In a stunning setback to a national campaign to destroy unions, Iowa public service workers overwhelmingly voted to recertify their unions.
A new Iowa law enacted in February requires public service employees working under a collective bargaining agreement to recertify their union as their collective bargaining representative before negotiations on a new agreement can begin.
The new law is the brainchild of the State Policy Network (SPN), which Source Watch describes as “the policy, litigation, and communication arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”
Source Watch also reports that SPN is “the tip of the spear of far-right . . .that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party.”
SPN describes itself as a network of affiliated state political policy groups. Source Watch reports that the policy groups are funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton family.
Voting on recertification took place between October 10 and October 24 for 468 bargaining units that included school districts and local governments.
The Iowa Public Employment Board announced on October 25 that of the 468 recertification elections, 436, or 88 percent, resulted in unions being recertified.
In September, 13 bargaining units voted to recertify their union and none voted not to.
“This sweeping victory confirms what we’ve known since the (new law) gutting . . . collective bargaining rights (passed) in February: That unionized employees, both members and non-members, value their voice in the workplace,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, which represents 1700 public service workers in the state.
Forty-one out of 42 AFSCME units voted to recertify. The union is challenging the results of the lone election in which it was not recertified.
That bargaining unit consists of 4 people: two voted for recertification, one did not vote, and one of the ballots was voided.
The Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), the teachers’ union, reports that 216 out of its 220 bargaining units voted for recertification.
Tammy Wawro, ISEA president, said that just 15 votes stood in the way of recertifying all ISEA local associations.
Of the teachers who voted, 19,659 voted to recertify, 389 voted not to, and 2147 did not vote.
In order to be recertified, unions had to receive yes votes from 50 percent plus one of all employees covered by the collective bargaining agreement including non-members. People who did not vote counted as a no vote.
Supporters of the new law said that it would give employees an opportunity to free themselves from union tyranny, but the outcome of the elections showed how much workers value their unions.
“We are enormously proud of the thousands and thousands of education professionals who overwhelmingly voted in favor of their professions by successfully passing recertification in their locals,” said Wawro. “ISEA members and their colleagues took time out of their busy schedules to let the legislature know that they believe their voice in their profession, their work environment, and in support of their students is important.”
The law that imposed the recertification vote on Iowa’s public sector also included other provisions meant to weaken and ultimately dismantle public service unions.
It prohibits bargaining over employees’ health care benefits, evaluations, and supplemental pay.
It also prohibits union dues check off–the practice that allows employees to have their union dues paid through payroll deduction.
Much if not all of the provisions in the law can be found in model bills circulated among lawmakers by SPN and its state affiliates .
Four years ago Jane Mayer writing for the New Yorker explained that these model bills are guides that state lawmakers can use to draft bills that advance the right wing’s agenda including union busting.
More recently, the Guardian published an article explaining how SPN is plotting a national campaign to “defund and defang” public employee unions, which according to SPN is the “most powerful opponent” of SPN’s corporate backers.
SPN is quite secretive about its funding sources, but we have a better idea about where members of its network get their money.
According to Source Watch, corporations that fund SPN network members include AT&T, Kraft Foods, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, Facebook, and Microsoft.
The SPN network also receives money from the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, the Coors family, the Walton family, the Roe Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Searles Freedom Trust.
The fact that all this money and special interests were aligned against public service workers in Iowa makes their victory even more remarkable.
AFSCME’s Homan said that the victory was the result of all out effort to reach and mobilize every worker affected by the new law.
“While this process was unnecessarily challenging and unfair at every turn, I am immensely proud of our members and leaders who stepped up to earn every last vote,” said Homan. “We worked hard to communicate the rigged system put in place to each and every eligible voter, and that work paid off. I congratulate the hardworking public employees who voted to recertify; this victory is all theirs.”