Collective bargaining pits legislators against one another

Farm Bureau held a legislative forum on Feb. 18 at McOtto’s in Anamosa. Rep. Lee Hein, Sen. Don Zumbach, Rep. Andy McKean, and Sen. Tod Bowman were all present. The biggest item of contention surrounded the new collective bargaining law that the Governor signed on Friday, Feb. 17. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Iowa’s new collective bargaining law, which Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law on Friday, Feb. 17, caused some contention during the Feb. 18 Jones County Farm Bureau forum at McOtto’s in Anamosa. It was standing-room-only for the morning forum, with Sens. Tod Bowman and Dan Zumbach, and Reps. Lee Hein and Andy McKean present.

     Before any issues were even brought to light, Rep. McKean took the opportunity to explain the difference in the mood in the Capitol compared to his first term 15 years ago. He said he’s noticed a change in Des Moines that truly concerns him.

     “Partisanship has gotten incredibly intense in the Iowa legislature, much more so than when I served previously. Sometimes I think partisanship can reach the point where it stands in the way of really good legislation.

     “I feel I was elected not to blindly follow the party that dictates me, the Republican Party, and not always oppose everything the Democrats have to say,” added McKean, “but to take a look at each issue on an issue by issue basis and the best decisions that I can for the people I represent.”

     In terms of the historic landmark that is now the state’s new collective bargaining law, Sen. Bowman offered that this was the first time in the history of the Iowa Senate where senators were cut off from debate on the Senate floor. He said they had multiple amendments to the bill, and debated for 30 straight hours until they were told enough was enough.

     “They (Senate Republicans) put emergency provisions on this bill,” said Bowman. Turning to address Sen. Zumbach, Bowman asked, “What was the emergency of this bill?”

     Zumbach explained that when this bill came up, the Democratic Caucus introduced roughly 40 amendments. He said the Democrats were taking several hours to debate each amendment, one by one. Seeing how long it was going to take, Zumbach said the majority decided to allow all-night debating.

     “If they want to take each one of these 40 amendments and spend a lot of time on them, and talk a lot about a lot and a lot about nothing, to milk an amendment out, if they wanted time, we will give them that time,” said Zumbach. “We decided to let the clock go and debate all night.”

     He said the session started at 9 a.m. and went into the night, then through 8 a.m. the next morning (Thursday, Feb. 16).

     “We had been through 10 amendments in that timeframe,” said Zumbach. “We decided rather than milk it out for hours and hours, we are going to make a decision at 2 p.m.”

     Bowman still persisted asking Zumbach why it was such an emergency to get this bill passed by Thursday.

     “You had chances to amend things that were obvious mistakes and your leadership said we are not amending anything. We have to get this bill done today.”

     Bowman asked why the collective bargaining bill could not have waited, like the distracted driving bill. “We’re still working on texting and driving; that’s not an emergency, but we have people across the state dying for it.”

     Zumbach clarified that the 29 Republicans in the Senate that make up the majority wanted to see this bill passed.

     “We decided it was in the best interest of the Senate to get this bill passed and move forward,” he told Bowman.

     A woman in the crowd asked whether it was truly the majority of Iowans who wanted to see the bill passed, or the majority of the Senate’s campaign contributors?

     “There were 88 folks in the legislature who worked through this process,” said Zumbach. “That’s including House and Senate members. Those 88 people are from across the entire State of Iowa. It went through the same process every other bill goes through. It went through a subcommittee. It went through a committee. It came to floor. All of those things happened.”

     To answer the question of the audience, Bowman outlined what the now-law offers.

     “It allows public workers that are non-public safety workers to be able to negotiate and collectively bargain on their base salary,” he said.

     Knowing Bowman was opposed, McKean also outlined reasons he was one of six Republicans in the House who opposed the bill, while still feeling that changes needed to be made to the collective bargaining law that was on the books.

     “We needed to find ways to make our unions more responsive to the folks they represent,” he said. “I think we needed to make some adjustments to have a more even playing field between employers and employees. We needed to find ways to give our local school boards, boards of supervisors, city councils, etc. more flexibility in making decisions to be able to reward people who are really doing a good job and also find ways to terminate people who are consistently under performing.

     “There were a lot of things in the bill I thought were positive,” praised McKean. “However, I felt it went further than it needed to go. I felt it resulted in unnecessary rancor around the state that could have been avoided. But most of all, what I found very troubling about the bill is that it differentiated among our public employees. It carved out a special exception for public workers, treated them differently so they could bargain on everything. The rest, left to bargain on only wages.  What I particularly inexplicable was not including our correctional employees as part of our public safety exception. If anybody deserves to be considered public safety employees, it’s our correctional workers. I thought it was very unfortunate that they weren’t included. For me, that was a reason to oppose the bill in its final form.”

     Bowman said this was one instance where he agreed with the other side.

     “I would have agreed that reform is needed in our Chapter 20 law (collective bargaining),” acknowledged Bowman. “I was working with folks ‘in the know’ on tweaks and a gutting process. I met with superintendents, and a lot of management people. What’s funny is that they didn’t want this bill. They didn’t support it. Do you know who supported this bill? Americans for Prosperity. They were there all night making sure Republicans were going to resist any amendment, even if it was a technical amendment that made the bill right, they still resisted it. The big Chamber Alliance was also for it. Supervisors weren’t for it. Superintendents weren’t for it. You name it; they weren’t for it. And yet we rushed this through. Instead of going back to get more feedback from people that want to share their views, whether they’re for it or against it.”


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