No one can take away your union

Anyone who thinks elections don’t matter should talk with Danny Homan.

As president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, Homan oversees a union representing 40,000 public employees in Iowa and Missouri. Recent developments in Iowa show that anti-union forces, if given power, will use it to strip away decades of hard-won rights, such as bargaining over health insurance contributions, safety issues, paid time off, seniority and other rights we take for granted in Oregon.

Homan told his story to attendees at the OSEA Leadership Summit in Eugene, challenging OSEA leaders to talk to every represented coworker about the value and protections their union provides.

“Despite the attacks we’ve had in Iowa, our employer cannot take our union away from us,” Homan said. “Just like here — only you can decide to give it up.”

Legislatures can’t take away unions outright, but Homan’s story illustrates how far anti-worker forces, such as the Freedom Foundation and their bought-and-paid-for elected allies, will go. After Republicans took control of both chambers of the Iowa Legislature and reelected Terry Branstad as governor, they moved swiftly to curb employee rights of particularly (but not exclusively) union members.

A bill effectively wiping out Iowa’s public employee bargaining law — the result of a 1974 compromise where public employees gave up the right to strike in exchange for the right to collectively bargain contracts — raced through the legislature. It was signed into law just two weeks after it was introduced and with only one public hearing.

“Everything they did to us in Iowa was done out of political motivation,” Homan said.

In a divide-and-conquer effort much like Wisconsin, anti-union politicians allowed police, firefighters and other public safety employees to keep many of the collective bargaining rights enshrined in state law. But classified school employees, teachers and all other represented public employees were subjected to some of the harshest anti-worker laws in the country. In addition to drastically reducing employees’ collective bargaining rights, the legislature instituted:

  • Mandatory recertification elections before expiration of each and every contract. Furthermore, represented employees who choose not to vote are counted as no votes. Unions losing a recertification election are banned from trying again for two years.
  • The end of dues deduction from paychecks, forcing unions to establish a new revenue collection structure.
  • A dismantled grievance process: The state contract with public employees has no grievance procedure.

“But don’t feel sorry for Iowa,” Homan thundered. “We’re going to fight; we’re going to survive; and we’re going to build.”

Rather than serve as a cautionary tale, Homan pointed to how AFSCME and its members proactively prepared for this assault on their rights. With the power of member-to-member conversations, AFSCME won 41 out of 42 recertification elections. The state’s teachers union won 116 out of 120 elections, and all of these units had an absolute majority vote to keep their union. Coworkers — the people we work with every day — are our most effective messengers, he said.

“You gotta start talking to your nonmembers,” Homan said. “If you don’t do that, you won’t have members.”

Homan’s affinity for the history of labor was evident when he spoke of the blood shed by workers who literally put their lives on the line for the rights we enjoy today.

“That’s why I’ll never give up my union, and I hope like hell you’ll never give up yours,” Homan said.

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