Iowa unions, school leaders rushing to finish contracts

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

DES MOINES — Iowa union and school leaders are rushing to complete contracts before collective bargaining proposals moving swiftly in the Statehouse become state law, a union leader said.

The legislation, with identical versions in the House and Senate, went from committee hearings to floor debate in a week. Lengthy debate and amendments have slowed their advance, but passage by the Republican-dominated Legislature seems certain.

The legislation would prohibit unions from bargaining over certain items, such as seniority, insurance, grievances, layoff procedures and additional pay.

Iowa State Education Association President Tammy Wawro told The Des Moines Register that more than 140 districts settled contracts in the past week and seven of 40 districts with multiyear contracts extended them. The Des Moines school board is scheduled to vote in a special meeting Thursday on a temporary agreement before the legislation is signed into law.

“The notion of what’s happening at the Legislature ... is a bit unsettling,” said Des Moines school board chairwoman Teree Caldwell-Johnson. “Not only in terms of the content, but the pace at which the legislation has moved through the Legislature.”

Some unions have made concessions to speed negotiations, leaders have said. In Ottumwa, teacher transfers no longer will be based solely on seniority. Des Moines teachers will not get base wage increases but will see increases in their total benefits package.

“We have a lot of members who are frightened, scared, don’t know what will happen when that law passes,” said Andrew Rasmussen, president of the Des Moines teachers union. “It also gives us breathing room to understand the new environment under the law.”

Some administrators promise they’ll still show teachers and other staffers how valued they are.

“We are going to continue to attempt to be the employer of choice,” Des Moines Superintendent Tom Ahart said. “We have every reason to treat our employees well, to treat them fairly and make this a great place to work.”