AFSCME 11-30-09 news conference

AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan will be stepping behind a lectern in a few minutes to announce the results of voting among AFSCME members who work in the executive branch of state government.  The vote, held from November 19 through the 25, was whether AFSCME members would approve or reject an “understanding.”  The deal:  workers would agree to taking five unpaid days off and agree to give up some deferred compensation for their retirement accounts and, in return, state executive branch managers will not layoff 479 union members.

UPDATE:  “understanding” is ratified by a 59 to 41 percent margin. Click here to listen to Homan’s news conference.

The event is to start at 9 a.m. and I plan to “live blog” it.  Homan begins promptly at 9 a.m. 

“Today we will announce the results of the understanding vote…I also want to say today…the press is the last person to be notified, not the first.  Over the past day and a half, we have been doing an intensive notification of our membership…

“…We have determined that the state membership of this union has agreed to the understanding.”

Homan discusses the voting that was held at 31 different voting sites:  66 percent of AFSCME state membership voted on this understanding.  Homan believes this is the largest turn-out ever for any vote the union has held in Iowa.

Homan announced 59 percent of AFSCME state membership voted yes and 41 percent oted no.

“We have absolutely no intention of reopening” the union contract.  He said the union has “exhausted their options for what they can do to balance the state’s budget.”

Homan answered some specific questions, then a question about the mood.

“I’m still frustrated.  I’m frustrated that we were put in this position…but I’m very proud of the membership for two things.  One, they stepped up to the plate and voted….I just want everyone to realize that state employees and this union has done a lot of things over the last year.”

Homan says the union negotiated no pay increase, and talks about the “step” increases.  “That’s not a four and a half percent wage increase,” Homan says. 

“…Yea, I’m still frustrated…but we’re dealt a deck of cards.  We have to deal with the hand we’re dealt….I’m very happy that the membership of this union voted that 479 families are going to have a good Christmas this year.”

Jennifer Jacobs of The Des Moines Register asked for raw numbers on the voting. Homan did not want to share membership numbers.  “That’s our business, not yours,” Homan said.

He said the delay was because of a reccount.  “I did it because of the complexity of this issue,” Homan said. “…I did not want to come out here today and report false numbers.”

Any frustration with governor’s office?  “No, I don’t believe so,” Homan said.   “…They were responsive.”

Any “healing” or reconciliation effort with those who voted no?  “That’s why we released this as a statewide vote,” Homan said.  “…The majority rules.  This is a union.”

More problems ahead?  “It’s my expectation that we’ll work with the Iowa Legislature and the governor’s office that will allow…a minimum of 2700 workers who qualify for retirement to retire…We’re hoping to work something out there.”

He mentions span of control in state government, which means the ratio of managers to rank-and-file workers.  “The span of control in this state is out of control.  A community based corrections district had a span of control of one to six…I think we need to address the span of control.”

Homan mentions “the t word” — tax increases — and he says workers told him they’re tired of being asked to sacrifice and believe it’s time for all Iowans to sacrifice.  Homan described their thoughts in this way:  “Why is it always us?”

Homan suggested the eight union reps who are head of each bargaining unit would not react well if he goes to them with another request for more conessions:  “I will be tarred and feathered and that meeting will be very short.”

Homan restated his thoughts a few seconds later. “We have stepped up to the plate and I don’t think our membership is willing to do it again,” Homan said.

Which tax would you like to see raised?

“All of ’em,” Homan said.  “I think there’s a lot of tax breaks.  I think oen of ’em involves airplanes…and anybody who owns one should be able to pay taxes on the thing….We don’t pay taxes on getting a massage.  I don’t know.  I just know this is not a spending issue.”

Homan returns to the issue of supervisors, saying school teachers supervise many more kids than any supervisor in any prison or state goverment worksite does.  “So let’s get real.  Start getting rid of some of the middle management that exists in the state today,” Homan said.  “…Let’s quit laying off front-line workers.”

News conference ended at 9:24 a.m.

UPDATE:  Democratic legislative leaders issued statements shortly after AFSCME’s news conference.  The governor plans to talk about the deal in a 2 p.m. news conference.


“A sincere expression of gratitude is in order with news from the members of AFSCME today, as well as the membership of the State Police Officers Council last week, for volunteering to go above and beyond the call of duty, in order to share in the sacrifice brought on by the national recession. 

“As we have seen in recent weeks, it has been cheap political sport  to bash state employees.  Criticism of state employees may be easy to do in the abstract as part of some misguided attempt to score political points.  But, it is an entirely different matter to look an individual state employee in the eye that is effected by their voluntary decision – whether it is the corrections officer that sits on the guard tower or the trooper that responds to a crash. How can one not feel a genuine sense of appreciation for their selflessness in helping keep our state budget balanced and preventing the layoffs of their fellow public servants.  They deserve our thanks.”

Statement from Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal

Regarding votes by AFSCME and SPOC members     

“Today’s announcement by AFSCME Council 61 is bittersweet.

“AFSCME and SPOC members deserve the thanks of their fellow Iowans for voluntarily sacrificing a portion of their wages to help balance the state budget.  These hard-working public employees have proven again that not only are they part of the backbone of our state’s economy; they are also important members of Iowa’s neighborhoods and communities.

“The deepening national recession wasn’t caused by hard-working Iowans, but they are paying the price for the greed of Wall Street executives and multinational corporations. It is unfortunate that AFSCME and SPOC members and other middle-class Iowans must now sacrifice their hard-fought earnings to clean up budget problems caused by a national and international economy that valued unchecked wealth over hard work, self-interest over sacrifice and self-indulgence over responsibility.

“Many in our communities have lost their jobs. Families are struggling to make ends meet. Everybody is cutting back — and that goes for state government, too.

“For all those reasons, we must redouble our efforts to balance next year’s state budget responsibly and build a new foundation for prosperity in every Iowa community.  That means:
•        Helping create good-paying jobs that will strengthen and expand Iowa’s middle class.
•        Protecting services and educational opportunities for unemployed workers, as well as services for children and the most vulnerable Iowans.
•        Continuing to listen to our constituents to ensure that the best ideas are used to improve government services and balance the budget responsibly in these tough economic times.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.