Collective Bargaining

Feb 17, 2017  | 29 min  | Ep 4423 | Podcast


The Iowa legislature has passed one of the most controversial bills in years. While republicans claim victory and democrats declare political war, we discuss the aftermath of collective bargaining legislation on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at UIeCare is helping provide access to health care services to more Iowans. By offering online visits with a University of Iowa health care provider, UIeCare helps Iowans seek medical care without leaving home. Learn more at


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, February 17 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

Yepsen: It has been nearly 43 years since Governor Robert Ray signed bipartisan legislation signaling a new era between state government and public sector unions. It was a system known commonly as collective bargaining. Now, Ray's former Lieutenant Governor, Terry Branstad, has signed into law the largest changes to that legislation since its inception. And the aftermath could be seismic. Here to talk about it are Tammy Wawro, President of the Iowa State Education Association representing thousands of teachers and Gretchen Tegeler, an advocate of collective bargaining change, is the former state budget director and chief of staff to Governor Branstad. She now leads the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being here with us today.

Thanks, David.

Yepsen: And also joining in the conversation, Political Journalist James Lynch, Political Reporter for the Gazette in Cedar Rapids and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Miss Tegeler, let's speak first to the taxpayers at home. This was billed as a way to save money for taxpayers. Property taxes are paid to support local schools, cities, counties. How much will I see, if I'm a taxpayer, a reduction in my property taxes.

Tegeler: Thanks for the question, Kay. What's happened here will have a very beneficial effect in containing the growth and spending by governments across Iowa. So I would look for taxpayers to not look for an immediate reduction in their tax bills. Instead we have put the state and all of its government on a path to live within the means that are generated from the property taxes and from all other taxes and not push increases on Iowans that have to accept them based on someone else's determination. So I wouldn't look for an immediate reduction in taxes. This is a containment strategy over the long-term.

Henderson: Dr. Wawro, you look like you wanted to add something to that conversation.

Wawro: I'm really confused how that would happen. I'm not sure what in this bill gives taxpayers that. It would seem to me the fiscal note on here says it is inconclusive. So I'm not sure where we would see that. I do think there will be impacts in that many people are not going to be spending, they're going to be holding back because they're just not sure what they may make the next year. But I think the same amount of money will be spent. It might be spent in different ways for different people.

Lynch: Let's follow that with the impact in the classroom. As parents and school children, what are they going to see? What change is going to happen in the classroom? And how soon are we going to see those changes?

Wawro: Well, this bill makes it illegal for teachers to sit down and talk about safety concerns with their administrators as far as putting it into an agreement. We have lots of things that we would talk about at the bargaining table that had nothing to do with dollars, it had to do with evaluation for the improvement of practice, it has to do with helping get the right person into the right position. And this bill does not allow us to sit down and even have a conversation with our school board even if our school board wanted to. So directly impacting our classrooms. The other piece is new teachers coming into the profession. This bill takes away just cause for someone in their first or second year of teaching. They can be let go for no reason. And that is a big concern for our first and second year teachers who are on an initial license. So I think our impact of bringing new teachers into Iowa is going to be dramatic.

Lynch: Those numbers have already dropped, the number of people going into teacher education programs. And you think this will cause that number to go down faster?

Wawro: I do, I really do. My own son is in teacher prep program in Minnesota and my heart is heavy because I firmly believe he may have to stay in Minnesota to be secure in knowing what he will make as an educator, what benefits he will get and if he can raise a family in our state.

Lynch: Are we likely to see a wave of teacher retirements as a result of these changes?

Wawro: I believe not just because of the changes that are in here, but of the passion that came with it, the actual disrespect for the teaching profession that was in this bill is having many people question if they're going to stay longer. They give their heart and soul every day and many of the debate centered around the work that teachers do and that was late in the night that they didn't even get to hear. So I think it’s two-fold. I think the bill itself is harmful and I think the intent of the bill is harmful.

Yepsen: Ms. Tegeler, what is your reaction to what she just said?

Tegeler: Well, the Milwaukee Journal has done a series of articles called Act X at 5. So it's five years later and they have gone in and analyzed what has happened there and there was, in terms of teacher enrollment, that has been on the decline. And following Act X there was an initial reduction but now it is all back on the same long-term trend as has always been there. The same is true with teacher retirements. There was an immediate impact but now it is back to the level that it was and  is back on the long-term trend. So those things haven't played out elsewhere with very similar bill language. In terms of the impact on teaching, keep in mind, and this is something I've learned over the years, that a lot of the folks, most of them that are in jobs that are part of the collective bargaining system in the public sector have not worked in a different management environment. And so it is scary to think about what could be different. But the reality is in a different environment where the actual managers are doing more than making sure that contract language is adhered to they become, their job becomes helping teachers succeed, helping employees be successful, concentrating on what needs to happen to get the best outcomes. It is an environment and a culture that allows excellence to really thrive. So I think it's unfortunate that such fear has been planted because a vast majority of Iowa public employees are great and I think they're going to find out that once some of the fetters come off in terms of how everyday business is dictated and how pay is administered they're going to find an environment that is very positive. Different, yes, different for everyone. But I think it will be very positive just speaking from my own personal experience in non-profit as well as private sector.

Yepsen: Dr. Wawro, what is your reaction to what you just heard? 

Wawro: Well, I think that is actually the exact opposite. The bill only allows us to talk about wages. What we sit down and talk about, I'm not going to sell our administrators short, they talk about the improvement of profession and we just spent two years with the Council of Educator Development that the Governor put forth working on a really good implementation for teacher evaluation and how we would put that out into our districts and that's part of the collective bargaining process. When they talk about wages, that has been very small, very little of what they talk about is wages. It's about safety, it's about improving the profession and our administrators are absolutely in the classrooms working with us. This bill doesn't improve that, this actually takes some local conversations away.

Tegeler: I think what is different though is it can happen in a more collaborative environment rather than a winner and loser. And in the bargaining environment every change that is made, for someone it's a plus, then there has to be a negative somewhere else. And that tends to be pretty adversarial whereas when everyone is collaborating to create good results it happens more easily.

Yepsen: Is that Wisconsin, Dr. Wawro, is the Wisconsin experience likely to be true here? Or do you think it will be different?

Wawro: We are very different than Wisconsin. We were different than Wisconsin when this started. So Wisconsin, Iowa is a right-to-work state, our people choose to be members of their association. Wisconsin was not a right-to-work state. Wisconsin was already in the middle of budget shortfalls. We weren't Wisconsin before this started and we are not Wisconsin after it. Our high school graduation rate is number one in the nation. We have seen things slip in Wisconsin. We have many Wisconsin teachers that are teaching in Iowa now.

Yepsen: And is that -- what is your understanding of Wisconsin compared to Iowa? Can we look northeast and see what is likely to happen here?

Tegeler: No two states are the same. You're right about that. But very difficult to sort out all of the different influences and things that are at play. But I do believe we can look not just at other public sector but we can look at the rest of the world basically where these kinds of agreements are not in place and we see employees thriving and great results getting produced. So there's lots to point to. I think that it's a big change and with change comes a lot of fear. But we believe that we will see not just better outcomes because of the loosening and the flexibility that now is given in these environments, but also it is true that in looking at the data, and this is how taxpayers are affected, that over the years the bargaining agreements do create new spending that is greater than what the resources are available to fund those. And so you have this constant erosion or cannibalization of the budget going on and that affects public services.

Henderson: I want to shift gears and talk --

Tegeler: Taxpayers care about value.

Henderson: Dr. Wawro, there is a section of the bill about union organizing that your advocates in the legislature said would be the death knell for public sector unions. The state will no longer collect dues via the payroll and you're going to have to recertify the union and have a statewide vote every few years to exist as a union. How will you survive in that atmosphere?

Wawro: Well, let's talk about that a little bit. One, it does take away our ability to have dues deduction out of our paycheck so I'll still be able to give my AFLAC and my Christmas club out of my paycheck but I won't be able to pay my association out of my paycheck.

Henderson: But aside from the details, which you can talk with your folks in the newsletter --

Wawro: It didn't go to the state is what I'm saying. It was out of my just local paycheck it is deducted out.

Henderson: Right. But how do you survive as a union in that environment? We hear from Wisconsin that they feel as if their public sector unions were neutered by that law.

Wawro: So, again, very different than Wisconsin. 40% of our membership are already on electronic funds transfer where they take it right out of their bank account anyway. So we will just continue to move the rest of ours to that. Again, in Iowa, our members already choose to be members of our association. So that is already a choice that they're making. As far as the recertification that is something we haven't had to do before and that allows us to go and talk to our members. I think there is some unfairness in it. It has to be -- there's going to be a lot of money that actually goes into doing that and I'm very curious how that helps the taxpayers.

Henderson: Again, aside from details, this has been called union busting, a way to silence the unions. And at a news conference this week union people said we're going to go and we're going to organize and we're going to defeat legislators. That did not happen in Wisconsin. They have actually gained republican seats in the Wisconsin legislature.

Wawro: Well, and that also has to do with the fact that Wisconsin was able to gerrymander their legislators. So I think Wisconsin is not like Iowa. We have a very fair way on how our redistricting would happen. So that goes down the path of elections and how they change that.

Yepsen: Will there be -- one of the reasons we have the collective bargaining law that we had was teacher strikes were starting in the early '70s. And the deal was, we're going to go to this, the collective bargaining system, and in return no more teacher strikes, no more public employees strikes. Now that is still banned isn't it?

Wawro: It sure is.

Yepsen: So are we going to be seeing a lot of labor unrest? What happens to labor peace with state workers who legally don't have a right to strike now?

Wawro: Right. So there is, I heard the word flexibility and actually I don't see a lot of flexibility in here, I see things that can't be talked about and disgruntlement that what may happen from all sides and we're not allowed to go on strike. And let me tell you, our members don't want to go on strike. They want to be with their classrooms, we want garbage picked up, we want our police officers showing up at things. So republican Governor, republican Senate, republican House thought this was a good idea. What happened in the dark of night is that those rights were taken away but the one right that was left, two, we can talk about base wage and we can't go on strike.

Yepsen: What about this strike business. Isn't that reneging on the deal that was made years ago that you'll give up your right to strike in return for collective bargaining? Ms. Tegeler, your side of this debate has said, okay we're going to change the collective bargaining rights. Why not give them back the right to strike?

Tegeler: I think that so much has changed since 1974. We have a completely different environment now that doesn't create the kinds of conditions that would be conducive to strikes. And, again, I was only just starting college in 1974. I know that the reason that Governor Ray said he did sign it was for that reason. They were fearful of strikes. Since that time we have, today public workers are in a position where depending on what level they're in, I think professional and management are in a little bit less than private sector, the service sector a lot more, but all across the board the benefits are far, far, far greater than they have been. And I don't think and experience has shown also those aren't going to go away overnight. They're probably going to continue to be better. So we have a whole workforce that is really at a place, a very good place compared to where they were in '74.

Yepsen: Do you have a quick reaction to that?

Wawro: I don't think we have any guarantees of what our benefits will be like on July 1 for many of our members so I don't think that's fair.

Tegeler: No one does.

Yepsen: James?

Lynch: Ms. Tegeler, some of the actions we've talked about, not collecting union dues from the paycheck, those sorts of things, just seem punitive, especially from an employee's standpoint, that seems punitive. What employer wants to make employees mad or irritate them whether than sort of assist them and maintain labor peace, as David said?

Tegeler: And I think that's the other thing that has changed is management today, management theory and management practice people don't want to aggravate employees, they want to keep employees.

Lynch: So why take away those little details? Why take it away?

Tegeler: The legislature, again I can't speak for them and I don't have strong feelings on these elements of the bill, but I'm guessing the thought process was that that creates a real advantage and source of income for a group that it would be hard to differentiate from others.

Henderson: Well let me ask it a different way. Are you a registered republican?

Tegeler: I am.

Henderson: Do you agree with your party's platform that public sector unions should go away?

Tegeler: I didn't know that was in the platform because I'm not terribly active in the party.

Henderson: But do you agree that public sector unions should go away?

Tegeler: I have reservations about unions in the public sector because it's very different. The bosses are you can elect them and collecting dues through payroll kind of allows that to in turn be used to determine who they're bargaining with. There are some nuances in the public sector that even FDR, who was our biggest labor advocate of all time, felt that it wasn't appropriate in the public sector. In the private sector it generates profit and that was about sharing. Here I don't think I'd go that far but --

Yepsen: I want to interrupt. I want to give Tammy Wawro a chance to respond.

Wawro: I'm not sure what I'm responding to. Can you re-ask the question?

Yepsen: Is this a union busting thing?

Wawro: Well, it's clear that the Republican Party, it's in their platform, do not want a collective group of people to have a voice. That is what this does. But I'm not going to let that happen. We have seen actually membership growth since the elections after November and just yesterday ten more members joined in a local in eastern Iowa. Remember, this bargaining bill doesn't just hurt union members, it hurts everybody that is covered under this bill. So people are starting to realize what they have gotten when the union brings everybody up, everyone does better. And this situation is bringing everybody down as well.

Yepsen: My impression is that the state workers today are pretty demoralized by this. Is that your impression?

Wawro: Yes.

Yepsen: What is your impression of state workers and what their morale is? We have a workforce fired up and ready to go do public service or are they mad at the employer for taking away their bargaining rights?

Tegeler: I'm certain that the union membership is not happy. I wouldn't be able to draw that net across all of state government. I'm not in state government right now so I'm not sure. But, again, I think what we have is a great fear, there is this monster under the bed because it's change and change doesn't necessarily mean bad. Change can be something very good and I think we have yet to see how that can play out.

Wawro: So many of our members they are not upset with their employer. Let me be clear. So in school board situations they're not answering to the state government, they're answering to their school boards. So they are not angry at their employer, they're angry at the legislators, that's who they're angry at.

Lynch: So, Ms. Tegeler, let me ask you this, much of this was sold as giving local officials local control, giving taxpayers a seat at the table. If this is so good for local control why did we see, what was it, like 140 some contract settlements in the past few weeks as school boards and county boards rushed to settle before this law got signed today?

Tegeler: Well, I think it was a couple of things, honestly. In a practical, technical sense what they have done doesn't make any difference because they could do all of those things with or without the bill. However, I do think that in many cases it was a move to reassure employees that, you know what, things are going to be okay. People are very upset, they have been stirred up and are worried and concerned and frightened and they needed to reassure employees that it's okay, things are going to be okay and this was a step to be able to do that.

Lynch: Dr. Wawro, I think your bargaining unit was one of those that rushed to settle. Was that the message that things are okay?

Wawro: Well, there's a couple of things that were inaccurate in what you just said in that they cannot sit down and put those words into agreements that are in agreements now. So once the Governor signed the bill there are things they could not sit down and put into agreement that many of our school boards wanted in written agreements that were in a collective bargaining agreement. That cannot happen now. So we now, as of this morning, have 190 contracts done and we are very appreciative of the fact that there are managers, there are school board members, there are superintendents who wanted to ensure that not only their people felt good but that the were also living under this agreement. Let's be clear, this agreement would, allows them to have some rules to live by that helps them.

Henderson: Ms. Tegeler --

Tegeler: But the employer has the option to do all of those things.

Wawro: Have you read the bill?

Tegeler: They'll continue to do those.

Wawro: They do not.

Tegeler: Whether they're written down in the agreement or not the employer can say well we're going to continue to do the health plan that we always have, they could continue to manage by seniority, they can do everything that might be in these agreements, it just isn't written down. It doesn't preclude anything. It's a symbolic move and I understand why they would do that to provide reassurance.

Yepsen: I want to move onto another subject here. Kay?

Henderson: Can you reassure teachers and other state workers, local government workers that their pensions won't be changed. A lot of the discussion we heard was that that's the next wave.

Tegeler: Oh goodness. At least from our standpoint, from the Taxpayers of Central Iowa, we have never suggested that we would take away a pension for anyone that is in the system.

Henderson: But Governor Branstad told us as reporters that you were going to come up with a pension reform plan.

Tegeler: Well, pension reform means lots of different things and it's very important to understand that our approach is about retirement security. The people that are in these plans now, if we don't do something different for future employees and we continue to compound the risk that is in these plans, then everybody in these plans now is at much greater risk.

Yepsen: We've only got a minute left.

Tegeler: We care about retirement security.

Yepsen: Excuse me, we only have a minute left. What is your reaction to that?

Wawro: To this?

Yepsen: Yeah. Is that up next, is taking on IPERS next?

Wawro: I would certainly hope we would do things that our community needs done and that wouldn't be, we absolutely need to sit down and talk about our members pay 40% of it, it's a 60/40 split in Iowa, again, unlike other states. We are very much at the table and we want a well-rounded good system.

Tegeler: And employees should have, members should have certainly a part of that discussion.

Yepsen: So you don't think the legislature is teeing up now to take on public employee pensions in any way?

Tegeler: I hope they are teeing up to look at what we have, is it the best thing going forward for new employees. We need to do some things different in order to provide retirement security to those who are in the system. We really need to look at doing something different for those who may be coming into the system. And I look forward to it. We had a gentleman here yesterday talking about how much better it can be --

Wawro: When they knocked on our doors and talked to constituents across the state they didn't talk about changing Chapter 20 and they didn't talk about changing our retirement system.

Yepsen: I'm out of time.

Tegeler: We are out of time? I can't believe it. We didn't even talk about health benefits.

Yepsen: We'll return next week with another edition of Iowa Press next week only at our regular Friday night time of 7:30 before special Festival programming that weekend. For all of us here at Iowa Public Television, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at UIeCare is helping provide access to health care services to more Iowans. By offering online visits with a University of Iowa health care provider, UIeCare helps Iowans seek medical care without leaving home. Learn more at 

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