Iowa vs. Wisconsin: Battle of the Collective Bargaining Reforms!

Posted by Olivia Grady on Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 at 1:45 pm - Permalink

By Olivia Grady

On February 17, 2017 Iowa's collective-bargaining reform bill House File 291 was signed by Governor Terry Branstad (R). The law has been compared to Wisconsin's infamous Act 10 by proponents and opponents alike.

But how similar are they really?

On June 29, 2011, Governor Scott Walker’s (R) signature proposal, Act 10, or the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill became law of the land in the Badger State. The bill limited collective bargaining for most public sector employees to base wages. As a result, union membership dropped almost 40 percent from 14.2 percent in 2010 to 8.1 percent in 2016. Within 5 years, Wisconsin taxpayers also saved $5.24 billion.

Act 10 dramatically changed state labor law and other Wisconsin law. For example, the law limited collective bargaining to total base wages for most state employees. Contracts would be limited to one year, and collective bargaining units had to recertify every year. If the union was decertified, it had to wait a year before trying to recertify. In addition, employees were no longer required to pay union dues, and employers weren’t allowed to automatically deduct the dues from paychecks. Unions also have to let employers know of an intention to strike. Law enforcement, firefighters and others, however, were exempt.

Like Act 10, Iowa’s House File 291 limits collective bargaining in the public sector to wages. The state government also can’t deduct union dues from employee paychecks.

Iowa’s law, however, requires that unions wait two years to recertify or try to certify again after a decertification or the loss of an election, not just one year like Act 10. In addition, Iowa unions have to win an election every time their contract with the state is set to expire, which is typically two years after the contract was agreed to by the union and the state. Also, decertification elections can’t happen within a year of certification.

Also unlike Act 10, public safety officers aren’t entirely exempt from the bill; they just have fewer restrictions on collective bargaining. For example, excluded from negotiations for public safety workers are retirement systems, dues checkoffs and payroll deductions for politics. Public unions are prohibited from bargaining on insurance, leaves of absence of political activities, supplemental pay, transfer procedures, evaluation procedures, procedures for staff reduction and subcontracting public services. Everything but base wages was excluded from the Wisconsin law, which is similar but stricter than Iowa.

Interestingly, Iowa starts out with a much lower union membership rate than Wisconsin had in 2010. In Iowa, union membership today is only 9.6 percent. The membership percentage will likely drop though once this bill takes effect. The bill will likely also save the state money as it did in Wisconsin. Ms. Gretchen Tegeler, President of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa, believes the bill won’t have an immediate effect on taxes, but will constrain government.

Iowa currently is having a budget shortfall of almost $118 million, which the Senate and House agreed to fix on January 30, 2017 with budget cuts to state universities, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Education and others.

For fear of losing its dues, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61 sued the state on February 20, 2017 in Polk County District Court arguing the law violated Article 1, Section 6 of the Iowa Constitution, the equal protection clause:

“We are basically suing over the unconstitutionality of the law,” AFSCME President Danny Homan said at a news conference. “We believe the law treats public employees differently.”

The union represents 40,000 Iowa government workers, including law enforcement and correctional officers, firefighters, mental health workers, professional school staff, emergency responders and others.

Iowa House File 291 and Wisconsin Act 10 are very similar in that they basically limit collective bargaining by government unions to base wages. However, there are some differences, like the timing of a decertification election, that make Wisconsin’s law more favorable to workers.

To read the bill, please click here.