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DES MOINES -- Seeking “structure” and consistency,” the state’s largest public employee union on Thursday proposed a new contract that mirrors the one implemented in 2015, before massive changes were made to Iowa’s collective bargaining law.

AFSCME Council 61, which represents roughly 19,000 public employees in Iowa, also proposed 3 percent raises for its members.

Thursday’s meeting between union and state leaders began the process of negotiating a contract for the state fiscal year that starts July 1.

“I believe it’s a reasonable proposal,” AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan said. “I believe that if the state is serious about wanting to recruit and retain their valuable employees, and recruit good people to come here, they better get serious with how they address worker issues.”

AFSCME represents nurses, corrections officers, university employees, and transportation workers, among other public workers.

In February 2017, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature overhauled the state’s collective bargaining laws, stripping most elements for which public employees may bargain through union representation. The law limits most public-sector union contract negotiations to base wages capped by the cost of living while eliminating such issues as health insurance and supplemental pay as mandatory topics for discussion.

AFSCME and the state’s largest teachers union filed lawsuits challenging the new law, saying it violates the Iowa Constitution by creating separate classes of public employees: some who retained most of their collective bargaining rights, and others who lost most. Those lawsuits are scheduled to come before the Iowa Supreme Court next week.

Homan said AFSCME’s proposal for the coming fiscal year’s negotiations does not include elements — like health insurance — that were struck down by the law but does include some elements that were declared permissible for negotiation in a preliminary ruling by a state public employees relations board, Homan said.

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“The reason we have done that is right now we don’t believe there’s a lot of structure,” Homan told state representative Janet Phipps, director of the state administrative services department, during Thursday’s meeting. “There is no consistency (across the myriad state agencies). There’s no guidebook.”

The state will compile its counterproposal and offer that at a meeting in January.

“This is whole new territory,” Phipps said, referring to the change in the state’s collective bargaining law and unresolved disputes over which elements can be negotiated. “I think we’re both trying to navigate a little bit of uncertainty in this case. We’re both doing the best we can, I think.”

Previously, the state police officers union proposed a 3 percent raise for its members and a smaller union representing social service, scientific and professional workers proposed a 4.5 percent raise.

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