Bargaining takes turn for better

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 16 2013 | 11:18 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 10:08 am in

By Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

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Finally, after months of contentious rhetoric, we find a ray of hope in state labor talks.

The leader of one of three state employee unions confirmed that the State Police Officers Council had reached a tentative agreement with state negotiators and ratified a new two-year contract.

Last fall, state officials exchanged opening bargaining positions with SPOC, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Iowa United Professionals.

The state sought a freeze on across-the-board and “step” wage increases. State negotiators also proposed that all state employees pay a greater share of their health insurance costs — including a requirement that workers enrolled on single plans with no premium would begin paying 20 percent of the insurance cost for the new contract period.

The ratified agreement calls for SPOC members to pay more of their health insurance costs, unless they participate in a wellness program, and provides for one-time base salary increases totaling 1.5 percent during both years of the contract, according to union and state officials. The state-SPOC tentative deal comes just days after AFSCME leaders criticized Gov. Terry Branstad for giving bonuses to directors while asking many state workers to take a wage freeze and pay health insurance premiums.

“I don’t know what we did to the governor,” said Marty Hathaway, a correctional officer and member of AFSCME Council 61. “I don’t know why he hates us this much.”

Likewise, AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan upbraided the governor last summer for broaching the 20-percent premium outside of negotiations. “Terry Branstad ought to be bargaining with us in good faith at the bargaining table and not in the press,” Homan said. Yet he and his lieutenants appear to be guilty of the same thing with the rhetorical salvos fired last week.

AFSCME has asked for a 1 percent across-the-board pay increase in the contract’s first year and 2 percent in the following year for the roughly 20,000 workers it represents.

“It is again ... our desire to reach a voluntary agreement. But we are not throwing away three decades of bargaining,” Homan said in presenting those proposals in November. “This is, I believe, a fair proposal, not only for the employees ... but for the citizens of this state.”

Some longtime state employees and retirees still chafe at Branstad’s refusal in the early 1990s to grant a pay raise they won in binding arbitration until ordered by a judge to do so.

Likewise, Homan and other union officials rubbed some folks the wrong way when they and outgoing Gov. Chet Culver reached a labor agreement in December 2010 with no negotiations, receiving pay increases and retaining existing health benefits.

Both sides must check past hurts at the door. The time for respectful, good-faith bargaining is now.

Hopefully with state-SPOC accord’s ratification by the state’s law officers, there will be a new sheriff in town regarding labor relations.

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