Many people are really glad the November 2016 general election is finally over. Many wish our election cycles didn’t go on and on so long. But I think the record for waiting for another election has to go to most of the teachers of Iowa, who have not had a chance to vote on a new bargaining unit in the normal course of events since the ability of public employees to organize and bargain collectively came into being way back in 1975.
The Iowa Public Employment Relations Act (IPERA) was enacted during the 1974 session of the General Assembly. The Act was signed into law by Governor Robert Ray on April 23, 1974, became effective July 1, 1974, and is now Iowa Code Chapter 20. The Act did not create an obligation to bargain until July 1, 1975. It was at that time that every public school in Iowa voted if and how to organize. All but a hand full of public schools at that time chose Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) to be their representative.
About a dozen schools chose to certify independent bargaining units or to remain “meet and confer” schools. The largest of these still around today is Pella, which also provides its teachers with well-above-average wages and benefits. An alternate potential representative bargaining unit for Iowa teachers, Professional Educators of Iowa (PEI), was founded in 1981, six years after the IPERA came into effect.
Today, the youngest of teachers who would have voted for ISEA are 62 years old (figuring the youngest teachers at the time were 21 years old). The vast majority of those who voted for ISEA have retired, and many have passed away. However, the decision they made in 1975 still shackles today’s teachers to an organization most had no voice in selecting. The average age of teachers in Iowa is 43. On average, today’s Iowa teacher was one year old when Governor Ray signed the IPERA into law.
If the teachers in a school today wish to free themselves from ISEA, there is a multiple-step process which discourages all but the most resolute. First, 30 percent of the teachers in the bargaining unit must ask Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) to conduct a decertification election. Second, PERB then conducts the election by sending a ballot to each teacher in the unit, asking whether they wish to stay with ISEA or to decertify them. One more than half of those voting must vote to decertify. If ISEA is decertified, then the teachers can ask to form their own independent bargaining unit. They start the process again by asking PERB to conduct another election to certify a new bargaining unit.
The second election, conducted like the first, can then certify a unit, usually an independent bargaining unit such as Professional Educators of Lynnville-Sully (PELS). Technically, they could affiliate with another union, but that is not typical. The new unit can then take over bargaining for the teachers. There are many schools in Iowa where only a minority of teachers are members of ISEA, but ISEA still negotiates the contract for all teachers.
Mandatory subjects of bargaining are described in Iowa Code section 20.9 and are required by law to be negotiated when insisted upon by either labor or management. They include: wages, hours of work, leave, holidays, insurance, shift differentials, overtime, supplemental pay, seniority, transfer procedures, classification, health and safety, dues deductions, staff evaluations, staff reductions, and other mutually acceptable topics.
As Rich Gibson of Wayne State University (Michigan) recently wrote:
Teachers occupy a pivotal position in a society with a collapsed industrial base. Schools are now the center of communities, the sole organizing force in the lives of many citizens. Educators are the most unionized people in the U.S. The ideas and practices educators foster will have a vital impact on the construction of 21st century society. (Emphasis added).
Given this importance, let’s hope that the outcome of the 2016 general election here in Iowa will lead to legislation in 2017 by the Iowa General Assembly to schedule regular elections on who should be the bargaining agents for these groups of local notables (say every two or four years, like our Representatives or Senators have to face).
Reprinted by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute.