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Union Breaking Iowa Style | Blog for Iowa

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Excerpt from the September 2022 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The PP is entirely funded by reader subscription, available only in print for $12/year. Mail check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. Click here for archived numbers.

by Jesse Case

During the first months and night of 2017, the newly elected Republican majority in the Iowa Legislature assaulted Iowa officials by making changes to Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code.

Pushed by out-of-state right-wing lords like the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and moving quickly on an issue no one campaigned on, they took away collective bargaining rights from 180,000 public sector employees in Iowa. Relieving public employers of their obligations to negotiate with their employees on almost all working conditions, they unilaterally changed a system that had served both employers and employees for more than 40 years – a system that was created from bipartisan manner with a Democratic majority in the state house and a Republican governor at the time.

In its place, they left a system where local entities like school boards, city councils and supervisory boards can decide if and what they want to negotiate. They have created space for law firms and anti-union consultants to manipulate local elected officials, most of whom are not experts in labor law or the history of collective bargaining and its effects on the people they serve. govern.

This year marks the fifth year since the Iowa Legislature destroyed the right of our public servants to bargain collectively. For more than four decades, public servants in communities large and small knew that Iowa had their back and that they could rest easy when they came home from 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 voice in the chapter. The results were devastating.

Unscrupulous bipartisan politicians on school boards, city councils, county supervisory boards, and the state of Iowa itself have begun willfully gutting union contracts — not because they want to. had to, but because they could.

Our members have shared their stories of how this attack on their union rights has affected them personally. A school bus driver told us that his district removed bereavement leave from his union contract just before his mother died and he didn’t have as much time to grieve as he did. would have had a month ago. A snowplow driver tells us that his insurance premiums keep going up, his wife has cystic fibrosis, and they are suffering physically and financially because of this bad law. A county jailer tells us that they have lost their longevity allowance and that years of public service in the county no longer mean anything.

And now our communities are feeling the results. Civil service jobs have traditionally had a higher percentage of women in the field than their private sector counterparts, a higher percentage of public sector workers have college degrees, and public sector jobs were the best jobs in virtually all cities and small towns in Iowa. But now we are starting to lose those workers. They are resigning at a faster rate than ever because lawmakers have taken away their right to negotiate.

We believe that every worker has the right to a union, no matter where they live or what they do. If you dedicate your life to public service, you
deserve a voice at work and you deserve a union. Whether they work in Des Moines or in a rural community far from the nearest freeway or airport, our public employees deserve respect and they deserve a union.

We put elected officials on notice. If you’ve tried to break our union in the past five years, you’re on our list. If you’ve been elected and 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 sit down if necessary. Union busters in the public sector will no longer have a free pass.

The attack on officials affected every town and small town in Iowa. It’s time to organize and fight. Unions in Iowa are holding more protests, pickets and press conferences to denounce systematic attempts to dismantle unions and erode the standard of living of working families in Iowa. Please take the time to attend these events when you can.

Follow us at to find out when and where.

It is also your fight.

—Jesse Case is secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 238 and
Iowa Federation of Labor Vice President