Unions overcome unbalanced bargaining law

ALEC-friendly lawmakers, eager to crush public-sector unions, may have instead given them new organizational life.

If Iowa lawmakers thought that their Draconian revisions to Chapter 20 could break the back of public-sector unionism, the last two months have proven them spectacularly wrong. Since early September, almost 500 of Iowa’s public-sector bargaining units have been forced into recertification elections.

Under the new rules, locals had to pay for the election themselves — and then win a majority of the entire bargaining unit (not just the votes cast). AFSCME’s Danny Homan remarked that of those pushing the new restrictions, “not one … could win an election under the rules they gave us.”

As is evident in the returns, public-sector workers have not only dug in their heels against the attack on their rights to bargain, but have begun to push back. ALEC-friendly legislative leaders, so eager to crush public-sector unions and silence their political voice, may have instead given them new organizational life.

Consider some of the numbers from the September and October elections (summarized in the graphic above). Of those voting, almost 98 percent voted to keep the union. In 229 elections, all the votes cast were “yes” votes.

Of the 32 bargaining units (accounting for about 1,000 workers) decertified, only five lost the majority of votes cast; in 21 units, nonvoters — counted as “no” under the new rules — tipped the balance. In six other units, no one voted.

A look at the 32 decertification returns suggests results that are starkly undemocratic: At Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, for example, nurses voted 74-27 to stick with SEIU 199. But, because they needed 99 votes to capture half of the bargaining unit, they lost. In the Iowa Falls Community School District, a Teamsters 238 local voted 27-0 to certify. But because they needed 33 votes to capture half of the bargaining unit, they lost.

As an example of the success of strong organizing in the face of the rules imposed upon workers, Iowa State Education Association locals in 233 locations mobilized for recertification votes — winning 229 of those and losing only four by a total of 15 votes. Even in those four isolated cases, ISEA was favored by a majority of those actually voting — just not enough to satisfy the special restrictions placed on them by lawmakers.

Colin Gordon, senior research consultant to the Iowa Policy Project

cgordonipp@gmail.com

Labor Day 2017: Disappointing trends for Iowa working families

A higher minimum wage, union representation and investments in education produce growth and productivity in local and state economies that tax cuts never deliver.

Editor’s Note: This piece by Colin Gordon, senior research consultant at the Iowa Policy Project, ran as a guest opinion in The Des Moines Register.

Hear Colin Gordon’s Sept. 7 interview on Michael Devine’s “Devine Intervention program on KVFD-AM 1400 Fort Dodge.

Labor Day is always a good time to take stock of the state of working Iowa. Patterns of employment, job creation, and wage and income growth across the Iowa economy are telling — and disappointing.

This long-term economic pattern combines with the most disheartening legislative changes for working families in the lifetimes of most Iowans. The year 2017 poses great challenges to Iowans’ economic security, let alone opportunity for those coming to, serving in or retiring from the job market.

The Iowa Policy Project’s upcoming State of Working Iowa review finds the following:

•   Recovery is elusive. The Great Recession is over, but the national and Iowa economies are still struggling to recover. While Iowa regained its pre-recession threshold of jobs in June 2013, our economy and population have continued to grow — leaving us a jobs deficit of 34,000 jobs as of July.

While the unemployment rate has come back down to a healthy 3.2 percent, the labor force participation rate is still well below its peak and rates of underemployment and long-term unemployment are still higher than they were before the financial crisis hit in 2007.

•   Despite job gains, we have fewer good jobs. Counting jobs lost or added is important, but so is the quality of those jobs. Since the 1970s, Iowa has shed many good jobs in sectors like manufacturing, and replaced too many of them with lower-wage service jobs.

But the real damage has been done by the collapse of security and job quality within sectors and occupations. We have traded good jobs for bad jobs, due to economic shifts, loss of union representation, lax enforcement of labor standards, and alarming growth in contingent work relationships.

•   We are treading water. Wage growth is anemic for all but the highest earners, underscoring both low job quality. In Iowa, the median wage in inflation adjusted dollars inched up less than 1 percent, across the last generation (since 1979).

The constraints on wage growth are mostly political: a weak commitment to full employment, the declining real value of the minimum wage, and loss of voice and bargaining power with the loss of union representation.

•   We are choosing the wrong policies at the wrong time. The last year in state and national politics has only made things worse. The Trump Administration has moved to roll back both the substance and enforcement of key labor standards, and trade, tax, and financial policies have lavished the economy’s rewards on the highest earners. In Iowa, the legislative fusillade of the last session took aim at precisely the policies — including public sector collective bargaining and local minimum wage initiatives — that were helping to contain the damage.

Recent experience across the states offers us a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. A higher minimum wage lifts families out of poverty with no decrease in employment or economic growth. Union representation and collective bargaining offer a robust defense against income inequality and the erosion of job quality. Investments in education produce growth and productivity in local and state economies that tax cuts never deliver.

When states ignore these facts — as Kansas and Wisconsin have — they undermine the prosperity, security and mobility of their citizens.

The high road to economic growth and worker security is the better course for Iowa.

Colin Gordon is a professor of history at the University of Iowa and senior research consultant at the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City. He is the author of reports in IPP’s “State of Working Iowa” series. Contact: cgordonipp@gmail.com.

 

Iowa follows U.S. patterns on loss of employer-sponsored coverage

new report from the Economic Policy Institute traces the erosion of job-based health coverage across the last decade — and the slowing of that decline in the last year. Nationally, as EPI Director of Health Policy Research Elise Gould underscores, job-based health coverage has shed almost 14 million non-elderly Americans since 2000. But slow improvement in the national economy over the last year, coupled with key components of the Affordable Care Act (most notably the provision that young adults are allowed to stay on or join their parents health insurance policies) have slowed those losses since 2011.

The other important trend across this decade is the dramatic growth in public health insurance. Medicaid and CHIP (hawk-i in Iowa) have picked up coverage for at least some of those who have lost job-based coverage. While losses (2000 to 2012) in employer-sponsored insurance were greater among children than among non-elderly adults, for example, the share of children without any coverage actually fell 1.8 percentage points.

Basic RGBMuch the same pattern has played out in Iowa.  In 2000-2001, Iowa’s rate of job-based coverage for those under the age of 65 was 76.9 percent — one of the highest rates in the nation; by 2011-2012, that had fallen to 64.5 percent — closer to the middle of the pack among states.

As the graphic below shows (Iowa is the red dot), this was one of the steepest rates of loss in the nation (coverage down 12.4 percent) and represented a net loss in job-based coverage of over 200,000 non-elderly Iowans. Of those losing coverage, about half (97,075) were working-age adults and about half (111,839) were kids (indeed, the share of kids losing job-based coverage in Iowa, at 16 percent, was the highest in the country).

ESI changes in statesclick on graph for interactive version

Again, public programs pick up some of this slack. Since 2000, Iowa has enrolled about 120,000 more working age adults in Medicaid, and added another 80,000 to the ranks of the uninsured. For Iowa’s kids, public coverage (Medicaid and hawk-i) has been much more effective — picking up 140,000 Iowans under the age of 18 since 2000, while actually reducing the number of kids uninsured.

Colin GordonPosted by Colin Gordon, Senior Research Consultant

Defending the Top 1 Percent — and Failing at It

The counter argument — that the 1 percent’s gains reflect distortions of the market, and losses for the rest of us — is pretty powerful.

An academic heavyweight from Harvard has taken up the cause of America’s most affluent 1 percent. But his defense has done the nation’s rich no favors.

Note: This piece by IPP Senior Research Consultant Colin Gordon appeared July 2 on inequality.org at this link: http://inequality.org/defending-top-1-percent-failing/

By Colin Gordon

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw
Harvard economist Greg Mankiw

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw has made quite a splash with his spirited defense of the top 1 percent. His argument in a nutshell: Gains hoarded by the very rich amount to nothing more than an “entrepreneurial disturbance” in an otherwise egalitarian setting. High earners are high earners because they have made “significant economic contributions,” according to Mankiw — who goes on to proffer J.K. Rowling, Stephen Spielberg, and Steve Jobs as evidence.A lot of virtual ink has already spilled in response, much of it by the other contributors to the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives that features the Mankiw essay. And the verdict, pretty decisively, is that Mankiw has it all — the backstory, the logic, the evidence, and the consequences — spectacularly wrong.

Consider the central claim that the gains of the top 1 percent are all about the supply and demand of skilled labor, that “changes in technology have allowed a small number of highly educated and exceptionally talented individuals,” as Mankiw concludes, “to command superstar incomes in ways that were not possible a generation ago.” This claim has three large holes.

First, Mankiw’s use of Rowling, Spielberg, and Jobs as examplars of the 1 percent is more than a little disingenuous. As Larry Mishel points out, drawing on the work of Jon Bakija and others, the 1 percent is largely populated by corporate executives and financial sector professionals, for whom the plaudits “innovator” and “significant economic contributor” seem somehow less apt. And, as Dean Baker reminds us, even the incomes of Rowling, Spielberg, and Jobs owe as much to government intervention — in the form of copyrights and patents — as they do to the genius of the market.

Second, there is no evidence — at the bottom of the income distribution or the top — that education or innovation has that sort of payoff. John Schmitt and Jannelle Jones, most recently in a paper on the prospects of black workers, have tirelessly made the case that wages and job quality have plummeted across the last generation — even as the experience and educational attainment of workers has shown dramatic gains. And Mishel shows that the trajectory of top incomes runs far ahead of any reasonable educational benchmark.

And finally, the counter argument — that the 1 percent’s gains reflect distortions of the market, and losses for the rest of us — is pretty powerful. In their contribution to the same Journal of Economic Perspectives issue, Mishel and Josh Bivens make the case that most of these gains, especially those flowing from a bloated financial sector and excessive executive pay, come in the forms of economic rent — income either generated through preferential status or income that exceeds the real market value of the service provided.

Mankiw closes his paper with a number of other unsupported — and unsupportable — claims, arguing in turn that the rich are already taxed enough and that rising inequality poses no threat to either economic efficiency or social mobility. By this point his argument has a sort of “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” tone to it. Once he equates social policy with involuntary kidney donations, the tired economic orthodoxy seems more like a furious distraction than any argument at all.

Colin Gordon
Colin Gordon

Colin Gordon is Professor of History at the University of Iowa. For more on this issue, and the broader sources of our inequality, see our Inequality.Org interactive guide, Growing Apart: A Political History of American Inequality.

– See more at: http://inequality.org/defending-top-1-percent-failing/#sthash.JXRd5UmQ.dpuf

Iowa’s Recession: The Movie

Iowa’s cycle of recession and recovery: Like a lot of summer movies, it starts dramatically and then drags on and on.

Colin Gordon
Colin Gordon

OK, it’s not likely to offer much competition for World War Z or the Hangover 3, but this short video does provide a compelling look at Iowa’s slide into recession, and slow progress to recovery.

The unemployment rate, by county, is shaded from light to dark blue. And, as the months unfold from January 2007, the line graph at the bottom traces the trajectory of the recession — the blue line showing Iowa’s unemployment rate, the red showing that for the whole country.

Iowa escapes the early months of the national recession (which begins in December of 2007), but then sees the unemployment rate jump from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent in late 2008.  It would be 32 months (September 2011) before it was back below 6 percent to stay, and another 20 months (to this March) to settle back below 5 percent.  Like a lot of summer movies, it starts dramatically and then drags on and on.

The final scene shows how little progress we’ve made, underscoring the magnitude of a jobs deficit composed of both the jobs we’ve lost, and those we’ve failed to create for new entrants to the labor force.  It’s not a happy ending, but it has that gritty realism that the Oscar voters love.

Unemployment in Iowa, 2007-2013 from Colin Gordon on Vimeo.

Posted by Colin Gordon, Senior Research Consultant

Looking past the distractions on job numbers

How many jobs we add this month or last is less important than the longer term goal of real recovery from the Great Recession. And on that score, we still have some ground to cover.

Colin Gordon
Colin Gordon

Each month about this time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics updates its regional and state job numbers. It’s an important monthly scorecard, an opportunity to measure the state’s performance against the experience of other states, the national picture, and our own recent employment trends. And it’s an important political moment — especially as Governors around the country (and here in Iowa) have tied policy and budgetary decisions to job creation or employment targets.

But this monthly flurry of interest can also distract us from the bigger picture. How many jobs we added this month or last, after all, is less important than the larger and longer term goal of real recovery from the Great Recession. And on that score, we still have some ground to cover.

The graph below (from our State of Working Iowa report, updated through March 2013) compares the 2007 recession to all other postwar recessions, for Iowa and the United States. For the country, the 2007 recession is deeper and longer than any other postwar downturn. Now more than five years (63 months) since the onset of the recession in December 2007, we are far short of pre-recession employment levels.  For Iowa, the picture is a little better — but we are still 7,700 jobs short of the pre-recession peak.

http://public.tableausoftware.com/shared/5DDG8FS3T?:display_count=no

This is only part of the story.  As the recessions (and weak recovery) have dragged on, the state has continued to add to its labor force:  now five year’s worth of immigration, in-migration, and high school or college graduations. So our real jobs deficit is not the number of jobs we are short of the pre-recession peak. It is the number of jobs, given our current labor force, we are short of returning to pre-recession rates of employment. That deficit, captured in the graph below, is over 65,000 jobs. In order to clear that deficit in the next three years (during which time the labor force will continue to grow), we would need to add over 80,000 jobs — about 2,000 a month over that span.  Over the past year, or rate of job creation has been about half that (averaging only 920 jobs/month).

Basic RGB

Posted by Colin Gordon, Senior Research Consultant

Iowa’s decline in job-based health insurance

When the costs of insurance keep rising, that makes it tougher on the household budget — or results in people not having insurance.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette today offered an interesting look at the question of where Iowans get their insurance. It’s less and less something that comes through employment. And when the costs of insurance keep rising, that makes it tougher on the household budget — or results in people not having insurance.

This is a trend we’ve been watching and reporting on at the Iowa Policy Project for many years, as have several good research organizations such as the Economic Policy Institute.

The Affordable Care Act offers at least a partial remedy. As health insurance exchanges are developed, affordable insurance should be more readily available. Tax credits for employers providing insurance will provide a targeted incentive to offer employees a better option than what employees might find on the individual insurance market.

Colin Gordon
Colin Gordon

Our State of Working Iowa report for 2012 offers another good look at this issue. As author Colin Gordon observes, wage stagnation, erosion of good jobs and recession have combined to batter workers, at the same time non-wage forms of compensation, health and pension benefits, also have declined. This has eroded both job quality and family financial security, and increased the need for public insurance. In Chapter 3, “The Bigger Picture,” Gordon writes that Iowa is one of 15 states, including five in the Midwest, to lose more than 10 percent of job-based coverage in a decade. He continues:

These losses reflect two overlapping trends. The first of these is costs. Health spending has slowed in recent years, but still runs well ahead of general inflation. Both premium costs … and the employee’s share of premiums have risen sharply — especially for family coverage — while wages have stagnated.

In 1999, a full-time median-wage worker in Iowa needed to work for about 10 weeks in order to pay an annual family premium; by 2011, this had swollen to nearly 25 weeks. Steep cost increases have pressed employers to drop or cut back coverage, or employees to decline it when offered. High costs may also encourage more employees to elect single coverage — counting on spousal coverage from another source and kids’ coverage through public programs. The second factor here is the shift in sectoral employment outlined above: Job losses are heaviest in sectors that have historically offered group health coverage; and job gains (or projected job gains) are strongest in sectors that don’t offer coverage.

This graph looks at the rate of employer-sponsored coverage, by industry sector, from 2002 to 2012.

job-based coverage comparison, Iowa 2002-2012

An interactive version of that graph in the online report allows the reader to toggle between those two years; the colored balloons sink on the graph in moving from 2002 to 2012, as if they all are losing air — the result of declining rates of coverage.

Good public policy could help to fill them again.

2010-mo-blogthumbPosted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director