$3 Million in Cuts
UE Political Action Restores
Iowa Budget, Halts Layoff
DES MOINES, Iowa
893/IUP members at their political action conference in January,
following successful efforts to restore $3 million to Iowa's budget last
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
UE IOWA LOCALS RESPOND
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