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In 2011, when Wisconsin passed Act 10, 100,000 left-wing activists descended upon Madison. When the bill passed and the reforms saved local governments billions of dollars, all the rancor looked pretty silly in hindsight.

The opposition to Iowa’s version of Act 10 is not proving to be nearly as bitter or numerically overwhelming, but the teachers’ unions sense the danger.

Hundreds of Iowa teachers, school children and other activists rallied outside the statehouse Sunday, voicing opposition to legislation filed last week that would overhaul the state’s collective bargaining law … The legislation would gut Chapter 20 — which sets the parameters for contract negotiations with public employee unions — Iowa Democrats have said, while Republicans have argued the changes would provide more local control and modernize the 1974 law.
Under the proposed legislation, public employees except for police and firefighters would only be able to bargain for base wages.

Another difference: Although the Iowa law is trying to do what Walker did in Wisconsin — treating public safety workers differently from other state and government workers — public safety unions are visibly protesting as well, arguing that this distinction between the two classes is artificial and could be undone in the future.

In Wisconsin, Act 10 limited collective bargaining to wages only (though wage bargaining was also sharply limited). The abolition of collective bargaining over work rules and benefits returned decision-making to elected officials at all levels. This created all kinds of new budgetary flexibility for school districts that they had never enjoyed before.

Previously, they had been bound to spend much of their budgets according to negotiation or arbitration procedures with the public-sector unions rather than decision-making by elected officials. But under Act 10, instead of massively overpaying on (for example) negotiated sweetheart deals to buy insurance plans from the union itself, they could bid competitively, save a fortune and spend the money on actually hiring teachers and educating students. What’s more, they could create their own work rules — merit pay, rewarding excellence instead of seniority and innovate without being hauled into court.

This is why Act 10 was so revolutionary. Because of the windfall it brought to local governments and school districts, the state contribution to these local government units could be scaled back without their having to raise property taxes. This, in the end, was the only realistic solution to the state’s massive recession-era budget crisis, and it’s the reason Act 10 has become so popular in the state today.

Like Wisconsin’s bill, Iowa’s would require public-sector unions to be recertified in regular elections. As noted in this explainer, union representation in many of the collective bargaining units in state and municipal government was voted on 40 years ago and hasn’t been revisited since. In those cases, no one working today had any part in the decision. Workers who want a different union or no union are bound by decisions made in some cases before they were born.

Like Wisconsin’s, this bill would also end the state’s practice of automatically deducting union dues from paychecks. In cases where wage disputes go to arbitration, arbitrators would actually be bound (it’s amazing this wasn’t the case already) by the government employer’s budget limitations.

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Republicans in the state legislature in Des Moines may find there is less resistance there, in part because Iowa is already a right-to-work state — Wisconsin was not when Act 10 passed in 2011 — and in part because Madison isn’t its capital. But at a moment when the Left is especially restive and seems to be protesting everything, this reform isn’t gaining the same kind of national attention Wisconsin’s did.

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