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DES MOINES | Proposed reforms to Iowa’s collective bargaining law are like “killing a fly with a sledgehammer,” a Democratic senator and former public employee union member told Republicans before a party line vote setting up a showdown on the Senate floor next week.

Rather than “rebalance” and “tweak” collective bargaining laws as the GOP Statehouse majority said when matching bills were introduced in the House and Senate earlier this week, Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said Senate File 213 “gutted this way beyond what I was going to give you credit for.”

Rather than gut Chapter 20, which sets the parameters for contract negotiations between public employee unions and schools, cities, counties and the state, floor manager Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said Thursday it “restores local control to local boards and local officials … restores the ability of elected officials to make decisions on a wider range of negotiating topics.”

Union supporters disagree with that assessment, pointing to the wording in the bill that would limit collective bargaining by public employees other than police and firefighters only to base wages. They no longer would they be able to bargain for insurance, hours, vacations, holidays, overtime compensation, health and safety matters, and other provisions previously negotiated.

The changes are necessary, Schultz said, to update the 1974 collective bargaining law.

“We find ourselves in a different America, in a different Iowa,” he said in a 90-minute Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee meeting, “and we believe it is time to address Chapter 20 to modernize it, to bring it up to today’s conditions.”

Democratic committee members, however, said the only reason for SF 213, which is identical to House Study Bill 84, which will be eligible for floor debate next week, is to bust unions.

“I really can’t blame you because you think they are against you," Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, a former correctional officer and AFSCME member, said. “They’re not against you. They just are not with you because you are not with them.”

One change in the bill, prohibiting payroll deductions for union dues, “is a death knell for unions” because they’ll lose 80 percent of their dues, Bisignano said.

He also questioned Schultz’s claims there was “tremendous support behind the scenes” from local elected officials and called it “disingenuous” that those officials would be afraid to speak out publicly.

Although Schultz denied outside groups wrote one word of the bill, Bisignano intimated the bill was not written by Iowa Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate that Dave and Charles Koch couldn’t be here today to see what they’ve created across this country because this isn’t Iowa,” Bisignano said, referring to the financiers of conservative political and policy groups that have supported attempts to rewrite collective bargaining laws in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

“I wish they could meet some of our good public employees,” he said. “They’re good people. They’re not that awful. They’re people who do a lot of great service for you and I feel bad they have to sit here and feel they have become the problem.”

The proposed changes aren’t an attack on public employees, Schultz said.

“The public employers need these employees. Citizens demand these employees,” he said.

Although committee members and speakers at previous subcommittee meetings have warned Republicans they will pay a price for changing Chapter 20, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, doesn’t believe there will be a political cost.

“I don’t believe it will cost us seats over this issue,” she told reporters Thursday.

House Republicans have offered and passed bills that addressed collective bargaining in the past and are moving forward this year based on conversations with voters, she said.

“This is not about seats. This is about doing the right thing for Iowans,” Upmeyer said. “We don’t calculate every decision we make by seats, so I reject that premise.”

The House will have a public hearing on HSB 84 at 6 p.m. Feb. 16 in Room 103 of the Capitol. It will be livestreamed in the Capitol rotunda and online

Comments: 319-398-8375; James.Lynch@TheGazette.com.

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