Negative Consequences for Iowans from the New Public Sector Employment Law

A new law (HF 291), exclusively drafted and implemented by Republican legislators and the Branstad-Reynolds administration, strips away a wide range of rights from public workers in Iowa. Some comments in debate and since enactment have led to misunderstandings, but it is important that the true impact of the law is understood.

Some clarifications:

  1. This law is bad for Iowa’s economy, and really hurts rural Iowa. Many rural Iowa business owners—including farmers—count on outside public employment of a spouse to help make ends meet. Limiting the voice of those public workers in their wages and benefits disproportionately hurts rural communities and local economies.
  2. Cutting workers’ rights does not allow for greater local control. The new law actually does the opposite, with state government dictating to counties, cities, and school boards a new set of illegal topics they cannot openly discuss with employee representatives. County supervisors and school boards passed resolutions against the new law. Many counties, cities, and local school district contracts rushed through new contracts with employees to avoid the immediate, negative impact of this law. They knew the new law was no good for their employees.
  3. The new law does not exempt police, fire, and other public safety employees. First, many police officers and firefighters who work in employment groups where they make up less than 30% of the workforce are not covered by the limited exclusions in the new law. Second, the new law limits the definition of public safety employee so severely that corrections officers, university police, and emergency medical service personnel do not meet the definitions of public safety employees.
  4. It creates “haves” and “have nots” in public employment. The State of Iowa has now created classes of citizens and divided public workers. For the first time since Republican Governor Robert Ray signed the law on public employee organizations in the early 1970s, the state has determined that a very select few public employees in Iowa will have enhanced workplace rights. The vast majority of Iowa’s public employees will now be “have nots” with health insurance negotiations now becoming illegal, along with several other important topics.
  5. It undermines our ability to offer quality public education. If we want the best and brightest teaching our children, we cannot take away the voice our teachers have in determining the benefits and conditions of their employment. We already have a teacher shortage in Iowa, with 400 fewer educators graduating from Iowa colleges. This only increases the problems rural districts and urban schools face in attracting new teachers.
  6. It’s bad for all Iowa workers and their families. This legislation did nothing to improve the lives of Iowa workers, but instead only takes away rights from public workers. Private sector employees have the federally-protected right to freely negotiate over benefits, wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. Iowans who need and want qualified public workers serving their communities are going to be left behind as this law devalues the important work of each and every employee who answers the call of public service.

This was landmark legislation. I, along with Senate Democrats, worked hard to offer amendments to address our most serious concerns. We were denied those changes and debate was even cut off so we couldn’t even fully discuss them.