Branstad: Bargaining system needs improving - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Branstad: Bargaining system needs improving


WATERLOO (KWWL) -- A battle is brewing over collective bargaining rights here in Iowa.  A bill being considered by the state legislature would limit the ability of public workers to negotiate for better benefits.

Governor Terry Branstad says the proposal would simply level the playing field by forcing state employees to chip in to pay for insurance costs and eliminating bickering over benefits.  But there is certainly some strong opposition to the plan.

Governor Branstad stopped in Waterloo Wednesday to tout his plan for creating new jobs in Iowa.  But several other hot button issues, including the battle over collective bargaining rights for state workers, took center stage.  The governor said new bargaining laws are needed and that implementing them could save the state money.

"When I talk to people and they say, '87 percent of state employees pay nothing towards their health insurance, even for a family plan?' They can't believe it.  And it's costing the taxpayers from 12-17 thousand dollars a year.  This is a tremendous burden.  People are paying a lot for their own health insurance and then paying taxes for this," Branstad said.

So the legislature is considering making those employees pay at least $100 per month for benefits.  But while Branstad was pitching those changes, picketers were protesting the proposal outside.  They feel the current bargaining system has worked well, and that benefits for state workers are well deserved.

"Public employees are out at night, are out in the weekends, are dealing with dangerous populations, and our pay and benefits are just part of what we get because of the dangerous jobs we do," said Jeni Lara, president of Local 2 UE 893.

And while a war's being waged over bargaining rights in nearby Wisconsin, the governor insists a similar battle simply won't happen in Iowa because the laws are different.  He just think the current negotiating system needs improvement.

"The President of the United States has a two year freeze and other states are making major changes.  So it seems that we just ought to have something more equitable.  And if we did that, we wouldn't have the number of people being laid off," Branstad said.

Ultimately, the state legislature will decide what happens.  But it appears that stripping away rights that have been held by unions for decades won't come easily.

If the bill passes in its current form, state union workers wouldn't have say over layoffs and staff reductions.  Arbitrators would no longer have to consider past contracts between a public employer and its union workers.  Their role would primarily be limited to considering how contracts would affect budgets and making compromises between management and union offers.

Legislators have proposed more than 100 amendments to the employee union bill, the majority coming from democrats that are opposed to such legislation.

KWWL Reporter:  Kera Mashek


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