Labor & Business Relations Committee Report – week 6, 2017

HF 291  (formerly SF 213)– Gutting Iowa’s collective bargaining law



HF 291 is a Republican bill to gut public sector employee collective bargaining rights. The legislation was written in secret, behind closed doors without the input of 180,000 public sector workers in Iowa. The Republicans rushed this legislation through the Iowa House and Senate and plan to have it on the Governor’s desk to sign this week. This bill does nothing to move Iowa’s economy forward. It is government overreach that attacks Iowa workers and their families.

The bill includes these provisions:

• Public safety employees are largely exempt from this legislation IF they are in a bargaining unit made up of a majority of public safety employees. Public safety employees are now defined under Chapter 20.3. A Public safety employee is a sheriff or a sheriff’s regular deputy, a marshal or police officer, state patrol, narcotics enforcement, state fire marshal, criminal investigation, Department of Public Safety gaming enforcement officer, conservation officer or park rangers, permanent or full-time fire fighter. Corrections officers, DOT Motor Vehicle Enforcement Officers and paramedics are not considered public safety officers. Public safety officers lose the right to have dues and PAC contributions deducted from paychecks. Other topics subject to bargaining stay the same. 

• All other bargaining unit employees see a large-scale gutting of their collective bargaining rights. Public employees are now prohibited from negotiating insurance, leaves of absence, transfer procedures, evaluation procedures, staff reduction, grievance procedures and benefits of seniority. These are illegal topics (i.e., not permissive topics). Even if an employer wants to sit down and negotiate with a bargaining group on these items, they cannot. Holidays, hours, vacations, shift differentials, health and safety were previously mandatory subjects of bargaining but now are permissive subjects; both the employer and the employee organization have to agree to negotiate permissive topics. 

• Public employees will now negotiate for base wages only. If the contract goes to arbitration, the public employee bargaining unit can receive a maximum 3-percent raise or a percentage equal to the increase in Consumer Price Index (CPI) for a 12-month period, whichever is less. 

• Public employees can no longer deduct membership dues or PAC contributions from their paychecks. Current law states the public employer has the right to suspend or discharge public employees for proper cause. This bill strikes proper cause, effectively making all public employees covered by a bargaining contract at-will employees. 

• The legislation changes what the arbitrator can consider when making a decision. The arbitrator must now consider a wage comparison of public and private employees when making a decision for nonpublic safety employees. The arbitrator can no longer factor in the ability of the public employer to levy taxes (both public safety and nonpublic safety). The arbitrator cannot look back at past collective bargaining agreements. The arbitrator can also consider the interests and general welfare of the public and the ability of the public employer to finance adjustments.  

• Regarding certification, this legislation changes the threshold to hold a vote from 10 percent of employees in the unit to 30 percent of all bargaining unit employees. Bargaining units now face Wisconsin-style recertification, wherein all employees in the bargaining are considered voters. Currently, the vote is decided by bargaining unit employees that show up for the election. Under this provision, employees who don’t participate are counted as “no” votes on certification. Additionally, a bargaining unit will have to recertify prior to the expiration of the bargaining units contract. These changes are designed to make it more difficult for public employee unions to stay certified. All election costs for certification and re-certification will be paid by the public employee.

• Gives the Governor the authority to veto statewide collective bargaining agreements following a gubernatorial election. 

• Under the legislation, any ongoing collective bargaining negotiation not yet completed is void and must begin anew. 

Division II: Targets Iowa teachers

• Prohibits all discussions on evaluation procedures. 

• Allows witnesses for the parties to be present in a private hearing, and the teacher’s representative may participate in the hearing as well. The board must keep a record of the private hearing, but they are no longer required to employ a shorthand report.

• Takes away the ability of the school board and employee organization to issue subpoenas for witnesses and files.

• If a teacher does not file for a private hearing on the termination in a timely manner, the board may proceed with the termination and would no longer have to wait until May 31.  

• The school board must make a final decision on the termination. The decision is based solely on the evidence in the record and on matters officially noticed in the record. Removes adjudicator from the grievance process in termination filings. If a teacher rejects the board decision, they no longer can appeal to a neutral adjudicator.  They will have to go to court.

• Expands probationary time for teachers to a mandatory two years and allows a district to remove probationary teachers without cause following their two years.

• Removes supplemental pay from negotiated subject of bargaining. This will lead to shortages for after-school activities, which will punish teachers who spend time with kids in the subjects that make them want to go to school.

• Makes it easier to remove teachers by expanding “just cause” for termination and discipline beyond current the professional code of ethics.

• Teachers who participate in intensive assistance and, anytime in the future, fail to meet the applicable standards can be fired. 

Division III: Personnel records and settlements

• This division closely resembles legislation from the last two years. It comes from the “secret settlements” and “hush money” scandals that plagued Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds at the end of the 2014 legislative session.  

• Requires that any resignation in lieu of or termination or demotion of a public employee to become public record.

• Eliminates any non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements for personal settlement agreements and mandates that decisions for executive bonus pay be made public record. The bill states that no provision of collective bargaining is to supersede the provision of the legislation.

• The result of this section would mean more lawsuits for people trying to clear their name.

Division IV: City civil service requirements

• Removes seniority rights for civil service employees. The only exception is that firefighters and police officers will get seniority rights. 

• Eliminates the ability to appeal to district court after a decision of the civil service commission. An employee’s only recourse is now whistleblower and civil rights protections if these laws apply to the issue at hand.

Division V: Health insurance

• Requires a public employer to provide health insurance to public employees.

• Permits a 30-day enrollment and change period for health insurance.

• No statewide plan is offered in this bill.

An amendment was adopted on the floor to make these changes to the bill regarding public safety, proper cause, scope of bargaining and civil service (S-3028):

• Strikes “sheriff” from the public safety definition because that individual is a manager.

• Adds DOT motor enforcement to the public safety definition.

• Restores proper cause under Chapter 20.

• Lowers the threshold – from 51 to 30 percent — for the percentage of public safety members to be in a bargaining unit for scope of bargaining, arbitration determinations, and retention and recertification. 

• Makes release time, grievance and seniority permissive subjects of bargaining

• Transit employees will be considered public safety employees under Chapter 20 IF it is determined by the Iowa DOT written confirmation from the U.S. Department of Labor that a public employer would lose federal funding if the transit employee is not covered under certain collective bargaining rights.

• Makes changes to civil service seniority rights. It is now permissive for nonpublic safety employees to bargain over seniority rights. The amendment says that a city council may extinguish seniority rights if not covered under a collective bargaining agreement.

• Restores the ability for civil service employees to appeal to district court.

• Strikes the changes SF 213 made to civil service and the pension kickoff for demoted and suspended civil service employees.

• Health care: A public employer must offer health insurance to permanent, full-time employees. Offering health insurance to part-time employees is optional.

After the final vote on SF 213 on the floor, HF 291, a companion bill from the House, was substituted.

[Committee 2/9: 7-4 (party-line); Floor 2/16: 29-21 (party-line, with D. Johnson voting “no”)]