Protesters march around the State Capitol in Des Moines at the March for Iowa's Teachers Feb. 12 (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)
Protesters march around the State Capitol in Des Moines at the March for Iowa's Teachers Feb. 12 (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)

Public bargaining changes protested

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By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

Many people attended a public hearing held at the State Capitol on Monday evening to protest a bill proposing drastic changes to Iowa’s collective-bargaining laws for public employees.

House File 291 — the bill in question — would seriously limit the collective-bargaining rights guaranteed to public workers by Iowa’s Chapter 20, which was introduced in 1974 by a bipartisan group and signed into law by a Republican governor.

Although it preserves existing collective-bargaining rights for public-safety employees, HF 291 strips other public workers of their existing rights except the right to negotiate base wages.

John Thomas, a West Des Moines police officer, urged the Legislature not to continue fast-tracking the bill.

“A harm to one public employee is a harm to all public employees,” he said.

However, Gretchen Tegler, president of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa, said HF 291 is a win-win for all Iowans.

Tegler said raises sometimes come at the expense of other public services.

“I have … watched locally as our communities have closed libraries, cut back on street maintenance, and even cut public safety in order to pay for settlements they cannot afford,” she said.

After the bill was introduced, 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.

HF 291 and its companion bill, Senate File 213 were introduced last week. The Senate Committee on Labor and Business Relations recommended passage of SF 213 on Feb. 9.

An amendment to HF 291 was filed Feb. 10 that would making the only change to Chapter 20 the addition of safety equipment to the list of negotiable items. A more drastic amendment for SF 213 was filed Monday by Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines.

That amendment would remove all the changes to Chapter 20 proposed by SF 213, which are similar to those outlined in HF 291, and instead establish a Public Employee Health Insurance Reform Study Committee.

“The clear purpose of these bills is to eliminate public-sector unions. … To be clear: Iowa City’s City Council does not object to thoughtful amendment of Chapter 20. But thoughtful amending is not what the House and Senate are doing. Consequently, we strongly believe the proposed bills should be rejected,” said a statement from the website of Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton.