Written by Patti Brown
The lines in the sand have been drawn and it’s unlikely that the public hearing in the State House last night on HF2420 —the controversial “fair share” or “reasonable reimbursement” bill as it is being called this year— changed anyone’s mind last night.
For more than three hours advocates and opponents to a bill that would alter Iowa’s current Right to Work status stood to present arguments to members of the Iowa House of Representatives.
Unlike last year’s public hearing on repealing federal deductibility, there was little drama in the House chambers as each speaker —32 in favor, 28 against and 2 undecided — was allowed 3 minutes at the microphones. About 120 observers sat quietly in the upper gallery during the hearing.
Tom Jochum, a representative of Plumbers & Steamfitters Local #33, who was paid $15,000 in 2008 by AFSCME Council 61 for political education activities, said he would prefer if the bill would cover all union shops rather than just being limited to public employees who work for the executive branch and Regent institution. Jochum, whose business TJ Jochum Consulting received $9,000 from the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local #33 for lobbying activities last year, conceded that by starting with a limited number of state employees, the bill is a “step in the right direction.”
Chris Bern, president of the 34,000 member teachers union, the Iowa State Education Association, echoed Jochum’s remarks by asking the legislators “to amend the legislation to include all public sector employees.”
Ken Mertes, president of Communications Workers of America Local 7103, told legislators that although he didn’t have a dog in this fight, the bill doesn’t quite go far enough to include all the people he would like to have it represent.
AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan, whose 2008 union salary was $97,599, advocated that the bill provides “reasonable reimbursement” to the union to recover a portion of the expense incurred in representing non-members in collective bargaining.
AFSCME represents the largest number of state employees in the executive branch and would stand to gain millions in mandatory fees from some 30,000 state employees if the bill is passed. The Legislative Services Agency estimated that the non-union members would be required to pay $5.3 million to the union. The union currently collects nearly $5.7 million from its current members.
Mark Cooper, a member if the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 727-S and the new president of the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO (SCIFL), had signed up as an undecided speaker but used his three minutes to urge House members to support HF 2420.
Other speakers backing the bill, many wearing green t-shirts and other items of green clothing, dismissed the idea that the measure would erode Iowa’s RTW law which protects workers from being forced to join a union in order to get or keep their job.
If passed this legislation would allow unions to collect 75 percent of union dues from non-union member employees. The fees would be docked automatically from employees’ wages and deposited in union bank accounts. Opponents say that the increase in fees will bloat the unions’ bank accounts allowing them to buy more influence with politicians. Last year AFSCME Council 61 spent $1,051,552 on political activities and lobbying, according to the LM-2anual report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. This included disbursements of $160,000 to the Iowa Democrat Party; $25,000 to the Chet Culver Committee; $26,000 to the Iowa State Democratic Majority Fund; $10,000 to Sen. Mike Gronstal; and $5,250 to Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
Pro-union speakers also included Bill Gerhard, president of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, Ken Sagar president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, attorney Ben Humphrey with the Des Moines law firm Hedberg and Boulton, and organizer Sue Dinsdale with Iowa Citizens Action Network.
Kirk Tyler president of the Atlantic Bottling Company which manufactures soft drinks told legislators, “Our state needs new jobs. Companies wanting to expand or relocate will not take the time to drill down to distinguish between public and private employees being covered” by this bill. “To grow our economy we must leverage every asset we have. It doesn’t appear there are any offsetting benefits” to a forced unionization bill.
Donna Huston, a music teacher in the Twin Cedars Community School District in Bussey asked legislators to take a position against “forced unionism.” In January Twin Cedars became the second district to disaffiliate their local teachers association from the ISEA/NEA due to dissatisfaction with the state-wide teachers union. Six years ago the Pomeroy-Palmer District became the first.
Calling HF 2420 “fair share lite,” Jason White executive director of the Midwest Partnership Corp told lawmakers passage of the bill would have negative consequences for economic development across the state. White, whose organization works to recruit businesses to Iowa, said many projects were put on hold and development delayed involving more than 600 jobs when a previous “fair share” bill was being considered last year.
“This is the first down payment on expanding the law,” which currently protects Iowa workers from forced unionism, said Dennis Fusaro of Mid American Right to Work.
Deloris Underwood of Vinton warned House members that the “union wolves will be back for another bite and another bite.” Sounding like an angry grandmother scolding an errant group of hooligans, Underwood admonished the elected officials to “get some spine and back bone or get out because the benefits are not worth a tinker’s damn at the expense of liberty.”
Other speakers who rose against the measure included representatives of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the David Moss of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, , and Dimitri Kesari, director of government affairs for the National Right to Work Committee.
Opponents are concerned that the Democrat controlled legislature will yield to union pressure this year as a concession for drastic cuts caused by the state’s economic crisis.
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