SF213 – Prepared remarks by Senator Nate Boulton, lead Democrat on Senate Labor Committee

This amendment is our last chance to stop this freight train that is barreling towards our public workers. We’ve finally arrived at the point of no return on this. We have reached a point of potentially blowing up the system of reason and compromise that has served our state well for decades.

Iowa Senate News Release
For immediate release: February 14, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President. This amendment is our last chance to stop this freight train that is barreling towards our public workers. We’ve finally arrived at the point of no return on this. We have reached a point of potentially blowing up the system of reason and compromise that has served our state well for decades. The system that helped define the legacy of Governor Ray, a Republican who reached out to labor organizations and Democrats to design a system that has allowed our state to grow and succeed. Now we are at the point of no return. A system borne out of reason and compromise will be gutted and replaced by one which throws away reason and does so in a way that only compromises Iowa’s future.

This fight means a lot to me. I was born to a union worker in a tire plant. His father, my grandfather, spent two decades as a union steward in a meatpacking plant. I’ve spent the past 11 years as a workers’ rights attorney. I have seen the horrors of workplace exploitation; I’ve helped workers through the devastating aftermath of injuries that occurred in some of our most dangerous public occupations.

I’ve stood up for wrongfully terminated workers and have spent countless hours counseling longtime workers whose lives were turned upside down when they were fired without cause. I ran for the Iowa Senate with the hope that I could advocate for enhancing the lives of the workers who make this state run. I campaigned on furthering my fight for workers’ rights and enhancing the quality of life for Iowans and hoped we could take up the cause of uplifting the working class of this state. I now see that a different agenda is being presented—one that strips away workplace rights and scales back the benefits thousands of Iowans count on.

Rural Iowa needs school employees and county employees to have good, quality jobs to make their local economies grow. While I am proud to live in and represent part of our state’s largest city, I am also proud that I grew up in a small town, Columbus Junction—I’m sure Senator Greene knows that community well. It’s a town of about 2,000 people in the middle of a county of about 11,000. It’s a place than needs good teachers and staff to educate its children—I’ve even done my part andserved a substitute teacher in one of its schools a few times in the early 2000s. It needs quality sheriff’s deputies to keep its communities safe. It needs to be served by skilled courthouse workers. Rural Iowa communities would be devastated if they lost the quality public employees who serve it, and small town economies will be hurt if their public service workers incomes and benefits were held back. And make no mistake, this is a bill that is designed to scale back the wages and benefits of workers in those communities.

I’ve heard from a lot of taxpayers since this proposal came out last week. There were quite a few out on the Capitol steps this past Sunday and inside the Capitol last night. They told me that a fair process for determining the wages, working conditions, and benefits for public employees—a process that has been working for decades—is a good thing. They told me that good labor relations is good for the public that is protected and served.

I’ve heard from school board members, county supervisors, and city council members. You know what? They seem to think this is a step BACKWARD on local control. And they’re right. They WANT to be able to work with the representatives of their employees to ensure they have the best employees, a stable workforce, and they are able to meet the needs of their workers while also protecting their budgets. Your bill dictates to them, and the public employees they count on to provide services to citizens and their children, a list of new topics that are ILLEGAL for discussion. Senate Republicans on the labor committee voted unanimously to make it ILLEGAL for most public employee and local government representatives to even discuss health insurance and grounds for termination. There are school boards, cities, and counties across Iowa that are scrambling to enact new contracts with their hard-working public servants before this legislation takes effect.

They WANT to work through  a system under Iowa Code Chapter 20 that ensures fairness. That compels each side to be reasonable in negotiations and, when necessary, allows a neutral arbitrator to resolve disputes by making a final decision based on all relevant factors to adopt the most reasonable and fair proposal on the table. They want a system that allows workers to feel secure in their jobs rather than looking over their shoulders and fearing unfair reprisals. Why do some in this chamber fear a system of evidence based outcomes? Of neutral arbitrators evaluating and considering evidence. This bill replaces thoughtful evaluations of evidence with a rigged system that puts the fix in against employees. The end result of this “modernized” system is that most Iowa public employees could be forced without any meaningful input to work under a so-called bargaining agreement that forces them to accept no wage increases, dramatically increased insurance costs, and all for the pleasure of service as at-will employees. This isn’t modernizing, it’s marginalizing. It’s insulting to the intelligence of the workers who responding to the calling of public service to tell them this is anything short of a decimination of their current rights.

There’s a lot of talk about bad teachers. I can tell you today that there are a lot of good teachers that fear what a politicized system of raises, bonuses, and retaliations will do to their schools. What about the bad administrators who will take advantage of this new opportunity to create poisonous workplace environments? What about a system than incentivizes undercutting and blaming teachers as scapegoats for systemic supervisory and administrative problems? Teacher working conditions are children’s learning environments. Many in this chamber have voted to underfund our schools and now you are following that up by stripping away the rights of teachers to negotiate a package that includes basic wages, benefits, and working conditions. Who will go into what is left of the teaching profession? How do you look a college student in the eye and tell them to go into teaching after completely devaluing their work and minimilzing the ircontributions to the future of our state this way?

It’s bad public policy to blame the workers who put their lives on the line and who make incredible sacrifices for our state instead of blaming irresponsible budgeting practices that have allowed tax credits and exemptions to becoming the fastest growing part of the state budget.

While I was out running on standing up for Iowa workers, I don’t remember anyone running a contrasting campaign about tearing down working Iowans, gutting the law that gives them a seat at the table on the terms and conditions of their employment, or making sure public servants can be fired from their jobs without justification. This secret agenda of the majority party in the Iowa Senate didn’t make the campaign ads and flyers—cutting public services, cutting access to health services for women, finding a new ways to fire workers, underfunding education, and other damaging hits to our communities.

Let’s do something better. Let’s focus on ways to lift up wages and benefits across our state. We shouldn’t be rushing to tear down the quality of life of public servants. Instead we should be enhancing  the quality of life of Iowans who are willing to go to work every day for the betterment of our state and our communities.

We want the best and brightest in our state serving it. When Iowans need to call 911, they should know that they’re talking to a reliable dispatcher, who will be sending help in the form of a police officer, firefighter, or EMT who is the right, well-qualified worker they need. We do that by attracting the best people for the job. We do that by respecting those employees by giving them a seat at the table, by giving them the wage and benefits they deserve. We do that by making sure they have a real voice in the workplace and security in their jobs.

We need Social Workers who will look after the welfare of the most vulnerable children in our state, nurses who we can trust to take care of us when we need medical attention, snow plow drivers who keep our streets safe, and allow first responders to get through in emergencies regardless of the conditions.

Our children know the value of public service. They see public service for what it is: a higher calling and a higher duty. There is a reason why kids want to grow up to be teachers, police officers, firefighters. They see the good those public workers do for us, they respect the sacrifices they make to serve their communities. When politicians blame public workers and label them as lazy and greedy, it is every bit as inaccurate as it is offensive. Veterans make up a disproportionately large percentage of public workers. They seek to continue the service of their country through service to their community. We cannot claim to appreciate those who serve in the military when we demean their service at home.

Public safety professions, particularly police and fire, are symbolized by shields of protection. Their uniforms and shields are designed to communicate to us that they are here to protect us from harm. I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric that this bill shields public safety workers from the harm done to other workers—and it is harm, otherwise we wouldn’t need to spare anyone from it. But the reality is very few actual public safety workers are being shielded. There is no shield protecting EMTs and nurses. Nothing here to protect correctional officers who face extreme dangers in our prisons. No shield for the teachers and school staff who face increasing threats of violence in their classrooms. And no shield of protection for even the police officers and firefighters who can now be fired more easily, whose unions are weakened by new regulations, and who can simply lose out on any exemptions from the wrath of this legislation because they are in bargaining units with other workers. I’ve talked to the firefighters and police officers in my community who are “protected” by the carve outs in this bill. They see right through it. They see the rights they are losing and realize that that few rights they do retain will be the subject of the next overreach to “balance” the system.

There is so much to this bill that is so incredibly harmful and insulting to public employees. It is evident that this legislation was conceived and drafted without their input. We have only begun to hear their concerns. I’ve received countless communications of employees who are truly afraid of what will happen to their families and the professions they love. This fast process with an immediate effective date has silenced the people who this very directly affects.

It’s un-democratic. It takes critically important topics of fair negotiation and makes them illegal. It limits the conversation on the few remaining topics and puts workers in a position where the one true bargaining topic they still have—base wages—can only be negotiated for increases of between 0-3% in the best of times.

And to even get to that point, employee organizations face an election that is stacked against them. The process lined out in this bill actually counts any vote that is not cast by someone eligible to vote as a vote against the union. Let me repeat that—some who doesn’t vote has his or her vote counted as being opposed to the union. Let that sink in. Each of us in this chamber represents approximately 60,000 Iowans. Under this system, any vote not cast would be counted against us in the final tally.

But let’s not talk about this in abstract terms. How would this have affected some of the winners – including me – in the last election?  Let’s do the math together.

If we take the number of votes casted for a candidate and divide it by the number of registered voters that didn’t vote in the recent general elections:

In Senate District 36, Senator Edler only received 38.9% of the eligible vote.

In Senate District 16, I only received 41.6% of the eligible vote.

In Senate District 8, Senator Dawson only received 32.5 of the eligible vote.

In District 7 in 2014, Senator Bertrand only received 27.5% of the eligible vote.

And in District 31 in 2014, Senator Dotzler received 37.4% of the eligible vote.


So, if we had used the math formula required for union certification elections outlined in this bill, Senators Edler, Dawson, Bertrand, Dotzler – as well as myself and many others in this chamber – would not be here today.


That is so foreign to any basic concept of fairness that it could only fly in this flawed bill.

This is NOT modernizing or tweaking.

That’s just one many parts of this bill that smack of vendetta politics designed to hurt public sector unions in the bill before us.


I’ve mentioned my father and his father, but I also want to mention my great grandfather on my mother’s side. Lewis Pugh was from North Wales. He served his country in World War I in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and then came to America to seek out the hope and promise that has defined our nation across the globe. In 1900, A major mine in North Wales forbade the union from collecting workers’ contributions at the quarry knowing the difficulty it would present to collect contributions from individual homes across the region. The move backfired. Trade unionists joined the union in droves, and union membership of the 2,700 workers grew from under four hundred to nearly two thousand. What followed was a three year strike from 1900 to 1903—one British history. As the mine tried to break the strike with replacement workers, striking miners put cards in the houses of their windows. I keep a replica of one of those cards here on my desk. It reads “Nid Oes Bradwr Yn Y Ty Hwn” or “There Are No Traitors In This House.”  History tells us again and again the importance of labor peace—and the potential consequences when workers see efforts undertaken to strip away their hard-earned right to bargain collectively. They not only notice, they take action. And history tells us, those workers ensure that those setbacks are temporary and they come back stronger through that adversity. Make no mistake, Iowa’s public employees and the communities they serve will ensure that the devastation caused across our state by this proposal will only be temporary.

In the end, this bill is really about hurting public employee unions and disregarding the real consequences to Iowa workers as a result.

This debate we are having right now is about the very soul of our state. Whether we treat service to the pubic with dignity, whether a first-class public education really is an Iowa value, and whether we want to make enhancing the quality of life for working Iowans a real priority. We are on the threshold of history here.

Chapter 20’s original enactment was historic—and history will judge us by where we take our stands today. Iowa’s public sector bargaining law has been repeatedly been celebrated as a bipartisan achievement for the long-term benefit of our state. We are set to see this chamber past the threshold of history in a much different way.

Sadly, the Senate appears ready to establish a one-sided, expedited process to disadvantage hard working Iowans in an attempt to score a political victory over the unions that represent them.

The future of Iowa’s economy is a risk with this far-reaching policy shift. It jeopardizes out ability to get quality teachers to enter the profession, to keep the best possible officers and firefighters keeping us safe, and to ensure the public will be well served by people who take pride in their work.

Today, a majority in the Iowa Senate is sending about bad message about value you place on those who are willing to put in a hard day’s work to benefit the communities in which they live. We owe it to our citizens to serve them well and safeguard our economy, we compromise their safety and their future if we enact this bill and dishonor those who are called to public service in our state.

I urge you to stop this here and now, and vote in favor of this amendment.