Union Busting Iowa Style

Prairie Dog

From the September 2022 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The PP is  funded entirely by reader subscription,  available only in hard copy for $15/yr.  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. Click here for archived issues.

by Jesse Case

In the early months and the night hours of 2017, the newly elected Republican majority in the Iowa Legislature assaulted Iowa’s public servants by making changes to Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code.

Driven by out-of-state right-wing overlords like the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and acting swiftly on an issue no one campaigned on, they stripped collective bargaining rights for 180,000 public sector employees in Iowa. Relieving public employers from their obligations to bargain with their employees on almost every working condition, they unilaterally changed a system that had served both employers and employees alike for more than 40 years – a system that was created in a bipartisan fashion with a Democratic majority in the statehouse and a Republican governor at the time.

In its place, they left a system where local entities like school boards, city councils, and boards of supervisors get to decide if and what they want to bargain. They created a space for union-busting law firms and consultants to manipulate local elected officials, most of whom aren’t experts in labor law or the history of collective bargaining and its effects on the people they govern.

This year marks the fifth year since the Iowa legislature destroyed the rights of our public servants to bargain collectively. For more than four decades, public servants in communities large and small, knew that Iowa had their backs and they could rest easy when they went home after work, knowing they had a say in their own working conditions and benefits. But five years ago, corporate-owned politicians decided that snowplow drivers, sanitation workers, school bus drivers, teachers, nurses, and other public servants shouldn’t have a voice on the job. The results have been devastating.

Gutless politicians from both parties sitting on school boards, city councils, county boards of supervisors, and the state of Iowa itself, began to voluntarily gut union contracts – not because they had to, but because they could.

Our members have been sharing their stories of how this attack on their union rights has personally affected them. A school bus driver told us that his District took bereavement leave out of his union contract right before his mother passed away and he didn’t have as much time off to grieve as he would have had just a month before. A snowplow driver tells us his insurance premiums keep going up, his wife has cystic fibrosis, and they are suffering both physically and financially because of this bad law. A county jailer tells us they lost their longevity pay, and years of public service to the county now mean nothing.

And now our communities are feeling the results. Public service jobs traditionally   have had a higher percentage of women in the field than their private sector counterparts, a higher percentage public sector workers have college degrees, and public sector jobs used to be the best jobs in virtually every city and small town across Iowa. But now, we’re starting to lose those workers. They’re quitting at a higher rate than ever before because legislators took away their right to bargain.

It’s our belief that every worker has a right to a union, regardless of where you live and regardless of what you do. If you dedicate your life to serving the public – you
deserve a voice on the job and you deserve a union. Whether working in Des Moines or a rural community far from the closest interstate or airport, our public employees deserve respect, and they deserve a union.

We’re putting elected officials on notice. If you tried to bust our union in the last five  years— you’re on our list. If you’ve been elected to office and you think it’s your right  to deny workers a union, you’re on our radar. We will be reaching out to local elected officials in the coming months and asking them to restore union rights. If they don’t,  we will picket, we will protest, we will stand up, and we will sit in if we must. Public sector union-busters are no longer going to get a free pass.

The attack on public servants has affected every city and small town across Iowa. It’s time to organize and fight back. Unions across Iowa are organizing more protests, pickets, and press conferences to expose the systematic attempts to bust unions and erode the living standards of Iowa’s working families. Please take the time to attend these events when you can.

Follow us at https://www.facebook.com/Teamsters238 to find out when and where.

It’s your fight, too.

—Jesse Case is Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 238 and
Vice-President of the Iowa Federation of Labor

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