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$3 Million in Cuts Restored —
UE Political Action Restores
Iowa Budget, Halts Layoff


Local 893/IUP members at their political action conference in January

Local 893/IUP members at their political action conference in January, following successful efforts to restore $3 million to Iowa's budget last year.

Thanks to "a political tidal wave" of UE rank-and-file activity, a special session of the Iowa Legislature late last year restored $3 million in cuts from the Department of Human Services budget — preventing significant layoffs of UE members, at least in the short term.

With the start of a new legislative session in January, union members are continuing to press for a budget that respects state workers and the citizens they serve.

Iowa’s state budget began to unravel almost a year ago, another victim of the national economy’s slide into recession. The situation deteriorated further by fall, creating a $200 million budget shortfall. The state’s Democratic governor and Republican-majority legislature began dueling over the deficit. In October Gov. Vilsack proposed a 4.3 percent across-the-board cut in all state agencies, and recalled the legislature for a special session in November.

That was bad news for UE members, who quickly moved into action.


Iowa is home to UE’s largest concentration of public-sector workers. The two largest UE locals in the state are statewide amalgamated Local 893, representing state DHS social workers and income maintenance workers, with significant groups in state corrections, disability determinations, vocational rehabilitation, and a separate state scientific unit; Local 896 represents the graduate employees of the University of Iowa.

Local 896 responded quickly, producing and distributing the facts on the budget crisis to the entire bargaining unit of more than 2,400.

Local 893 faced a more complicated situation. The primary agency employing UE members, the Department of Human Services, is also the largest state agency and draws the most attention from would-be budget-cutters. Some DHS workers are represented by another state workers’ union, affiliated with AFSCME, which promoted wage concessions as a trade-off for an "early retirement package" Local 893 rejected as inadequate.


With help from the national union, Local 893 organized a workplace-to-workplace tour in early November to bring the UE message directly to state employees. On the road were Local 893 Pres. Bill Austin and UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend, joined at times by other Local 893 officers, Intl. Rep. Greg Cross and other staff.

The UE leaders explained the budget crisis and the union’s mobilization strategy. Members were encouraged to immediately call and e-mail their lawmakers on the budget crisis and DHS situation specifically. Information that restoration of a specific $3 million budget cut would reduce possible layoffs within the Local 893 bargaining unit became an immediate focus of action.

Local Pres. Austin took on the so-called "early retirement offer" and the mail-in vote on the deal then underway. State management had presented the same offer to Local 893, but denied to the UE local the same opportunity to contact members through the state’s e-mail system granted to AFSCME. Austin pulled no punches, exposing the collusion of the state and AFSCME and explaining the deal was in reality, "just a wage concession scheme disguised as an early retirement package."


The meetings were well-attended. Non-members signed union cards. UE literature on the budget crisis and the wage concessions flooded state offices. "Our efforts had generated a political tidal wave of rank-and-file phone calls and e-mailing," Townsend said.

A dozen UE members and staff came to the capitol for the special session to speak with lawmakers and keep track of the unfolding battle. This was the only union delegation. AFSCME and the state police union only managed one lobbyist each and no members at all.

The rank-and-file approach paid off, as legislators voted to restore the $3 million cut from the DHS budget, preventing significant layoffs for the moment.

The following week, ballots were counted on the retirement/concession proposal. Local 893 members rejected the deal by a 6-1 margin in DHS and by a 3-2 margin in the science unit.

The activity in the fall, and continuing mobilization, prepared the way for a successful UE Legislative Lobby day in January, where UE members from around Iowa pressed for a "citizens’ budget" that protects state employees and the residents who rely on their services.

UE News - 02/02

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