Iowa Senate News Release
For immediate release: February 14, 2017
Mr. President and Members of the Senate:
I rise today, not to debate or argue, but to share my experience.
All in this room are familiar with Newton’s transformation from a company town dominated by Maytag to the diverse economy it is today.
Bargaining is in the DNA of Newton and Jasper County, from the UAW Local 997 who represented Maytag, from Thombert’s and Progress Industries, from IBEW 347 who represent Trinity Structural Towers, from Teamsters that represent our Public Works employees, from PPME who represent the Police Dept., AFSCME for our county employees and correctional officers, and, of course, the firefighters.
As we realized our community would not be the same with the departure of Maytag, we also realized we had to re- think how we operated as a city.
For 100+ years, Maytag dominated how we thought about wages, benefits, and employee recruitment.
As a city, we offered comparable benefits to attract the best talent. As many know, those benefits were quite good. No cost to very low cost healthcare and good wages.
But, as we saw Newton change with the closure of Maytag, we understood we had to change our benefit structure to align with the remaining businesses in town and with the expectation of our constituents, the taxpayers.
We immediately began discussion with all the City’s bargaining units: the firefighters, the police dept. and our Public Works. We knew the current structure could not be maintained and we needed to get employees to shoulder more of the cost of our healthcare premiums.
At the end of the day, we reached an agreement with the unions that required employees to begin paying a greater portion of the benefits.
Today, Newton city employees pay 12% of their premiums and 20% of any yearly increase.
I bring this to your attention because this negotiations worked, not only for the city but for our community, our citizens and our local businesses.
The contrary story was not as helpful to our community. At some point after Whirlpool took over Maytag, a (unilateral??) decision was made to require our Maytag retirees to pay $200 a month for their healthcare. Some will say, “Heck! $200 is a small price to pay for a healthcare package. I agree.
This cost, however, is equated differently when taken in total, 3,600 retirees times $200 times 12 months = $8,640,000/year taken out of the Jasper County economy yearly.
I was asked at recent forum, “How will the revisions of Chapter 20 affect my small business?”
The answer is complicated, but, predictable. Any quick change in the short term can have a dramatic impact on a local community.
For Newton, it was the reduction in a car dealership, the closure of a grocery store, closure of a clothing store on the square, the closing of a flooring store, and much higher rate of free and reduced lunches at our schools.
What’s the lesson here?
I believe the best approach is one that features cooperation and honest negotiations between management and workers, between neighbor and neighbor, between people who all have a stake in the success and prosperity of our communities.
Newton didn’t bounce back because of mandates and new rules imposed by the Governor and a majority of the Iowa Senate and Iowa House.
The people of Newton bounced back because they sat across the table from their neighbor, and they all had the chance to say: “How can we be worthier together, to make our community great again?”