Iowa and Union Workers Headed for Arbitration
After negotiations conducted directly between Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and the Iowa Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) failed to produce an agreement, both sides will head into an arbitration proceeding in a final attempt to settle contract talks.
The AFSCME represents about 19,000 workers employed by the state of Iowa. Both sides presented final contract proposals to the arbitrator for a two-year agreement, and the arbitration panel must choose between them by March 15th. The new contract will take effect in July.
The main sticking point is health insurance. The state and union are far apart on the amount of contribution paid by union members towards their own health care. The AFSCME has pointed out that its members have never before paid premiums for their health coverage, so simply by agreeing to do so it has already made a significant concession.
There are also disputes concerning pay raises, though these are much smaller in scale as both sides have settled on a 6% pay raise over the course of the two year contract. The only difference is in how the raises are distributed and funded. These differences are considered to be minor and should represent no impediment to a deal if the healthcare costs can be settled.
The discussion between the union and the Governor’s office began in November 2013, but broke down when the union refused to consider the healthcare contributions. There was some hope the new attempt would yield an agreement, but these also failed.