by Félix Pérez
UPDATE: This afternoon (Thursday, 2/16) Iowa’s Republican Senate and House majority sided with the deep-pocketed Koch brothers and ALEC, voting to pass a bill that strips educators, nurses, firefighters and other public service workers of their right to negotiate collectively for better learning environments for students, better working conditions and the ability to earn a living that supports their families.
The vote came despite widespread opposition. More than a thousand Iowans rallied on the state Capitol grounds on Monday to protest the bill and several hundred testified and packed legislative debate sessions.
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Like the no-holds-barred assault on worker rights by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, the Iowa bill was not sought by the state’s residents, nor did legislators campaign on the promise to go after the workplace rights of teachers and others. Instead, the impetus for the sweeping attack on worker rights is the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity. ALEC, which curries favor with state lawmakers by providing meals, trips and other junkets and then sends them home with bill templates they’ve agreed to push through their state legislatures, is controlled and financed by the Koch brothers and other corporate sponsors. Americans for Prosperity has mailed waves of tens of thousands of postcards to Iowa voters going after public service employees.
Cedar Rapids teacher Tammy Wawro said of the bill, “This isn’t union-busting. (This bill) goes further. It’s profession-busting.” Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, continued, ”(Iowa legislators) have carved out the heart of what is important and vital to our profession and our ability to have a voice in the direction of our work environment.” ISEA represents 34,000 teachers and educators.
Rick Smith, with the Iowa Starting Line news site, made clear the connection between ALEC and the Republicans pushing the bill. He wrote:
Iowa Republicans’ goal to silence labor’s voice by destroying collective bargaining is delivering to their corporate masters exactly the agenda they bought and paid for through their ALEC funders. Iowa teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, health care workers and many public sector employees are the victims of the Republicans’ nasty ALEC generated assaults on their rights.
Iowa’s largest circulation newspaper, The Des Moines Register, wrote a stinging editorial titled “GOP to Iowans: Shut up while we bust unions.” It reads, Republican legislators “want everyone to shut up and leave them alone so they can ram through a bill to essentially neuter public-sector unions and strip an estimated 184,000 Iowans of rights to negotiate working conditions and job benefits. Legislators don’t seem remotely interested in the real-world implications of what happens when their bill becomes law.”
At issue are identical 68-page bills in the Senate and House — House File 291 and Senate File 213 — that teachers and other working people say is an attack on Iowa workers and families. The byproduct of the rushed legislation, they assert, will be to make it harder and harder for Iowa workers to support their families and come together to negotiate the terms of their work.
The Iowa legislation is the latest entry among anti-worker bills that have surfaced in various states this year. For example:
- In New Hampshire, despite an all-out effort by top state Republicans, the House voted this afternoon to kill a so-called right-to-work bill, 200-177.
- In Missouri, the governor signed a right-work bill into law this month, joining 27 other states.
- Conservative Republican lawmakers are moving to make Ohio a so-called right to work state.
- Colorado Senate Republicans on Monday pushed through a bill to rewrite state labor law and make Colorado a “right-to-work” state, despite opposition even from some business groups such as the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.