Why Iowa’s anti-worker bill matters to students

When educators come together to negotiate collectively, we can advocate for the opportunities that all our students need, and for the pay, benefits and other resources—including opportunities to develop our skills—that will attract and retain the dedicated professionals that students deserve.

For more than 40 years, educators in Iowa have had a law on the books that gives us a voice at the negotiating table. But a bill is moving forward in the state legislature that would take away that right.

As someone who taught sixth grade for 20 years and helped to negotiate bargaining agreements in my Utah school district, I can tell you that collective bargaining works. It gives those of us who actually know the students and understand their needs the ability to have our voices heard.

The proposed Iowa law—which would create two classes of public employees by carving out police officers and fire fighters, just as happened in Wisconsin in 2011—would strip us of the ability to create better workplaces for ourselves and better learning communities for our students.

At rallies and in hearings, our members in Iowa are making sure legislators hear them loud and clear.

Gary Zmolek, who retired after teaching for 36 years and now substitute teaches, called the anti-worker bill “a skunk dressed up in the emperor’s new clothes of taxpayer relief and local control.”

Ann Swenson, a teacher in the Waukee School District for 13 years, explained that negotiating “is about speaking with a collective voice to improve our school environment and set schools up to be successful.”

Sue Cahill, who lives and works in the Marshalltown school district and has taught for 18 years, said the bill “hurts Iowa workers, students and families.”

Linda Linn told the story of coming from a family of union members and public service professionals, and how that shaped her perspective on negotiating collectively. “I have sat at the negotiating table giving voice to the views of my colleagues and making our case for the best work environment for teachers, which creates the best learning environment for students,” Linda said.

Tracey Stevens, a fifth-grade teacher in Des Moines, spoke of being aided by a wonderful teacher and the Individuals with Disabilities Act when she was a student.

“What really made the difference was my sixth-grade teacher. She took the time to teach me and told me she cared. She made me love learning,” Tracey said. “The issues I bargain over—like smaller class size and professional development—directly impact our children’s learning environment. …This legislation sends a signal that Iowa doesn’t respect the profession of teaching and, worse, that our legislators would put politics ahead of students.”

To Gary, Ann, Sue, Linda, Tracey, and the many other activists across Iowa: We’ve got your back. We are with you in the struggle to make your voices heard, safeguard your freedom to speak collectively and protect a process that’s worked well for four decades. And as we stand with you, all of us are standing up for students and educators across our nation.

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