When Iowa’s ruling Republican legislators jammed through a law requiring most of the state’s public worker unions to stand for recertification, by absolute majority votes, before they could start bargaining new contracts, they expected state and local workers and teachers would defect in droves.
In reports posted on their websites -- and picked up by former Deputy OSHA Administrator Jordan Barab’s Confined Spaces blog -- the unions rolled to overwhelming wins everywhere in the state.
In many cases, the local turnouts were 100 percent – and 100 percent for the union.
Barab, a former AFSCME Safety and Health Director with close ties to the Iowans, reported 436 out of 468 public-sector bargaining units voted to recertify their unions in an 88 percent turnout. AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan told Barab “100 percent of AFSCME-covered employees voted to retain their union.” He admitted AFSCME lost one 4-person unit, because of a voided ballot. Public safety worker unions don’t have to recertify.
The Iowa State Education Association, part of that overall total, did even better. Recertification won among its bargaining units, 216-4. That came after effective member-to-member meetings and a video with union President Tammy Wawro standing in front of her elementary school explaining teachers and staff had to “vote yes to have a seat at the table,”
Overall, union retention beat decertification 28,448-624, with 4,043 non-voters, who are counted as “no”s, Barab reported. Members of another 200-plus ISEA bargaining units will go to the polls next year,
The unionists had to vote because in February, the GOP legislative majority passed and then-GOP Gov. Terry Branstad signed, the anti-union measure. Iowan Republicans copied the anti-worker anti-union crusade of right wing GOP Gov. Scott Walker in next-door Wisconsin.
The recertification requirement was part of the bill to emasculate unions in the Hawkeye State. The measure severely restricted subjects of collective bargaining, even if the unions won recertification. Health insurance, seniority, vacations, layoffs and transfers are among the subjects now off the bargaining table.
Now the overwhelming votes put the unions in a stronger position to bargain over everything left, leaders say.
Homan reported his council lost that one small bargaining unit, and won the other 1,699.
“This sweeping victory confirms what we’ve known since the gutting of collective bargaining rights in February: That unionized employees, both members and non-members, value their voice in the workplace,” he said.
“Vote yes to have a seat at the bargaining table. Vote yes for positive working conditions and good student learning environments. Vote yes to send a message to district officials and legislators that educators stand together on important issues,” Wawro urged in the video.
The vote was especially difficult for the ISEA locals because the state labor board mailed out all the ballots in plain white envelopes, and recipients could easily set them aside, Des Moines Area Community College history professor Lisa Ossian, a former NEA board member, told her state union.
To make sure that didn’t happen and to make sure the ballots got back to the state capital of Des Moines on time – the teachers got only two weeks to vote in this round – “a faculty leader at one of DMACC’s many campuses collected and personally drove her colleagues’ ballots to the state labor board’s offices,” Ossian said. Her unit has 361 members. The vote: 312-6 for recertification, with 43 not returned.
“Efforts to break unions usually do just the opposite,” Des Moines English professor Lynn LaGrone told ISEA. “Energy and time devoted to tearing us down might be better spent finding ways to solidify our common goal: Offering the best education we can to the students who rely on us.”
Aided by its international union, Teamsters Local 238 ran 69 state-sponsored recertification elections for 2,200 bargaining unit members this month and won 57. The losses in 12 units covered only 44 members. Of the 1,888 members who voted, 1,828 voted to remain with the Teamsters.
“Given the roadblocks constructed by anti-union elected officials in the state, the results are overwhelmingly positive,” union President Jim Hoffa said. “Teamster members and staff who worked for months to build solidarity and momentum across the board should be proud of their efforts.”
Workers are organizing through unions and other organizations to improve their lives. Union representation provides a voice on the job and the opportunity to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.