Iowa teachers union files lawsuit over collective bargaining law

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 04, 2017 6:42 PM

By Timothy Mclaughlin

(Reuters) - An Iowa law limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers is unconstitutional, the state's largest teachers union argued in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

Three provisions of the measure, signed by Republican Governor Terry Branstad in February, violate the state's constitution, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) said in the lawsuit.

The law creates two tiers of public employees, the complaint alleges, because public safety workers such as police and firefighters are exempted from some of the collective bargaining rights reductions.

This creates a "grossly unequal collective bargaining scheme," according to the lawsuit, filed with the Iowa District Court for Polk County in Des Moines.

The collective bargaining legislation moved quickly through the state's Republican-controlled House and Senate earlier this year.

The measure, supported by Americans for Prosperity, the political spending group of the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, limits the powers of public-sector unions to negotiate for state and local employees.

It is similar to restrictions previously enacted in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Iowa teachers' union is also challenging a portion of the law that bars payroll deduction of union dues, but allows employers to continue to collect dues from other professional and trade organizations.

Lastly, the law creates an undemocratic election system for organizations that represent public employees, the lawsuit claims, because it counts votes based on population instead of number of ballots cast.

"It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that the teacher's union turns to expensive litigation rather than trying to work within the system set by the Iowa Legislature," Ben Hammes, a spokesman for Branstad, said by email.

Hammes added that the changes to collective bargaining were beneficial to Iowa taxpayers and allowed for school districts, as well as other public employers, to more effectively manage their resources.

This is the second legal challenge to the law, after the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61 filed a lawsuit in February shortly after the law took effect.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)