Anti-worker ‘insanity’ in Iowa could happen here

Danny Homan says he’d give up his right arm to not have to tell AFSCME Council 5 members the story he was about to tell.

“This hurts,” he says. “What they have done to public employees in Iowa, 184,000 of them, is criminal.”

Homan is the president of AFSCME Council 61 in Iowa. He spoke at the Council 5 Annual Convention in Duluth Friday.

Homan says he’s not scared of “right to work,” which Iowa’s been since 1947. It’s what has happened in the past seven months that’s been so appalling.

“The Republicans took control, and they became drunk on power.  The problem is, they had not found AA,” Homan says. “There is not a Democrat in our state that has voted for any of the insanity that’s going on in Iowa.”

A half dozen GOP legislators developed anti-union legislation behind closed doors, supported by the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The lawmakers kept telling AFSCME leaders the bill wasn’t ready for viewing.

AFSCME Council 5 executive director Eliot Seide and president Judy Wahlberg applaud Council 61 president Danny Homan (center).

Then they unveiled it on Feb. 7, managed to simultaneously march it through the GOP-led House and Senate in just 12 hours, and approved it on Feb. 16. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signed it into law the next day.

Public sector unions could no longer deduct dues from worker paychecks - even though it was still OK to deduct for credit card bills, United Way, vision and dental. Before every new contract negotiation, locals had to recertify – at union expense.

“There was no three-year phase-in period,” Homan says. “Our rights were taken away immediately.”

Public sector unions could still negotiate base wages, but the list of what most public sector unions (outside of police and fire) could not negotiate was long:

  • Wages including steps
  • Health insurance
  • Evaluation and grievance procedures
  • Retirement systems
  • Leaves for political activity
  • Uniforms
  • Staff reduction procedures
  • Supplemental pay
  • Privatization

Starting in October, Council 61 will have to hold 40 recertification elections for 40 bargaining units; the Iowa State Education Association has to hold 2,040.

Iowa Republicans also barred counties from raising the minimum wage; gutted workers’ compensation; required both photo identification and signature verification at the polls; limited the right to sue for medical malpractice or asbestos; defunded Planned Parenthood; and made deep cuts in services.

“This group of Republican bandits has taken a $950 million surplus seven years ago and turned into $350 million deficit,” Homan says.

Back in 2016, Homan expected bad news was coming as soon as he heard the election results: “I knew at 3 o’clock in the morning we were screwed. I believed they would do to us what they did in Wisconsin: This is Wisconsin on steroids.”

But Homan and Council 61 refused to quit.

“I get up and do a job I thoroughly love and do a job where I fight for people, some of whom can’t fight for themselves,” he says. “That’s what all of you do. I’m going to fight every day of my life until I retire to get those rights back for my membership.”

Council 61 had learned by watching what happened when Scott Walker set out to destroy unions in Wisconsin.

“All we got by taking control of that state Capitol is we got smelly,” Homan says. “We couldn’t win the fight that way.”

Homan directed workers and leaders to extend every contract they could: They succeeded with all but 15.

Instead of holding massive rallies, members took legislators on where they live in their home communities. They packed town hall meetings with 200 to 300 people confronting Republican legislators and supporting Democrats who had supported them. Council 61 figured out how to let members pay dues by credit card.

Homan, who routinely holds 90 town hall meetings a year with members, continued doing so, but used the time to warn them about what was coming and to listen.

The state contract, which was a book a year ago, is now down to a single page plus a lot of job classifications. Yet Council 61 signed back up 5,500 members, and more than 2,000 are now MVPs.

“The employer cannot take your union away from you,” Homan says. “Only you can give it up. I’ll be goddamned if I’m giving up my union. I don’t want your pity. In Iowa, we are going to kick their ass in November. We are going to take charge of our state.”

He challenged AFSCME Council 5 members to talk to feepayers and other members, and to make sure we turn out in force next November to vote.

“If you lose your next governor’s election and your House and Senate maintain the same makeup, you will have this bill here in Minnesota. I don’t want that for anybody,” he says.  “The only way we’re going to survive is if we lock arms and say, Screw them. We’re going to fight, and we’re going to be here, and we’re going to continue to support our union.”