DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A majority of public workers in Iowa who were eligible to participate in recent elections linked to a new collective bargaining law chose to stay unionized, according to state data released Wednesday, though more than two dozen locals will essentially dismantle because of how the votes must be counted.
The so-called recertification elections were one of the first real tests of labor strength in the state since the new Republican-controlled Legislature eliminated most of what employees can negotiate over their working conditions. Unions saw the final results as a win given the participation rate, and at least one official referenced the upcoming midterm election as a chance to reverse course.
“I am confident that workers will once again claim victory in the November 2018 election when those politicians who stabbed them in the back are sent packing,” said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, in a statement.
Data from the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board show more than 28,000 workers voted to keep being represented by their union locals. That’s out of the roughly 33,200 who were eligible to vote. About 620 workers voted against the union locals, another 137 voted “no preference” and more than 4,000 chose not to vote. Those were counted as “no” votes.
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In the end, 436 union locals will stick around and 32 union locals will not because they must decertify. Following a 10-day appeal window, workers in that second group will be barred from unionizing for two years.
Questions have been raised about what happens to existing contracts between the union locals and employers. Unions have discussed the possibility of legal action if the paperwork is considered void.
Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, noted that the automatic “no” from nonparticipating workers and a threshold that required a majority of all employees to vote to keep a unit created “an unreasonable standard for successful recertification elections.” Still, she pointed out that 216 out of 220 ISEA locals in the elections were able to recertify.
“This obstacle was overcome by the strong and determined professionals who will not back down from what they know is best for their profession, their students and their schools,” she said in a statement.
Republican Sen. Jason Schultz of Schleswig helped write the collective bargaining law as part of his work leading a Senate labor committee. He dismissed the narrative that GOP lawmakers were trying to weaken workers’ rights and instead restated that many of them didn’t have a role in forming their locals.
“The employees went ahead and stated their positions,” he said of the elections. “I think that’s a success for the system.”
Some of the decertified union locals were decided by a handful of votes. Separately, Service Employees International Union did not secure enough votes to continue a unit that represents nurses at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines. Out of the 197 employees eligible to vote, according to the data, the unit needed 99 to vote yes. In the end, 74 did so, and another 27 voted no. Others did not vote.
The recertification elections must now be held before each new contract, which happens every few years depending on the unit. That means the cycle of elections will continue well into the future.