Iowa Labor Law

What does it mean that Iowa is a “right to work” state?

Following the recent Janus decision, public sector unions in states that enact right to work laws can no longer require workers to be part of the union. Though “right to work” frames this as an issue of worker choice, it is intended to weaken and destroy unions so that bosses can have more freedom to exploit workers. (Indeed, the Economic Policy Institute found that workers in right-to-work states make lower wages and are less likely to have robust benefits.)

Read Iowa Starting Line labor reporter Amie Rivers’ explainer on Iowa right to work here.

What is Chapter 20?

Chapter 20 outlines the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions like ours. It was passed in 1974 to outlaw public sector unions from striking after several effective public school strikes. The law was bad then, but in 2017 it was amended to become even worse. Whereas in the previous version of the law, public sector employees had previous been required to bargain over a wide set of topics (called mandatory topics), including tuition, fees, grievance procedure, and health insurance. Now, the only mandatory topic for most* public sector unions is wages. These other topics were relegated to permissive topics––meaning employers can but are not required to include these topics in their proposals.

The law also requires public sector unions to undergo recertification elections every two years, months before bargaining happens. These elections require that over 50% of all members of the bargaining unit (graduate workers covered under the contract) vote YES to recertify the union. Importantly: anyone who does not vote will be registered as a NO vote. Past recertification elections have shown that grads want a union; our main barrier on this large campus is getting the word out so people know how to vote and overcoming barriers to voting.

Another important part of this law is that it prevents us from taking dues directly out of members’ paychecks, sometimes referred to as dues checkoff. This is why you now pay dues through this website (

Read more about Chapter 20 and how it is impacting our union today in this piece from union member Caleb Klipowicz for Left Voice.

Read it below for yourself!

*If you read the text of the law, you’ll see that public sector unions where at least 30% of members are “public safety employees” get a different deal (i.e., police unions). They retain the mandatory topics, though they do have to recertify. Read more here about why police unions so often get different treatment from other unions.