-safety employees, it strips other public employees of their bargaining rights except the right to negotiate base wages. Negotiation on all other matters would take place at the strict discretion of the employer.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, a speaker at the event, said, “We’ve been told this is just about modernizing Chapter 20, but this is about fighting for the soul of Iowa and the future of our communities.”

Many noted the bill’s speedy progress so far.

“[Most people] had no idea of the speed that this bill has come down and the absolutely immutable force that is the Republican party right now,” Celsi said.

Joe Gorton, a University of Northern Iowa associate professor, began a petition to halt House Study Bill 84, the predecessor of HF 291. The petition, which addressed both the state government and the state Board of Regents, advocates for the protection of collective bargaining rights.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines filed an amendment to HF 291 on Feb. 10. The amendment would drastically alter HF 291, making the only change to Chapter 20 the addition of safety equipment to the list of negotiable items.

“I am heartened to hear and see that people are here,” Rossander said. “Part of me is very discouraged, though, because I’m not sure it’s going to make a difference. We’ve been told that this bill is going to fast track and that by this time next weekend the bill will already be law.”

Celsi said she thinks a few Republicans will consider voting against the bill but that they will need to flip a few Republicans in the state legislature to stop it from passing.

The Senate’s companion to HF 291, Senate File 213, was introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Labor and Business Relations on Feb. 7. The committee recommended passage of the bill Feb. 9.

After being introduced Feb. 9, a public hearing on HF 291 was scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in room 103 of the State Capitol.

Des Moines Education Association President Andrew Rasmussen urged the rally’s attendees to come to the public hearing.

In the meantime, Celsi said, Iowans should call the governor’s office and their own state legislators Monday and Tuesday to express their disapproval.

“They need to come up to the capitol. The thing that works the most is having people contact their own legislator,” Celsi said.