Iowa public employees' unions oppose bargaining changes
William Petroski , firstname.lastname@example.org 7:04 p.m. CT Jan. 5, 2017
(Photo: William Petroski/Des Moines Register)
Unions representing Iowa's public employees are vowing to fight efforts by the Iowa Legislature to rewrite the state's collective bargaining laws, although they face long odds against winning their battle.
A teacher, a nurse, a police officer, a firefighter and a transportation worker all spoke at an Iowa Capitol news conference Thursday, where they called on lawmakers not to weaken public employees' contract laws that were implemented in the 1970s.
They said the laws have ensured adequate staffing levels, helped to recruit and retain top talent and have provided Iowans with quality public schools and efficient public services.
They are worried about Gov. Terry Branstad's proposal to remove health insurance as a subject of collective bargaining for public employees' union contracts, as well as other possible legislation that could hurt their ability to bargain for pay raises and other benefits. Democratic legislators have blocked such proposals in the past, but some changes are likely during the 2017 Legislature's session because Republicans now hold control of the Iowa Senate, House and governor's seat for the first time since 1998.
Kelly McMahon, a kindergarten teacher at Hoover Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, is a member of the Iowa State Education Association. She said she and her fellow public employees work tirelessly every school year to ensure there are strong public schools across the state.
"We are the bus drivers who transport your children safely to and from school, the paraprofessionals who assist the child with autism in the classroom, the school nurses who assist children with insulin shots and tummy aches, the teachers who direct the fall musicals, and the coaches that lead the football teams onto the field for the big Friday night games," McMahon said.
Kelly McMahon, a kindergarten teacher at Hoover Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, speaks at a news conference Thursday at the Iowa Capitol in opposition to changes in public employees' collective bargaining laws. (Photo: William Petroski/Des Moines Register)
Adam Choat, a Pleasant Hill police officer who has spent 10 years in law enforcement, said police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect Iowans. But finding qualified police officers is a growing concern nationally and a real concern in Iowa, he said.
"If we want to ensure that we have the officers we need to protect our communities and keep our streets safe, we need to ensure fair compensation and benefits for those who answer the call," said Choat, who is a Teamsters' union member. He added that Iowa's collective bargaining laws have served the state well for the past four decades and give officers an opportunity to talk about training and equipment and safety concerns on the job.
Sean Passick, an Iowa Department of Transportation employee, said that besides winter maintenance chores, public employees make sure that roads and bridges are built to specification and ensure the safety of the traveling public. He said his work responsibilities have quadrupled since he started his job 18 years ago because of staffing reductions.
"Sure, I could get more money and do half the work for a private-sector contractor, but I take pride in being a public employee," Passick said. He's a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Union leaders said in a statement that schools and public agencies are already suffering the effects of a series of state "corporate tax giveaways" that have starved budgets for schools and essential public services. They said lawmakers should focus on creating good jobs, funding education, and rebuilding Iowa infrastructure instead of "wasting taxpayers dollars on attacking workers and trying to silence the voices of front-line providers."
Branstad has defended his proposal to remove health insurance from collective bargaining. He said a statewide master health care program — replacing hundreds of locally bargained health insurance plans — will reduce health insurance premiums and make more money available for public employees' pay raises.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have said "everything is on the table" in considering revisions of public employee bargaining, from repealing the law to making what they view as relatively minor changes. Critics contend the current law provides overly generous benefits to public-sector workers and undermines governments’ control over spending. They say Iowa law needs to be rewritten to give more consideration to Iowa taxpayers.
The Iowa Association of School Boards has made reform of contract arbitration a priority. One of the complaints is that school districts may be forced to raise property taxes to pay for salary or benefit increases required in a contract approved by an arbitrator.Tags: Iowa public workersIowan teachers
UK Railway terror alert reignites train drivers' union ASLEF row over safety staff
Train drivers' union ASLEF say the view from the cab is blurry and dark - vastly different from claims made by rail firms
• 18:05, 4 JAN 2017
Southern Railway train (Photo: PA)
by Taboola Sponsored Links
San Francisco, California: How 2 Boston Grads Are Disrupting a $19 Billion Industry (EverQuote Insurance Quotes)Tiny Stock, Huge Potential (News-Today)
Get Politics updates directly to your inbox
A busy rail route running through London has been put on terrorist alert after staff failed to find a fake bomb in a security test.
And it is doubly embarrassing for Govia Thameslink (GTR), which owns Southern Rail, and is locked in a bitter row with rail unions over the “safety critical” role of guards on trains.
The train drivers’ union Aslef say what drivers can see from their train cabs is a world away from the claims made by Southern Rail.
A leaflet will be handed to passengers next week with images of platforms from monitors issued by the company with clear pictures of passengers about to board, compared with photographs taken by drivers which are blurred and dark.
And they said the incident raised serious concerns over passenger safety at a time when the firm wants to move to driver only-operated trains and downgrade the role of guards.
Yesterday the union cut next week’s planned six-day strike on Southern Railway, used by 300,000 commuters into London, to three days - January 10, 11 and 13.
But Aslef announced fresh strikes on January 24, 25 and 27 and said the week-long action had been cut because of the impact on the travelling public who have suffered months of disruption caused by staff shortages and industrial action.
The terror alert was issued by GTR to staff on Southern and Thameslink, the Brighton to Bedford line via London, which it also runs.
An internal memo urged staff to be “extra vigilant” after the firm failed a security test in which inspectors from the Department for Transport left an unattended bag containing a ‘suspicious item’ on a Thameslink train last November.
Tony Holland, GTR’s crime and security manager, told staff in the memo:”Disappointingly, the bag was not found despite being positioned in a public area of the train and railway personnel were seen to walk past the location.
Southern Rail passenger trains (Photo: Getty)
“This incident further highlights the need for us to be alert and identify any unattended items that may be left on trains and stations. Please remain vigilant at all times.”
A spokesman for Aslef said:”How does this reassure passengers. It is quite extraordinary that Southern Railway has failed a DfT security test while getting rid of the guards on trains.”
Meanwhile,the Southern Railway dispute intensified yesterday with both sides deadlocked over the safety of driver only operated trains.
Aslef accused the government of being behind the dispute and using the Southern as “a battleground” ahead of other train companies, such as Northern and London Midland, planning to bring in driver only operations.
Mick Whelan, Aslef general secretary, insisted the dispute was about safety and not pay and strike action had been taken as a last resort.
He said:“We are taking a longer-term view of this trade dispute. The company has not been prepared to move - it is simply going through the motions.
“We remain committed to a negotiated settlement, as was reached with ScotRail, but it is difficult to negotiate with people who are not prepared to be flexible.
Southern Rail (Photo: PA)
“We still believe a deal can be done but we are, at the moment, a long way from that position. It is time for the company to come up with a genuine offer rather than carry on posturing.”
The union said it had raised 50 reported faults with the driver only-operated images seen in the driver’s cab since last October, but states:”We continue to raise the same issues and continue to be ignored. We are going around in circles.”
Aslef members are operating an overtime ban that is leading to services being cancelled or delayed every day.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union is also locked in a dispute with Southern over changes to the role of conductors, which has led to a series of strikes.
A Southern spokesman said: “This is a cynical ploy to minimise the impact on Aslef’s drivers’ pay packets and maximises misery, disruption and hardship for passengers.
“Aslef’s move shows pure contempt for the travelling public and it still causes massive disruption over next week.
“These strikes are pointless and they should call the whole thing off and let common sense prevail.”
And Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “Fewer strike days will still cause massive disruption for passengers. I urge Aslef to call off these wholly unnecessary strikes and come to the table for talks.
“This modern way of running trains has been safely used elsewhere in the UK for 30 years. There is no safety issue; the independent rail regulator has confirmed it is safe.”Tags: Rail safetyUK ASLEFUK RailMaritime and Transport union