DES MOINES — Debate about collective bargaining rights for public employees — an issue that has swept the country — was the focus of a hearing March 7 in the Iowa House. House File 525 is expected to be debated and passed out of the House this week, according to the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC).
The bill’s supporters say it would give taxpayers a seat at the bargaining table, according to the Iowa Legislative News Service. The bill’s opponents, the majority of speakers at the public hearing in Des Moines, said the bill would damage the collective bargaining process and is an effort to reduce the pay and benefits of state workers to order to fund corporate tax breaks. The bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain.
The ICC has issued a statement concerning Catholic social teaching, which fundamentally recognizes and supports the right of workers to organize.
“We believe that all people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join a union or other associations,” the ICC statement reads. “Workers also have responsibilities — to provide a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, to treat employers and co-workers with respect, and to carry out their work in ways that contribute to the common good. Workers, employers and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.”
While the ICC is not taking a specific position at this time on the provisions of House File 525, Executive Director Tom Chapman shared a paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” or Charity in Truth:
“ … Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum , for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.”
Chapman said that legislators are being called to make prudential judgments about the current economic situation facing the state of Iowa and act on those judgments. “Sometimes these decisions may require a sacrifice on our part. Our request is that legislators carefully consider the implications of this bill and evaluate it in terms of its impact on the common good.”
Among other issues the ICC is concerned about is payday loan regulation.
• Senate File 113 passed the Senate Human Resources Committee last week and received a new number — Senate File 388. “Our job now is to encourage legislative leadership to move the bill for debate in the Senate,” Chapman said.
The bill provides for a 36 percent rate cap on payday loans. In practice, current interest rates of 300 to 400 percent end up trapping families in a cycle of debt.
• There was good news and bad news on bills related in the immigration issue in Iowa. The good news is that several enforcement-related bills, including House File 27 and Senate File 102, are no longer in consideration. Unfortunately, Iowa’s version of the DREAM Act, House File 108, did not advance.
(For more information, contact Tom Chapman, executive director, Iowa Catholic Conference, 515-770-1831, tom@ iowacatholicconference.org).