Labor Update: Iowa Should Pass Reasonable Reimbursement Legislation

Labor Update: Iowa Should Pass Reasonable Reimbursement Legislation


by Tracy Kurowski

“Last Wednesday when the Iowa House held a hearing….people spoke in
favor of the legislation by a margin of two to one.


A few years back, I was a member of an AFSMCE local in Chicago. Members like me paid full dues every month. Non-members paid their fair share, a portion of the dues that went toward contract negotiations, grievance and arbitration handling and other contract enforcement activities, but not any portion of dues that went toward educational or political activities.


Despite my urging, one of my co-workers chose not to become a member of the union – which was really too bad because she was one hell of a fighter and would have been a great ally at the negotiating table.

As it was, she remained a non-member who none-the-less was better acquainted with the contract language than most of her co-workers, member and non-member alike.    

At some point, one of her co-workers started to sexually harass her at the workplace. When she brought that to the attention of management, her concerns were repeatedly ignored. The situation grew so intolerable, that she decided to change her schedule, reducing her hours and pay. When asked why she did this – she explained the sexual harassment and mishandling of the situation from management. Now sexual harassment wasn’t spelled out in the union contract, but it was explicitly described by the management’s own employee handbook. After much discussion with her co-workers and the union, she decided to file a grievance over how management had mishandled the situation.

Of course, this wasn’t easy for her, but her union steward supported her grievance. He helped her write it, and he helped her file it. He represented her at multiple hearings with management during which time management repeatedly refused to accept responsibility for her continued exposure to harassment at the workplace in violation of the employer’s own policies. Finally, at great expense – much greater than the sum total of all her fair share dues over the years – the union took the issue to arbitration and its legal team won back all the lost wages for the woman as well as her right to return to her full hours of employment. Additionally, the entire staff was required to attend classes to learn to identify and handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

Even after all of this, the woman still refused to become a member of the union – and up until the time I left that job, she also still remained one of the union’s most active and informed non-members I’ve ever known.

What the State of Iowa is proposing to do with Reasonable Reimbursement legislation would instate a similar situation for state employees in Iowa. As currently proposed, the Reasonable Reimbursement legislation would not apply to city, county, municipal, judicial branch or school employees. It also would not extend to any worker in the private sector.

It is nowhere near the scope of what is permitted in the State of Illinois, but it’s a start, and from the above anecdote, I hope people will see the inherent fairness in the legislation.

Fair Share – or Reasonable Reimbursement as it’s now been re-branded – is simply the idea that a person ought to pay for services rendered. It is not forced unionization, as I have illustrated above. Reasonable Reimbursement provides an avenue for workers to get, at much cheaper cost, legal representation when their rights – spelled out in the contract and in employee handbooks – are violated at the workplace, and for unions to be reasonably reimbursed for providing such representation.

Imagine how much my co-worker would have had to pay a private attorney to sue and recover what she had lost when management ignored her legitimate and ultimately vindicated harassment complaints.

If passed, this legislation would only permit reasonable reimbursement as a subject of bargaining. It would not mandate it.  Once established as a permissible subject of bargaining, the union and management would then have to agree to language in negotiations – then it would be up to the members to sign off on it by voting that contract up or down.

Finally, if all the above occurs and non-members think they are being assessed a fee higher than what they think they should be charged, they can challenge the assessment.

Last Wednesday when the Iowa House held a hearing on Reasonable Reimbursement legislation, people spoke in favor of the legislation by a margin of two to one.

The handful of opponents illogically tried to say this is expensive legislation, but the law as written will not cost the state a penny. Opponents also tried to scare people into thinking they’ll be taxed into oblivion from this, but nothing in the law influences tax revenue of any kind. They also claimed that this legislation will create an anti-business climate in Iowa, when in fact, it does not repeal Right to Work or force unionization on anybody.

The proposed legislation is a shadow of what Fair Share means in States like Illinois where Fair Share has been practiced for decades and where – surprise – the sky hasn’t fallen. Reasonable Reimbursement in Iowa would be a cold drink of weak coffee compared to the espresso shot of legislation currently in effect in Illinois and other worker-friendly states. However, even this minor jolt would be a tremendous advance for workers’ rights in Iowa.

Tracy
Kurowski
is currently AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison at the United
Way of the Quad City Area. She has been active in the labor movement
for ten years, first as a member of AFSCME 3506, when she taught adult
education classes at the City Colleges of Chicago. She moved to the
Quad Cities in 2007 where she worked as political coordinator with the
Quad City Federation of Labor, and as a caseworker for Congressman
Bruce Braley from 2007 – 2009.

Tracy Kurowski writes a labor update every
Monday on Blog for Iowa

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