Most of the news you hear about the state of the labor movement these days is either bad…or worse. Falling union membership, losing organizing campaigns, passage right-to-work (for less) bills and on and on.
But yesterday we saw some very different headlines coming out of Iowa: “In biggest vote since new law, Iowa public unions overwhelmingly choose to recertify.”
Republicans, who took over both houses of Iowa’s legislature last year, and Governor Terry Branstad, sought to emulate the union-busting campaign of Scott Walker in Wisconsin who had declared war on public employees in 2011. Most of the law affected “non-safety” public employees, leaving firefighters and police relatively unscathed. Non public safety related employees, however, will now be limited to just bargaining over wages. No longer would they be allowed to bargain over such items as health insurance, vacation time and seniority perks, holidays, leaves of absence, shift differentials, overtime compensation,supplemental pay, seniority, transfer procedures, job classifications, health and safety matters, evaluation procedures, procedures for staff reduction, in-service training or grievance procedures.
“There’s not one Republican in this state that could win an election under the rules they gave us.” — AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan
The legislation also requires public employees to re-certify their unions with each new contract — which means once every two to three years. To re-certify, a majority of workers in a bargaining unit have to vote in favor of the union, not just the majority of those voting. What that means is that members not voting count as “no” votes. As my old AFSCME buddy, Danny Homan, who leads the 40,000 members of AFSCME Council 61 in Iowa, said, “There’s not one Republican in this state that could win an election under the rules they gave us.”
All Iowa Democrats voted against the legislation. Six Republicans also opposed, with the rest voting in favor.
But never underestimate the power of strong unions. Turns out that despite the Republicans’ best efforts, Iowa public sector unions won an overwhelming victory in this week’s elections. 436 out of 468 public-sector bargaining units voted to recertify their unions. 88 percent of members voted. Homan proudly boasted that “100% of AFSCME-covered employees voted to retain their union.” AFSCME only lost one 4-person unit because of a voided ballot. Other unions, like the Iowa State Education Association also did well, winning 216 out of 220 bargaining units.
28,448 people voted to maintain their union affiliations in this round of voting and only 624 people voted against. 4,043 people did not vote.
Homan summed it up:
This sweeping victory confirms what we’ve known since the gutting of collective bargaining rights in February: that unionized employees, both members and non-members, value their voice in the workplace and reject the actions of … Republicans who turned their backs on working Iowans in February.
And Republicans won’t be able to sleep easily from now on, according to Homan: “I am confident that workers will once again claim victory in the November 2018 election when those politicians who stabbed them in the back are sent packing.”
Might be a fun election.
And appropriately, we’ll let Billy Bragg take us out tonight: