DES MOINES, Iowa --Nearly 200,000 Iowa workers could face some of the most major changes they have experienced in four decades if Statehouse Republicans get their way.
Tuesday, Republicans, who hold majorities in both legislative chambers, unveiled sweeping changes to the state's collective bargaining laws, known as Chapter 20 in the Iowa Code.
"They developed this thing in the dark. They say it's a thoughtful review of public sector collective bargaining. It's anything but," said Representative Todd Taylor, a Cedar Rapids Democrat and union member.
Hundreds of Democratic lawmakers, union members, and supporters filled the Capitol rotunda to protest the changes. The proposal takes away many issues workers can currently bargain, including benefits like health insurance, overtime, holidays, shift differentials.
It changes rules on arbitration and seniority. In all it impacts about 22,000 state workers, but one worker who attended the rally said she fears the public doesn't realize the impact.
"No, I don't think they do. Those that aren't union members, I don't think they understand," said Debbie Roethler, a union member from Cresco.
When asked how to make them understand, Roethler replied, "By trying to tell them that it helps in the health and safety department, the wages are important, and just having the ability of someone to talk to when you have a problem with your employer."
Four top Republican leaders (the governor, lieutenant governor, and Republican leaders of the House and Senate) gathered to talk about these changes late Tuesday afternoon. They said that instead of the changes being a way to get rid of unions, it is instead about fairness, particularly in regard to health insurance. They say many public workers have not been contributing enough to their policies or their families' policies, and this would change that, along with making it easier to get rid of bad employees and reward those who are performing well.
Governor Branstad says the protests at the Capitol will not change things.
"They're (legislators) willing to do the right thing and are not going to be threatened or intimidated by anybody," he said. "We have a responsibility to the people that elected us, and I'm really proud of the fact the legislature is using the appropriate procedures. They're not trying to use sneaky things that have been done in the past."
Lawmakers exempted police and firefighters. The governor says it's because those employees put their lives on the line. Democrats argue that so do prison workers and snow plow drivers, so why treat people differently?