Week 6 was marked by considerable debate time with debate into the late evening Tuesday and Wednesday nights on House File 291, Collective Bargaining Reform. On Thursday, with roughly four amendments completed and eighty more amendments still to go the speaker called for a “time certain” resolution to end debate at noon on Thursday. After that time, the House voted on the remaining amendments without debate, finishing the bill at 1:46 PM.
This was a very contentious bill. Committee meetings drew huge crowds including a public hearing on Monday night attended by hundreds.
This bill dealt with how our public sector unions and their employers, the state agencies, counties, cities, and school districts, will negotiate future contracts. Many of the provisions in this bill have been issues brought to me over the years by school board members, school administrators, and many constituents. For example, one of the issues I heard about often was the time and cost it took to fire an underperforming employee, frequently a teacher. The process under the previous law would take from one to three years, and cost in excess of $40,000 for mediators, legal fees, and other costs. This bill reformed that process so it can be faster and less expensive for our school districts to remove an underperforming employee. There are many other common sense provisions in this bill.
With an amendment to the bill that corrected, I was able to support the bill and voted for it on the House floor. It passed 53 to 47 in the House and passed the Senate shortly afterwards. The Governor signed the bill today and has been enacted immediately. Contract negotiations in process will need to reflect the new law.
I believe strongly that this bill will provide some much needed balance as new contracts are negotiated. It will reduce the influence of the Iowa State Education Association on school contracts, leaving the local school boards with more power to define the terms. It will give school administrators more leeway in setting salaries so that a teacher with harder to find skills, perhaps a science teacher, can be offered a higher pay to attract them to the school, or to offer merit pay to high performing teachers.
One particularly significant provision is that each bargaining unit is required to vote on whether or not the unit should be unionized or not prior to any contract renewal. Many of these bargaining units, such as a school district, haven’t voted on whether they should be in the union or not for decades. Under the new law the vote will require a majority of those included in the bargaining unit, not just a majority of the union members. This is only fair since the union insists that their contract cover non-members. There are some school districts that have as few as five ISEA members out of over fifty persons in the bargaining unit, and they haven’t had a vote to organize in decades. Clearly that has to change. This bill will correct those imbalances.
As always, please feel free to contact me at dean.fisher@legis.iowa.gov or 641-750-3594.