The Battle for Progressive Change in Iowa: Fair Share

This is Nate Willems.  I was a regional director for Howard Dean's Iowa campaign and am finishing law school at the University of Iowa.

While the Caucuses are the subject of most of coverage devoted to politics in Iowa this year, a battle is presently underway in the Iowa Legislature which could have a far-ranging impact on the strength of organized labor and the progressive movement nationwide.  In the November elections, Democrats won control of both chambers of the Legislature and retained the Governor's office.  For the first time since the 1964 elections, all of the levers of political power in Iowa government are now held by the Democratic Party.  With this historic opportunity, organized labor and its allies in the Legislature are attempting to win passage of Fair Share legislation.

Iowa is one of 22 so-called "Right-to-Work" states.  In 1947, the Republican Congress overrode a veto from President Truman to pass Taft-Hartley.  This law allows states to become Open Shop states - also called Right-to-Work - in which no person represented by a labor union must actually join their labor union.  For almost 60 years, Iowa has been an Open Shop state.  Over that time, only one state, Indiana, has successfully repealed its Right-to-Work law and re-emerged as a Union Shop state.  The 22 Open Shop states consist of the Old Confederacy, Plains and Mountain West states.  These states typically have the lowest rates of union membership in the country.  All 22 voted for George W. Bush in 2004, only Iowa voted for Al Gore in 2000.

The Fair Share proposal before the Iowa Legislature does not repeal Iowa's Right-to-Work law, but it does give organized labor the opportunity to eliminate the problem of free riders.  The proposal allows any labor union to attempt to negotiate into its contract a Fair Share provision.  A Fair Share provision does not make union membership compulsory, but it does require non-union employees to pay their fair share of the costs associated with negotiating and administering the contract.  Presently, the union must spend its time and resources negotiating on behalf of non-members - free riders - and must even represent these individuals in grievance and arbitration proceedings.  

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Iowa Unions Need Your Help

Unless you live in Iowa, there's little chance that you've heard about a fight being waged in the newly Democratic state house. The anti-union Right is painting the measure as a job-killing attack on the state's economy, elderly and virtues. It will not only send employers fleeing for the borders, but also cause a mass exodus of skilled and highly educated workers, steal critical tax money from social programs and force workers to * gasp * join unions. It's Armageddon, the plague, Big Brother and the Sopranos all wrapped up in one.

The proposal introduced in the Iowa Legislature is called "Fair Share," and that's all it asks. That all workers who receive union-negotiated benefits contribute to the cost of providing those benefits.

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MD's corporate health coverage bill struck down

Cross posted from DMIblog   (and by Amy Traub)
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This isn't the kind of coincidence I'm fond of. Yesterday, just as the Drum Major Institute finished putting the final touches on the transcript of our most recent Marketplace of Ideas event, making it (as well as audio and video of the event) available to the world, along comes the U.S. District Court and overturns the very legislation we are hailing as a progressive advance.

At issue is Maryland's Fair Share for Health Care Law, requiring the state's largest employers (those with more than 10,000 employees) to pay at least the state's average percentage of payroll costs toward employee health care or pay an equivalent amount into a state health care fund. I've argued that this legislation is primarily about holding large profitable employers accountable to their employees and for the costs they impose on public health care systems by failing to provide insurance. Members of our panel and audience argued that the legislation was also a step toward acheiving universal health care.

All of our arguments, however, may be trumped by the argument of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, representative of the state's big employers, including Wal-Mart, which convinced the Court that states have no jurisdiction to impose health care mandates on companies with employees in more than one state.

The lawyer for the retailers was none other than Eugene Scalia, son of the Supreme Court Justice, who insisted that "attempts to address the [health care] problem are going to require a federal response, not a patchwork of state and local mandates."

The problem, of course, is that there is no effective federal response to our health care crisis in the wings --  I am a fan of Rep. John Conyers' U.S. National Health Insurance Act, but it's not making much progress in Congress. In the meantime, the buck has been passed to states and localities and now their options have been reduced, with disappointing implications both for localities that have already passed Fair Share-style laws and states, like New York, that are contemplating them.

The State of Maryland plans to appeal.

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Wal-Mart Allies Choose Higher Taxes Over Fair Share

Today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the amount of uninsured workers being forced onto state programs has risen 13% in the last year.  Here are a few specifics from the story:

A recent state Department of Health and Family Services analysis shows that at the 18 biggest employers of BadgerCare recipients, the total number of employees and their spouses and dependents enrolled in the program was 5,573 in March 2006, up from 4,923 in April 2005.

It should be no surprise that the employer topping this list is Wal-Mart Inc.  They came in first with 904 employees enrolled in BadgerCare, the state health care program for low-income families.  They have over twice as many as McDonald's Corp. which placed second.

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