Fixing Iowa’s Broken Law

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In February 2017, the Iowa legislature passed a law intended to destroy the unions of public employees. Since the vast majority of our members are public employees, that law put our local right in its crosshairs.

Fortunately, Local 199 members have fought hard and largely held our ground. But it’s critical that we all understand how the law works and what we must do to overturn it.

The law, House File 291, attacks workers on two fronts:

  • First, it eliminates most collective bargaining rights for public employees, giving bosses the power to rip up existing union contracts. The law says employers only have to bargain over base wages. Essential subjects like work hours, overtime pay and seniority are now “permissive” subjects that a boss can refuse to discuss; and, incredibly, issues like health insurance and layoff protections can’t be negotiated at all.
  • Second, the law establishes a complex and unfair election process where workers have to “re-certify” their union every time they bargain for a new contract. Here’s what’s truly unfair: A majority of voters can vote yes for the union, but if it’s not a majority of all workers in the workplace, their union is dissolved. In other words, workers who don’t vote effectively get counted as a no.

Since the re-certification elections started in 2017, almost all of our chapters have voted successfully to stay union. In 2018, our education chapters voted 400-6 to stay union.

However, at one of our key chapters, Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, we saw just how unfair the law is. In 2017, our nurses there voted 74-27 to keep their union. That’s a roughly 3-to-1 margin in favor of staying union. But because they didn’t reach an absolute majority of all members, their union was dissolved anyway.

Even in the overwhelming number of chapters where we’ve stayed solidly union, the law has been used to attack our contracts.

At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, our biggest chapter, the Iowa Board of Regents took the low road and used the law to strip everything but wages out of our current contract. At Greater Regional Medical Center, Union County’s public hospital, the administration there did the same thing. A number of our education chapters have also had their contracts targeted and gutted by low-road employers.

Ultimately, the only sure way out of this bind is to overturn the 2017 law. And to do that, we’ve got to overturn the legislature that passed it.

In the 2018 election cycle, a number of the Republican legislators who backed the law were voted out of office. But we’ve got to turn out the anti-worker majority at the statehouse in 2020 if we’re going to overturn the law.

That’s why it’s so important that we all get involved this election cycle. By turning back the attack on public employees we can protect the public services that Iowans rely on. Email us at to get involved and help win back real worker rights in Iowa.

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