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Collective Bargaining Reform Becomes Law

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By: MacKenzie Dreeszen


After months of preparation, HF 291, a bill that reforms the collective bargaining process in Iowa, was passed in the House on Thursday by a vote of 53-47. The Senate adopted the House version of the bill with a vote of 29-21 the same day. All Senate Republicans voted for HF 291, with Independent Senator David Johnson and Democrat Senators opposed.
Sponsored by Representative Steve Holt (R, Denison), the bill went through a vigorous process before its passage, starting with subcommittees in the House and Senate where it was referred to the committee on Labor. A special public hearing was held on Monday where Iowans were given an opportunity express their concerns before it was debated for three days in the House and Senate.
When questioned about the seemingly rapid pace at which this bill was passed, Representative Dawn Pettengill (R, Mount Auburn), gave the following response.
“This bill was not done behind closed doors. Republican lawmakers have been working on this bill since November. It was even in the Des Moines Register. We have held multiple public hearings and have debated it for several days. It has gone through the proper procedural process.”
While Democrats criticized Republicans for not listening to Iowans, Representative Skyler Wheeler (R, Orange City) responded that he and many other legislators have, in fact, heard from supporters.
“I have heard from school board members, superintendents, teachers, and other constituents in my district asking for my support on this bill.”
Representative Walt Rogers (R, Cedar Falls), advocated strongly in favor of reforming collective bargaining during the House floor debate.
“The problem with the current system is that it rewards the lowest common denominator. But this bill says that we want great teachers. The problem with the so-called level playing field is that it doesn’t allow people to shine. I would like to ask teachers to ignore all of the negativity regarding this bill.”
The bill changes several formerly Mandated items to Permissive, as long as both parties agree to add them to negotiation. Other items were moved from Mandatory to Restricted, including Transfer Procedures and Staff Reductions, giving state and local officials more opportunity to operate their agencies efficiently. HF 291 also provides greater incentives to high-performing employees while making it easier to eliminate employees who are not meeting acceptable standards.
Taxpayers will benefit from the removal of the consideration of the state’s ability to raise taxes to increase public employee salaries. HF 291 caps arbitration to a 3% pay increase or the Midwest Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. Union dues must now be collected from members themselves rather than automatically deducted from their paycheck, further decreasing the burden on Iowa taxpayers.
Unions must also be more transparent and accountable to the members they represent. Prior collective bargaining did not require unions to recertify. HF 291 enforces a recertification procedure to ensure that unions are representing the best interests of their members.
Health insurance must still be offered by state employers. However, decisions regarding health insurance will now be in the hands of local elected officials. In most cases, those making health insurance decisions are covered by the same policy, and agencies must compete in wages and benefits packages if they are to attract and retain the best employees.
After listening to the concerns of Iowans at local legislative forums, committee meetings, and public hearings, House Republicans amended the bill to reflect the issues that were addressed. The amendments passed reinstated proper cause for termination and moved items formerly in the Restricted category back to Permissive, including Grievance Procedures, Seniority and Seniority Benefits, and Release Time. The right to appeal a civil service commission’s decision to a district court was reinstated, and a drafting error was corrected that could have affected pensions for police and firefighters. Public safety employees were already exempt from this bill, but the threshold to qualify as a public safety employee was reduced from 50% to 30%, and motor vehicle employees were added to the list of public safety employees. Finally, federal funding to public transport will not be affected. No changes were made to IPERS.
Another HF 291 supporter, Representative Ashley Hinson (R, Marion), clarified that Republicans are not cutting funding to public employees. Rather than making pay cuts Representative Hinson said that instead, collective bargaining reform would keep public employee salaries in line with those in the private sector.
In his closing remarks, Representative Holt emphasized that “This is a bill written for Iowans, by Iowans. Current law diminishes the ability of officials to negotiate. HF 291 will provide flexibility and local control. We did listen. Amendments were added after hearing from Iowans during subcommittee and committee hearings and during floor debate. This bill is a win for taxpayers, teachers and public safety employees. It is a win for local control and efficiency through a smaller, smarter, and more innovative government.”