My apologies for not writing the last two weekends. While fulfilling my legislative duties here at the Capitol, I was fighting some painful, dental problems that are still not resolved, but they are definitely better.
We are on the third day of debating HF525 Chapter 20 Reform bill right now. There has been a lot of misinformation on the bill out there that I would like to straighten up. First of all, WE value the work of all of our public employees. We know the sacrifices of public service, with some even putting their lives on the line. HF525 is meant to allow the government's budgets to be a consideration in the negotiation process. The bill is NOT about busting unions or taking away rights of people. If anything, it gives rights back. Here is what the bill does:
1. It adds the "Free Agent Employee" classification. This says a person who is not union, does not receive the benefits and salary a union negotiates. Every year I have been in the Legislature, I've heard from both sides of that argument and this fixes both sides. If you are a dues paying union member, your dues will not have to go toward negotiating wages/benefits or solving grievances for non-dues paying employees. If you are a non-dues paying employee, you do not have to be affiliated with a group that you don't want to. There should be no more talk of scabs or anger toward each other in the workplace, restoring the rights of both sides. Our Labor Chair put this provision in to fix the problem we have heard about for years. In committee, he offered to take it out because it is the only thing in the bill that was not about adding budget considerations into the negotiation process. The other side said no in committee.
2. The management/union negotiations have mandated items they are to address in the good faith negotiations. The mandated items in the law now are wages, hours, vacations, insurance, holidays, leaves of absence, shift differentials, overtime, supplemental pay, seniority, transfer procedures, job classification, health and safety matters, evaluation procedures, procedures for staff reduction, in-service training and ALL OTHER matters mutually agreed upon.
This bill moves ONE of those items to the may talk about "if mutually agreed upon". What is being removed from the mandated list is the "procedures for staff reduction". This is being removed because when faced with budget cuts, sometimes layoffs are the only options due to the salaries and benefits required by contract. Our schools, our cities, our counties, our state. We are all in this together and are responding to your needs.
The health insurance was going to be out of the mandated list until the public hearing. After that hearing, we heard from about 65 people and every one had a concern with the health insurance part of the bill. So we are right now debating putting it back in with the minimum of $100 a month premium. For any public employee who pays $101 a month in premiums, this bill will not affect them at all. It is only for those paying under $101. We just heard in debate from Rep. Jacoby that he could not find a SINGLE public employee who doesn't pay anything. In less than 10 seconds, I found this link with the premiums that state employees pay for their health insurance. http://benefits.iowa.gov/2011_health_rates.html This is just one instance of the out and out lies that are being spread regarding this bill. Less than 10 seconds, but he has his sound bite. One more point, this bill deals with collective bargaining only, but we plan on ALL state employees having the same $100 a month premium. Including ourselves.
3. Another thing HF525 addresses is the arbitration process. When the two parties can't agree, the arbitrator now is required to take one side or the other. Many times there are many solutions in between that the arbitrator is not allowed to think about. HF525 allows an arbitrator to choose either side or anything in between. The arbitrator is to take into consideration the following items: comparison of benefits, comparison of public employees to public employees not represented by a union, comparison of public employees with private sector employees and taking into consideration similar and equitable economic conditions, ability of the public employer to finance the economics without raising any taxes and the efficiency of the public employer in its ability to carry out its functions.
Two provisions are deleted from what the arbitrator is required to consider: Past collective bargaining contracts between the parties including the bargaining that led up to those contracts and the power of the public employer to levy taxes and appropriate funds for the conduct of its operations.
4. Finally, this only applies to FUTURE bargaining agreements entered into on or after the Governor signs.
Clearing up the misinformation is important. The press doesn't cover much more than a few talking points or quotes of several people. I want you to know that I value every single public worker's work, commitment and their sacrifice for the public good. We are all public servants. In the area of my service, I am the Mom and Dad and have to be fiscally responsible and address the needs of all the family, while respecting all members of the family. HF525 is a piece of legislation that meets that spirit.
If you have any questions, I am here for you. The next legislative coffees are on Saturday, March 19th. At 10:00 am, I will be in Marengo at the Public Library and at 1:30 in Shellsburg's American Legion. Hope to see you there!