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Public Labor Workers Cry Foul Over Health Insurance, Collective Bargaining

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  State workers are crying foul, accusing lawmakers of a double standard when it comes to health insurance.

This comes at a time when lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it illegal for public workers to negotiate their health benefits.

It also comes after an investigation by the Des Moines Register found some lawmakers pay as little as $20 a month for their healthcare.

"People that are saying that public employees have too rich of a health insurance plan and need to pay more weren't even paying the small amount that they're required to pay," said Mary Jane Cobb, Executive Director of the Iowa State Education Association.

Republican Senator Jason Shultz, who chairs the Senate Labor Committee, says those days are over.

"The Senate Republicans now have a bill moving forward that will legislatively require us to pay 20%," said Shultz.

Shultz says the bill, Senate File 212, has passed through subcommittee and now moves to a full committee hearing.

Meanwhile, workers are worried about Senate File 213, the collective bargaining bill, which moves to the full Senate on Monday. The bill would still allow unions to negotiate salary, but would make it illegal for them to negotiate healthcare.

Educators say their benefits are so important they sometimes outweigh salary.

"Our members have given up salary in order to keep their healthcare benefits, so this change will basically make those sacrifices they made for nothing," said Cobb.

The bill spares public safety workers like firefighters and police from losing those bargaining rights, but some among their ranks say that is unacceptable.

"I don't know how you draw the line in some of those job classifications when you're talking about corrections officers, when you're talking about nurses. I mean, part of their job isn't public safety?" said Joe Vanhaalen, President of Des Moines Professional Firefighters Local 4.

Vanhaalen says he worries this bill would set a future standard of collective bargaining.

"I really believe all it really does is make it easier for them to come after us with the same changes with us or more. This is just divide and conquer," he said.

Republicans say changes to the law are past due.

"The local officials that we elect to handle our tax dollars, they don't think it's working. They've been talking to us for years, actually, about the lack of ability they have to manage their agencies, their schools," said Senator Shultz.

While Shultz says he wants to give power back to local governments, union leaders say it's at the expense of teachers, nurses, and firefighters.

"You don’t have a voice in your profession anymore, and I understand that, and we’re going to have to face that as a state in the coming days," said Cobb.

Cobb says losing the right to negotiate health coverage will lead to even fewer people joining teaching prep programs.

Documents given to Channel 13 by the Iowa State Education Association show most districts currently pay between 30% and 60% of a family healthcare plan.