Struggle for Workplace Democracy
Iowa's Public Sector
years ago UE had no members in Iowa. Today, UE represents 6,500 Iowa
workers and their families; most UE members in Iowa are employed in the
public sector. The women and men of Local 893, Iowa United
Professionals, have been a driving force in this dramatic change. Local
893 is one of the union’s largest and most influential local unions.
This is the Local 893 story (part 2 of 3).
McElroy and Pat Morrissey, Local 893 leaders in Waterloo, recall IUP’s
early days as they look at a photo album.
workers now had a real union — but no contract. Until a contract was
negotiated, the professional unit would come under the Merit system, the
complicated set of rules predating the collective bargaining law. The
Public Employment Relations Board rejected IUP’s request for early
bargaining, ruling that negotiations would begin in the fall for a
contract running from July 1, 1984 to July 1, 1985.
The many months without a contract proved not to be a
major problem. To Pat Morrissey, a child abuse investigator in
Waterloo, coming under Merit with a fighting union couldn’t be worse
than being stuck with AFSCME’s unwillingness to enforce its contract.
For Ron Ewald, an income maintenance worker in Iowa City, the
emphasis was on continuing to organize, to sign up workers and involve
them in the union. "It didn’t seem any different to me," he
says. "We knew we were going to have a contract." Any major
assaults by management would be ammunition for IUP going into
negotiations; most supervisors realized that, he said.
Matt Hanlon recalls that when supervisors in the Cedar
Rapids office did try to take advantage, workers got an education in the
importance of having a union contract. "There were those who thought
the benefits under the AFSCME contract came from the goodness of
management’s heart in the first place," he says.
GAINING A CONTRACT
In its first negotiations, IUP became the first state
employee union to go to interest arbitration. The first contract, a
one-year agreement, achieved a breakthrough in paid-time off but nothing
else that hadn’t already been obtained by the other state employee
unions. Those unions had settled the previous year, so there was little
chance of ploughing new ground. However, IUP gained two extra holidays —
and to this day the professional unit continues to enjoy more holiday time
than other state employees.
The 1985-1987 contract, proudly ratified by a 90 percent
margin, was another story.
IUP averaged more than 20 percent over two years, with
some workers getting as high as 35 percent. IUP established call-back pay,
hour-for-hour compensatory time.
But the sweetest victory in that second contract was a
prohibition against management bumping into bargaining unit jobs during a
reduction in force — the very protection that AFSCME and the State said
couldn’t be won. For IUP members like Cedar Rapids social worker Joe
Fleming, the job security was more valuable than the pay raises.
IUP could boast steady growth in each pay period and the
gradual spread of IUP locals. Crucial to this growth was the new union’s
determination to provide workers the kind of on-the-job representation
missing in AFSCME, and to encourage membership involvement. IUP leaders
debated, and acted on, proposals to make the stewards system work,
including stewards’ training.
‘WORLD OF DIFFERENCE’
Bill Austin recalls that in his Wapello County office
a number of older social workers were skeptical about unions in general.
One came to Austin in tears; after years of dedicated service to the State
she had received her first reprimand. "There was a new computer
system with glitches in it, and she had gotten this reprimand because she
hadn’t done well with the job," Austin explains.
"She filed a grievance. Her immediate supervisor
reduced it from a reprimand to a clarification of expectation,"
Austin says. "There were about six or seven of these older social
workers who all decided the union was not a bad idea. They all signed dues
cards. That was one of our major breakthroughs there."
Mary Lou Welter entered State service in the mid-1980s
as a clerical worker. Hers was a bargaining unit legally represented by
AFSCME, but she quickly learned there was another union in the Johnson
County Human Services office. "We in the AFSCME unit used to go over
and ask IUP people about how to get stuff done, because it was almost
impossible to find anybody in AFSCME."
A co-worker had been promised an upgrade; meanwhile she
was working out of classification without getting paid the difference,
Welter says. The clerical workers sought advice from IUP’s Ron Ewald.
"So we were trying to find an AFSCME steward to get some kind of
grievance filed and it was like pulling teeth to try and find anybody. We
finally found an AFSCME meeting and went two or three times, and finally
found someone and get something done."
Welter and her co-worker had to ask if they could join
AFSCME. On April 1, 1988, Welter became an income maintenance worker. In
about "five seconds," she recalls, she was asked to sign an IUP
card. Asked if she noticed any difference in working conditions going from
an AFSCME-represented bargaining unit to IUP, Welter laughs and says,
"Yeah, like a world of difference."
TAKING A STAND
A rough period for organized labor nationwide, the early
1980s were an inauspicious moment in which to launch an independent social
services workers union in Iowa. The state’s farm crisis has had a
continuing ripple effect — Iowa has experienced negative population
growth over the past 20 years. As farmers went bankrupt,
agriculture-related manufacturing plants closed. The state’s budget took
a big hit. Ronald Reagan in Washington and a conservative clone in Des
Moines pursued punishing budget cuts.
IUP had promised to give social services workers a voice
off the job as well. Responding to attacks on social services, the union
frequently protested national and state policies. IUP participated in the
Human Rights Coalition and the Iowa Progressive Coalition.
In the summer of 1984, Local 1 staged informal picketing
in front of the Cedar Rapids office to point out the need for additional
staff and to correct the misinformation that foul-ups were due to worker
error. And the union collected $200-worth of canned goods for donation to
the local food pantry.
IUP members picketed welfare offices around the state,
calling on the State to hire more child abuse investigators. IUP Pres. Barb
Adams authored an op-ed column in the Des Moines Register that
called attention to this issue. Iowa social services workers could take
pride that theirs was a different kind of union.
The fight for comparable worth marked an important early
phase of IUP’s political lobbying, suggests Sylvia Kelley. Now a
UE field organizer, Kelley was a part-time state employee and one of IUP’s
original staff. She had major responsibility for the union’s handling of
the comparable worth issue.
Despite the conservative trends, the Iowa legislature
voted to commission a major study on gender equality and the pay structure
in state jobs. "Lo and behold, they found out that women were being
paid far less than men for jobs where the skill levels and the factors
were relatively equal," says Kelley.
The legislature set aside funds for major upgrades to
correct the pay inequity uncovered by the study. During brief negotiations
the State proposed and AFSCME accepted a bizarre formula that advanced
some state employees by a pay grade while at the same time dropping them
by a step. Not all female workers entitled to an upgrade were scheduled to
receive one under this deal. Initially, the IUP-represented income
maintenance workers were not slated to get anything. Increases for social
workers would be largely nullified by the step-back.
"It was one of those situations where AFSCME did all
it could to sell us out, because they didn’t want our bargaining unit to
have those pay raises, because it made them look bad, plus they were just
a bunch of macho male prison guards anyway, [who thought that] there was
no way those women were worth it," Kelley says.
IUP refused to accept the deal. "We’re the only
state employee union standing firm on the principle of comparable
worth," declared the union’s president, Ron Ewald.
In the midst of negotiations with IUP, Gov. Terry
Branstad ordered the State’s representatives to leave the bargaining
table. IUP filed charges. IUP insisted on taking major grievances on
comparable worth to arbitration. Can’t do it, said the Public Employment
Relations Board. IUP sued the State and won.
Kelley and other IUP representatives met with legislators,
urging that the comparable worth settlement be implemented fairly.
Comparable worth raises were eventually achieved through
contract negotiations and the grievance procedure.
In 1986, in the midst of battling with a conservative,
cash-strapped state government for comp worth and contract improvements,
IUP faced a major challenge from AFSCME.
IUP faced continual opposition from AFSCME. Pockets of
AFSCME activists who had never reconciled themselves to the establishment
of IUP could still be found in state offices around Iowa. In addition, the
independent union was undermined by what Dan Kelley terms the
"invisible hand" of collusion between AFSCME and the State. In
1984 an AFSCME decertification bid went nowhere. But two years later, the
AFL-CIO union showed surprising strength as 30 percent of the bargaining
unit signed a decertification petition.
AFSCME poured staff and resources into the campaign, but
ultimately couldn’t overcome its own legacy of high dues, poor service
and insensitivity to members’ needs. (Although AFSCME then represented
some 25,000 state employees, fewer than 4,000 paid dues.)
An AFSCME-represented clerical worker at the time of the
decert, Mary Lou Welter recalls how AFSCME staffers tried to enlist the
clericals’ aid in talking to professionals. "Forget it!"
Welter told them. "You’re lucky I talk to you!"
AFSCME had hopes that IUP would be particularly vulnerable
in Iowa’s western counties, where the independent union had been slow to
build membership. But an AFSCME organizer was surprised to discover that
although they might not have been paying dues, social services workers
there thought that IUP was doing a decent job.
IUP leaders — all of them full-time state employees —
donated vacation time to travel the state and talk to co-workers. Once
again, AFSCME mailed literature, IUP members handed leaflets to their
co-workers in the workplace.
When the election took place Jan. 21, 1987, IUP retained
its bargaining rights for the professional unit by a solid majority. The
total: 724 for IUP, 521 for no union.
"While their numerous mailings and outright lies
confused some professionals, we feel that ultimately the lies backfired on
them," concluded the IUP leadership in a newsletter issued shortly
after the election. "Professionals were turned off by the negative,
unprincipled nature of their campaign."
IUP spoke out forcefully as the Branstad Administration
attempted to resolve budget problems at the expense of children and the
social workers who assist them. "There’s potential for a lot of
kids getting hurt," said IUP Pres. Mike Maddigan of increased
workloads. In 1991, state social services workers picketed their offices
to inform the public of the effects of the governor’s budget cuts, which
included layoffs and closure of Human Services district offices.
IUP sounded an alarm about the dangers of privatization.
Branstad achieved the difficult feat of temporarily
reuniting Iowa’s state-employee unions in 1991 when he vetoed pay raises
approved by the legislature in line with an arbitrator’s decision. IUP
joined with AFSCME and the State Police Officers Council in a lawsuit to
overturn Branstad’s veto. The unions also filed a complaint with PERB to
undo the governor’s layoffs.
IUP also responded to this clear violation of Iowa’s
collective bargaining law in the streets; IUP members picketed state
offices on the last workday of the State’s fiscal year, to commemorate
their "last honest paycheck." IUP pointed out that in vetoing
pay raises, Branstad also vetoed $22.7 million in spending reductions
and actually increased state spending overall — all in the name of
austerity. And IUP pointed out that only unions that did not endorse
Branstad were on the receiving end of layoffs.
BUILDING THE UNION
The court victory which restored the pay increases —
giving IUP members a 5 percent raise — "was the greatest thing in
the world for organizing," recalls Mary Lou Welter. "That really
galvanized people." The lawsuit, says Joe Fleming, "was a big
expense and a big gamble that brought a lot of people to the union."
IUP looked to expand the union’s ranks, by signing up
members in the professional unit, and also through organizing in state
employment, the private sector and elsewhere in the public sector.
Unsuccessful efforts were made to organize the other state professional
unit and, in cooperation with the Iowa Education Association, state
clerical workers. The Cedar County Secondary Road Dept. crew voted 31-0 to
join IUP in December 1988 as a result of workers’ personal contact with
then-Pres. Ewald and Terry Reed, a former rank and filer then on
the union’s staff.
Internal organizing, made possible by the union’s record
of achievement, made for steady growth. From about 400 members in 1984,
IUP’s rolls swelled to 700 in 1986 and more than 1,000 in 1992. At the
1992 convention, Treas. Gene McKinnis reported that IUP had ended
the fiscal year with a positive cash balance for the first time in at
least three years; Gary Walker, chair of the Budget and Finance
Committee, said the union’s treasury was in good shape in spite of
layoffs and the expense of the taking the State to court.
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