SIOUX CITY | The City Council voiced unanimous support Monday for the collective bargaining units representing city employees, passing a resolution ensuring the unions a "seat at the table" when discussing benefits and workplace environment.
The council voted 5-0 in favor of the resolution, which specifies that the council will keep these items as part of the process, even though they are no longer required by local governments under sweeping collective bargaining reform passed by the Iowa Legislature earlier this month.
“This was not a hard decision for me; this was the right thing to do,” Councilwoman Rhonda Capron said prior to the council's vote. "We back our people, and you are our people. We’re happy to have you and we don’t want to lose you.”
The vote came with a standing-room-only crowd inside the City Council chambers Monday, where several union leaders and members gathered to watch and participate in the discussion.
The resolution's passage comes just 10 days after Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law radical changes to Iowa's 43-year-old collective bargaining law. Those changes limit most public-sector union contract negotiations primarily to base wages, with issues such as health insurance coverage and supplemental pay no longer mandatory for bargaining. Public safety workers are exempt from many of the changes.
Republican lawmakers contend the overhaul is an effort to give state and local governments greater control in contract talks, reward and retain the best employees and make the arbitration process more accountable to local taxpayers.
The resolution, similar to others that have been passed in Johnson and Black Hawk counties, was initiated by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 779. Union president Rick Scott said Monday that he had sent a copy of Black Hawk County's proposal to the council a couple weeks ago to see if it could adopt something similar.
"I'm very pleased," he said of the decision. "Any time you can come in and get a unanimous decision on something like that, it’s nice to know that they have our backs."
Chris De Harty, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 212 -- which represents more than 350 workers, including the city's operations, field services, technical and clerical staff, said he hopes the decision sends a message to Des Moines.
"It puts us at ease," he said following Monday's meeting. "There are some worries for future councils, but right now we appreciate them backing us and respect them greatly for that."
Copies of the resolution will now be sent to Iowa legislators and the desk of Gov. Terry Branstad.
The council had brief discussion Monday on whether a copy should be sent to the state Capitol as specified in the drafted resolution's wording. Councilman Dan Moore said he wanted to ensure such a resolution didn't hurt ongoing relationships between Sioux City and legislators.
"Maybe I'm overly concerned," he said. "I just want to be mindful that it may have an impact."
Mayor Bob Scott said he wanted to ensure the council's decision was known.
"I think a message does need to be sent to the governor," he said. “I want the governor to know that I signed it and it’s going to him."
After discussion among other members, the council opted to leave in the wording.
Storm water fee increase
In other action Monday, the council voted 3-0 on the first reading of a 50 percent increase in storm water fees. Councilmen Dan Moore and Alex Watters abstained.
The increase is being considered at the same time as the fiscal year 2018 budget, which the council also held a public hearing for Monday. If the fee increase passes, the council will reduce the amount of property taxes being levied to subsidize storm water projects by $700,000, resulting in a lower tax levy.
For many residential homeowners, the increase in the drainage fees and the resulting decrease in property taxes would mean they would pay less than if the fees remained the same and taxes did not drop. Businesses and nonprofits would likely find themselves footing a larger bill.
The council will take up second reading of the proposed fee increase next week, and also may take its vote on the 2018 budget.