The gang of Republicans in the state house kicked off last week asking for a constitutional amendment to include their political position on Iowa’s status as a right to work state in the Iowa Constitution. Didn’t they hear about the divided government and the need to compromise? Whether the measure will be voted out of committee is uncertain. If it is, and the resolution is debated, passed and messaged to the senate, the result is foregone―it isn’t going anywhere during the 85th Iowa General Assembly.
House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR 1), calls for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to incorporate existing right to work law into the document. A new Article XIII would be added, titled “Labor Union Membership,” explained in the bill as follows:
“This joint resolution proposes an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa relating to labor union membership. The joint resolution proposes incorporating current Code sections 731.1 through 731.5 into the constitution. The resolution provides that a person shall not be deprived of the right to work for any employer because of membership in, or refusal to join, a labor union. The resolution also prohibits requiring the payment of union dues or the deduction of union dues from a person’s pay as a prerequisite for employment.”
HJR 1 is expected to be dead on arrival in the Iowa Senate. It represents the business as usual political posturing endemic to 21st Century Iowa politics. Iowa is, and has been, a “right to work” or “open shop” state for a long time. Whether we will continue to be so is not a question among most people I know—Iowa will be a right to work state for the foreseeable future. So what is the bill about?
Some believe strengthening Iowa’s right to work laws would attract businesses to Iowa. Of this there is no guarantee. While I have heard executives who were seeking a place to locate their business talk about right to work, it was a lesser consideration. It sounded more like executive chatter, preliminary pleasantries before discussion of more important issues: tax incentives, real estate deals, utility concessions and other financial considerations. As the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) pointed out, implementing right to work laws can go the other way, as they did in Oklahoma. EPI reported, “since the (right-to-work) law passed (in Oklahoma) in 2001, manufacturing employment and re-locations into the state reversed their climb and began to fall, precisely the opposite of what right-to-work advocates promised.” What happened in Oklahoma may not happen in Iowa, but there is a different reason some would like to see this bill gain traction.
HJR 1 continues the rigorous acrimony between Iowa Democrats and Republicans regarding union membership, public unions in particular. Republicans view labor unions as Democratic supporters, and Democrats find the financial and campaign support of labor unions useful in politics. HJR 1 is the Republican way of flipping the bird at Democratic politicians, especially since they must realize HJR 1 is going nowhere in the 85th Iowa General Assembly.
That’s a fine howdy-do to get the session started.