Iowa Locals Put Worker Issues Onto Legislature's Agenda

March 4, 2007

More than two dozen UE members gathered at UE Local 893/IUP’s new union office in Des Moines for the annual Iowa UE Political Action Day February 20. Representatives of Local 893/IUP and Local 896/COGS first reviewed the issues of importance to their respective memberships – including the case load crisis of social service workers, and adequate funding for the University of Iowa – as well as the important "fair share" battle unfolding in the Iowa Legislature.

Members then proceeded to the state capitol for an afternoon of lobbying their own representatives and senators on the key issues. They met dozens of lawmakers in person. This was the first UE Political Action Conference since the election of a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Iowa legislature, and the first under the Democratic governorship of Chet Culver.

UE members also visited and lobbied Democratic lawmakers from other districts who had not yet committed to support the "fair share" bill. Iowa’s "fair share" bill would at last allow unions to negotiate contract clauses requiring payment of a fair share representation fee by non-members whom the union represents. In so-called "right to work" states like Iowa, union members in both the public and private sectors are forced to share all the benefits of collective bargaining and union grievance procedures with non-members who contribute nothing to the union’s costs of representing them.

UE members were frustrated that the fair share legislation was not receiving strong enough Democratic support to ensure speedy passage. Gov. Culver publicly endorsed the legislation in January. Big business opponents of unions have been active bombarding lawmakers with hysterical exhortations to oppose the fair share legislation, predicting a doomsday for Iowa should the bill pass. Corporate lobbyists have put the squeeze on those Democrats who appear weak on the issue.

In the morning meeting at the UE Office, Western Region President Carl Rosen described the UE National Mobilization for Health Care and Retirement Security. Members took petitions to build support for UE’s legislative program, calling for a single-payer national health plan (H.R. 676) and a national retirement system through major expansion of Social Security.

UE International Rep. Greg Cross reported on membership growth in both Locals 893 and 896. Both locals have conducted concerted recruitment drives that have paid off with significant growth. Each local is now at an all-time high point in membership. Greg distributed membership cards and asked everyone, when they return to work, to continue the push to get non-members to sign up as members.

Political Action Director Chris Townsend reported on some recent privatization attacks on public employees around the country, and urged all UE members in Iowa to stay on the lookout for these schemes in Iowa. Townsend reported on the situation in Washington, D.C. and the implications for state public sector workers. "We need to make sure that public services are not victimized when the Bush budget and costs of the war finally comes off the rails. It’s time for big business to be shoved away from the taxpayer feeding trough, and made to pay the taxes that they should have been paying all along."

On fair share, Townsend asked the UE members to continue their efforts to convince Iowa Democrats to pass this critical legislation. "It’s time to right a wrong which has impaired the progress of working people in Iowa for more than 60 years.”

LEADERS’ ASSESSMENTS

Local 893 President Becky Dawes considers the day a success. “It was a good turn out, in particular considering the fact that many of the state bargaining units were still bargaining, and others had just wrapped up new contracts. The members were energized from the start of the day until their work was done at the capitol,” Dawes added. “There isn’t any doubt that the members are aware of the importance and need of political action."

”COGS sent four members to Des Moines for the UE Lobby Day,” says Local 896 President Heather Waddell Gruber, “and our focus was on two key issues: funding for the state universities, and fair share. For the past several years, the appropriations for universities have been far less than what is necessary to maintain operations. The result has been substandard pay for faculty and graduate assistants, bigger classes, bigger workloads, and fewer employees to cover those workloads. We were assured by our legislators that it was a priority for the governor, the House, and the Senate to give the Regents full funding.”

”The reports on fair share from our local legislators were not as encouraging,” Heather added. “The general impression was that the legislators were exhausted with talking about it, and would rather turn their attentions to ‘more important’ issues.”

“We had a spirited and engaged group,” says Western Region President Carl Rosen. It’s clear people had already been engaged in the legislative process and had followed the updates from Chris and their locals. Many had already been in touch with their legislators and were looking forward to seeing them in person.”

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