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Will events in Wisconsin discourage Iowa’s attempts to curtail collective bargaining?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | MARCH 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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YES

Maybe the horrendous removal of workers’ rights perpetrated in Wisconsin this week will have a silver lining. The decision by Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin’s Republicans to demolish collective-bargaining rights for public-sector employees will galvanize supporters of public-sector unions across the Midwest.

The spectacle in Madison provided a clear example to the rest of the country of partisan goals being pursued under the banner of fiscal responsibility. The GOP legislators of Wisconsin ignored protesters flooding into the Capitol chambers and polls showing that a majority of the public disapproved of the governor’s plan. They refused to negotiate with the minority party, even when union members agreed to make concessions and slammed the bill through the Legislature with what seemed like childish spite.

Here in Iowa, we have another politician with a consistent record of attempting to cut the meat out of unions’ negotiating power. In 1991, a much younger Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed funds appropriated by the Legislature for pay increases (a result of a binding arbitration). The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Branstad had to honor the agreement, and the employees were paid.

But today’s Iowa GOP has very little respect for the judicial branch, and the same governor is back in office amid an environment rife with fiscal difficulties. Legislation is being debated in the state House of Representatives to strip many collective-bargaining rights from this state’s workers. Union leaders are lobbying in Des Moines against the destructive House File 525.

The backlash against the Wisconsin law will not bode well for Republican politicians, and Iowa’s GOP can see this. Hopefully, Branstad will take heed of the reaction to the law and decide that it would be politically expedient to negotiate fairly with pro-public-union decision-makers.

The law passed in Wisconsin was a huge insult to a fair and free system of government. Iowans should now be just as involved in our own public-union negotiations as the country was in Wisconsin’s and do all we can to prevent a similar injustice from occurring here.

— Will Mattessich

NO

Ohio. Michigan. Tennessee. Indiana. Idaho. Iowa.

All of these states are fighting the same fight that’s coming to a bitter conclusion in Wisconsin: restrictions on public-sector bargaining rights. Wisconsinites are hopping mad; after an emergency stripped-down bill was railroaded through the state Legislature Wednesday, there’s been talk of a general strike and occupation of the Capitol.

While I’m typically optimistic about current affairs (it’s a coping mechanism), I’m not so hopeful that the Wisconsin rage will prove an effective deterrent for the Iowa GOP and Republican lawmakers across the country.

Here in Iowa, between 700 and 4,000 people attended a public hearing Monday on the proposed reduction in collective bargaining rights. Gov. Terry Branstad is pushing hard for it, in line with his previously expressed anti-union agenda.

Sure, this is hardly meager. But even if the Wisconsin outrage leads to the recall of Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislators who passed the bill (and rightfully so; the passage of the pared-down bill in a short-notice session was an egregious violation of democratic procedure), there’s little sign that the GOP in other states is balking.

Let’s not fool ourselves: The latest developments in Wisconsin demonstrate that these types of bills are not about fiscal responsibility. Rather, they’re about smashing a primary contributor to the Democratic Party: unions. Regardless of how you feel about this, the juicy prospect of destroying a huge contributor to partisan foes is too tempting to pass up.

And public opinion, while it’s siding primarily with the demonstrators in Wisconsin, isn’t yet sold on the value of unions. With the decline of the private-sector labor union and general public opinion of unions still fairly negative, it’s too early to say that the Wisconsin showdown will galvanize anyone but the union members themselves.

Some may hope that this is enough, but I’m pessimistic. The siren song of partisan warfare is immensely powerful.

— Shay O’Reilly


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