U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 24 mins

Iowa public employees contract sent to arbitration

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The president of Iowa's largest public worker union said Thursday that he is hopeful a neutral arbitrator will grant favorable contract terms to his 20,000 members.

Negotiations between Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees moved to binding arbitration on Feb. 11, after they failed to reach an agreement through negotiation. Homan said both sides have presented arguments to a neutral arbitrator and the two-year contract is expected March 7.

The union has clashed with Branstad over terms. Branstad has called for union members to start paying a portion of their health care costs, while the union is seeking to maintain current health benefits and get 3 percent raises over the life of the contract.

"I believe we put forth a good argument," Homan said. "Initially, we were concerned with many terms, the biggest of which was the blatant attack on state employee's health care."

Contracts have been settled through arbitration just twice since state workers started collective bargaining in 1977. One arbitration deal was reached in 1991 during Branstad's previous run as governor. Branstad then vetoed a salary bill for the union, and the workers successfully sued.

A spokesman for Branstad declined to comment on ongoing negotiations.

Branstad has touted a recently resolved contract with state police officers that requires them to pay 20 percent of their health care premiums, or slightly less if they enter a wellness program. Most of those 600 workers had already been paying a 15 percent contribution.