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Abhorrent anti-union proposals from Branstad

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 10, 2011 7:10 AM

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Gov. Terry Branstad’s crusades at the expense of working- and middle-class Iowans continue.

The governor’s new labor proposals seem to have no discernible motive besides discouraging union membership. Measures such as banning the use of project labor agreements and allowing the state to opt out of arbitration agreements (based on a report he commissioned to determine cost-saving methods to employ in state projects) run counter to the governor’s purported goal of providing Iowans with well-paying jobs.

Failing to protect wages of unionized workers will make it more difficult for Iowan families to earn a living wage. A recent study by researchers from the University of Kansas and University of Texas-Austin showed that removing collective-bargaining power and wage contracts creates greater income inequality than in sectors where workers salaries are protected. If Branstad wants to prevent Iowans from dropping out of the middle class, he needs to reconsider his recurrent antilabor policies.

“These attacks on the unions are targeting people who have good-paying jobs,” said Patrick Hughes, the president of the Iowa City chapter of the Carpenters and Joiners Union. Collective bargaining and binding arbitration allow union members to receive fair wages and benefits, but far fewer Americans are enjoying these benefits than in the past; only 12.3 percent of America’s labor force are union members, and Branstad’s proposals will make this number even smaller.

Under the governor’s proposal, the state could not exceed paying a fixed percentage of unionized employees’ health-insurance cost. Many state employees pay no premiums on their health insurance, so they would be forced to pay more out-of-pocket for care.

Unionized employees, too, would be denied automatic raises and forced to negotiate for pay increases, something that is both a deterrent to union membership and an extreme waste of union resources.

These proposals are not the first antilabor moves of Branstad’s fifth term. Earlier this year, the governor issued an executive order forbidding state-funded construction to use project labor agreements, in which the buyer and the contractor agree to certain terms for the construction (including timeline and hiring issues). One such construction project, a new convention center in Cedar Rapids, was begun using a project labor agreement before the order was issued, and Branstad now says he will prohibit the release of state funds for the project.

Nullifying the agreement will have the largest consequences for local Iowa workers. “With a project labor agreement, we have the option to require that contractors hire workers in state,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. “But without a project labor agreement, we are required to accept the lowest bid.” This means that, without a project labor agreement, construction income could travel entirely out of the state if costs were low enough. Banning these agreements directly contradicts the governor’s stated goal of creating jobs in Iowa.

Some of the governor’s proposals are ostensibly measures to save the taxpayers money, but the largest discrepancy in Branstad’s reasoning is his burdening of workers while providing excessive incentives to business.

In 2009 and 2010, Iowa received $456 million in corporate income tax. Branstad’s budget proposal will cause a substantial decrease in revenue by cutting corporate income-tax rates in half and taxing new corporate building projects at only 60 percent of their valuation. Iowa’s individual taxpayers already share a disproportionate amount of the state revenue burden, and if Branstad’s proposed budget did not make that disparity larger, cuts in pay raises would not be necessary.

In times of economic woe, it is obviously necessary to reduce state costs. But this can be done without the destruction of an institution that benefits workers and reduces income inequality. The governor’s proposals cross the line from necessary cuts into egregious anti-worker sentiment by penalizing organized laborers — even as the governor claims a pro-job agenda.

If Branstad truly wants to improve the health of Iowa’s workforce, he should cease his efforts to defang the unions.


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