MONROE — Saturday morning’s legislative forum at Monroe City Hall was dominated by discussion of the recently passed collective bargaining bill. Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, and Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Columbia, went over the new law and engaged with an audience of about 20 people.
Gov. Terry Branstad signed House File 291 into law on Friday. The measure restricts collective bargaining for public employees and alters protocol for public employee unions. Branstad said the reforms were necessary and bring fairness for Iowa taxpayers and flexibility to public employees. Opponents of the law have said there was already a system in place that worked for 40-plus years, and the new code is an attack on public employees and unions.
Jasper County’s Republicans echoed the sentiments of Branstad at the weekend forum.
“Flexibility and local control – that’s the short answer,” Heartsill said.
Sinclair said her experience as a county supervisor influenced her decision to support collective bargaining changes. The board of supervisors she served on saw double-digit increases in its health insurance premiums for back-to-back years. Because of the board’s negotiated contract, it couldn’t change insurance providers.
“We had to wait an additional year to even open (insurance) back up for conversation,” she said. “In the meantime, we had to raise property tax. There was a huge impact.”
The new law, which removes health insurance as a collectively bargained benefit for public employees, provides greater flexibility, Sinclair said.
Heartsill said no public employee will lose health insurance through the new law. It’s guaranteed, he said.
One member of the audience asked the legislators if outside money from special interests influenced their decision to support the bill. Both Sinclair and Heartstill were quick to dismiss the idea.
“I received no money from the Koch brothers. I received no money from Americans for Prosperity. I received no money from anyone to do this,” Sinclair said.
Heartstill said the only conversations he had with anyone about the bill were with constituents, the labor committee and leadership.
“I know that there’s a lot of things out there that this was some outside group coming in here and manipulating this bill,” he said. “To put that to rest, the only conversations I ever had about this bill were listening to folks from House District 28.”
A couple of correctional officers from Jasper County were present for Saturday’s forum. They expressed their concerns about not being exempt from some of the new law’s provisions. Police officers and firefighters will not face the same collective bargaining restrictions as other public employees, but correctional officers and university police did not fall into this category.
Sinclair said if it were up to her, there would not have been separate categories. Heartsill said he expressed his concerns about correctional officers to party leadership.
“If you look at all the bills that we put through the last few years, is it 100 percent what you want? No,” Heartsill said. “Do you vote against the 80 percent that you thought was good because the 20 percent that you didn’t get you really don’t like? Well, we wouldn’t get anything done there.”
Throughout the collective bargaining debate in Iowa, comparisons were drawn to Wisconsin’s 2011 measure that featured similarities and also restricted collective bargaining for public employees. In the years since Wisconsin’s law was passed, there have been reports of teacher shortages and large decreases in union memberships. Sinclair said Wisconsin’s law was full of mandates and Iowa’s is a return to local control.
“We left decisions to the local boards, the local supervisors, the local administrators – Wisconsin didn’t. This is not the same bill,” Sinclair said.
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