What Union Voters Should Know about the Iowa Supreme Court Judges on the Ballot

One of the most important functions of the COGS Political Action Committee is to provide information on elections in our area, so as to aid your decision-making process as you exercise your right to vote at the ballot box (or the mailbox, as the case may be). With this in mind, we have drafted this memo for those of you who are preparing to vote in the Iowa General Election.

Justices Thomas Waterman, Susan Kay Christensen, Edward Mansfield, and Christopher McDonald are all on the ballot in Iowa this year – they are four Iowa State Supreme Court justices who are up for retention (meaning they were appointed by the Governor, and they are reelected into office every few years by a simple YES/NO vote). They have no political party affiliation listed on the ballot. Importantly for us graduate workers, however: These four justices comprised the exact judicial majority that ruled 4-3 in 2019 to uphold the 2017 law changes that decimated collective bargaining rights in the State of Iowa. We will expand on the effects of these law changes and some issues this election poses below. However, in brief: We at COGS stand against the state of Iowa’s policies on public employee unions that were enacted in 2017, and we ask you to consider what their effects have been when voting on public officials who supported them.

In 2017, the actions of the governor and the state legislature attacked COGS’s power to protect your rights and compensations as workers. We lost the ability to hold the university to bargaining with us on healthcare coverage, on benefits, on leave time, and so much more; instead, our present arrangements on these amenities are currently in policy language left to the whims of the university, rather than being protected by a legally binding contract. They made it illegal for us to collect dues through payroll deduction – our dues-paying membership was reduced to zero with the stroke of a pen. Since then, we have had to collect dues through inconvenient direct payment methods and rebuild our membership from scratch, and our financial and popular power have never fully recovered since then, as we struggle to maintain a quarter of our previous membership numbers. 

In fact, the recertification election we currently find ourselves in is a mandate of the 2017 law change. We must hold this vote every two years for our union to continue to exist – it saps the time and energy of our entire bargaining unit, not to mention that the union has to pay for the vote to happen. And apart from all these official policies, unions like ours have been demonized across the state, and the labor of the workers they represent devalued by our state government, much more intensely since 2017. Justices Waterman, Christensen, Mansfield, and McDonald supported these policy changes in the wake of their many damaging effects.

We at COGS encourage our membership to consider these pivotal political decisions in their voting this election season. Our organization has a standing policy not to officially endorse voting for or against specific candidates for office, preferring to stand by principles, goals, and policy platforms that will benefit our constituents and our communities. 

So we will say this much: We support fair compensation, and the freedom to debate and negotiate said compensation through an appropriate legal process. We oppose the use of the law and the courts to impose mindless recertification votes and convoluted dues-collection systems on workers unions. We think such laws give unfair political and economic control to employers – they cause workers to believe that their benefits are the result of employers’ generosity, demanding of loyalty; rather than the result of decades of union pressure to hold employers accountable for their employees’ health and survival. The policies that these judges upheld impose unfair restrictions on working people that limit their individual benefits, curtail their collective power, and economically and politically repress the foundation of our economy – the workers.

We are also obliged to mention that even if you share these views, there may be pros and cons to this vote from a pragmatic standpoint. If these judges are retained, they will likely continue to back this political suppression of workers through their rulings on the law. If these judges are not retained, they will be removed from office; but Governor Reynolds will then have the opportunity to appoint new judges, some of which may be even stronger in their support of these unfair legal restrictions of unions. On the other hand, a successful vote not to retain them may send a signal that the workers of this state are tired of having their opportunities suppressed, and that if she tries to crack down even harder, she will feel our response in her 2022 reelection results. 

We at the COGS Political Action Committee feel it is necessary to dissect the full scope of precedents and potential consequences of this vote, for your benefit; particularly for candidates who are not party-affiliated, and whose roles we may not focus on as much as those in the executive or legislative branches. We hope we have provided you with information and perspective that may help you to make the best decision for you, your family, and your community when you go to vote. We have included links in this email to the Johnson County Auditor’s site where you can find polling locations and sample ballots for your location, as well as more general voting instructions and deadlines; and to the Ballotpedia pages for Justices Waterman, Christensen, Mansfield, and McDonald for additional information on their records, to further inform your personal voting process. Friends and colleagues, vote well and vote safe.

Yours in Solidarity,

Daniel Knipp, COGS Political Action Committee Chairperson