Action Day Advances
DES MOINES, Iowa
|Union activists from around Iowa gather in the State
Capitol to push a people’s program.
Union members from across Iowa took proposals for a citizens’ budget to the State Capitol on Jan. 15, stressing that
cuts in services and layoffs are no solution to the State’s budgetary crisis. UE represents more than 6,000 working families in Iowa,
largely in the public sector.
The annual UE Iowa Political Action Day followed mobilization in the late fall that helped convince a special session of
the Iowa Legislature to restore $3 million in cuts from the Department of Human Services, preventing layoffs. More than 50 members of UE
locals in the public sector participated in the Jan. 15 grassroots lobbying, visiting the offices of dozens of legislators.
"It was important that we got there at the beginning of the session, to get our agenda out there, to get our
perspective in front of the legislature," says UE Local 893 Pres. Bill Austin. Statewide, amalgamated Local 893, IUP
represents workers mostly employed by the State of Iowa.
"Local 896 attached importance to this event as a part of our political action plan to fight budget cuts in the
state," says Local Pres. Rob Russell. Local 896, COGS represents graduate student employees of the University of Iowa.
"We viewed it as a chance to follow up on some of the issues we raised with legislators in the fall through a mass
mailing of postcards to select members of the legislature as well as a Legislative Forum that we hosted on Dec. 6, 2001 featuring State
Senator Joe Bolkcom, House Minority Leader Dick Myers, and Representative Mary Mascher," explains Russell. "Furthermore, we view
this event as a great chance to build solidarity across local boundaries, expressing our concern on issues of importance to all workers,
and especially UE members, from across the state."
The "Citizens’ Budget Blueprint" presented by the UE members consisted of:
The "Rainy Day" Fund. The Legislature should make use of the nearly $500
million set aside in the Iowa "Rainy Day" Fund and the state cash reserve.
Review and reduce corporate welfare. A study conducted as far back as 1997
concluded that the State of Iowa directly granted almost $200 million a year to various corporations and interest groups.
Revisit Iowa’s tax code. According to the Iowa Department of Revenue and
Finance, tax breaks, credits, deductions, and exemptions cost the state budget nearly $3.86 billion per year!
Early retirement proposal for state workers. Significant savings would be realized
from a genuine early retirement program achieved through negotiations with state employee unions.
Reducing state management layers. The elimination of some middle and upper
management layers would achieve some significant savings.
Aid from our federal government. Iowa should expect that our federal government
will reimburse the state for additional expenses due to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Low-interest bonds. With interest rates at 40-year lows, it’s time to carefully
consider how much current state spending could be shifted to the state bond method of borrowing.
Establish a statewide public-sector health insurance "pool." A
statewide, public-employee health care fund could protect working people with better care at lower prices.
"These are the right things to be demanding," says UE District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen, who attended the
Political Action Day with UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley and UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend. "There’s no way
the Legislature should be talking about layoffs when more services are needed," Rosen said.
RANGE OF RESPONSES
Legislative responses were across the board, reports Austin. "We met with legislators who were in total agreement
with our program. At the same time we met with some Republicans who as much said they disagreed with all of it." Some legislators
expressed particular support for the UE position on early retirement and on insurance in particular, Austin says. But the Local 893
president cautions that UE members will have a difficult time advancing alternate budget proposals in the current climate.
"Of course, our primary concern was the budget crisis facing the state of Iowa," says Russell of his local’s
involvement in the lobby day. "I believe the Revenue Estimating Conference in Iowa released the report that Iowa will be more than
$100 million in the red this fiscal year. Throughout this process, Local 896 has maintained that the budget should not be balanced on the
back of working people in Iowa. Rather, there needs to be a serious reevaluation of current tax policies, including a rethinking of the
decades of tax breaks that have brought us to this point.
"Also, we advocated dipping into the so-called Rainy Day Fund to offset some of the immediate pain," Russell
says. "Not only did we try and discuss our position with members of the local legislative delegation, but we tried (though not very
successfully) to reach out to key members of the Appropriations committees to discuss our concerns.
"As far as the local is concerned, one issue we raised is our continued fight for comprehensive, fair tuition and fee
waivers," Russell continues. "This is a long battle that we are continuing to fight so that a substantial chunk of our salaries
do not get sent back to the employer each and every semester."
MUST 'KEEP UP THE PRESSURE'
Austin points out, "The budget projections are looking bleaker and bleaker." Holding the line in defense of
services and jobs will require continual mobilization and further trips to Des Moines by UE members, he says.
"In order to win this fight, we must continue keeping pressure on members of the legislature while educating all
Iowans of the importance of the services provided by the workers of this state," Russell agrees.
"Then, we have to make sure that legislators vote to support working people in Iowa by supporting quality, affordable
education (at all levels) and all other state services. Finally, we have to work together and fight for each other to reinforce that we
will not stand for the same shenanigans out of Des Moines."
Participants in the annual Political Action Day also came from Local 855 (Hawkeye Community College).
UE News - 3/02