To My Republican Legislators and Friends

An open letter to GOP lawmakers about collective bargaining from a high school band instructor

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A pro-union rally held in Minnesota in 2011 in solidarity with workers Wisconsin. Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

Burton Hable is an assistant director of bands and director of jazz studies at Ankeny Centennial High School concerned about the proposal from GOP lawmakers to gut collective bargaining rights in Iowa, which a former Branstad policy director yesterday warned could lead to a class-action lawsuit and create a situation for union members worse than that in Wisconsin, where Act 10 hit unions harder than anywhere else in the country after its passage in 2011. The following commentary, an open letter to Iowa lawmakers he posted Wednesday, is crossposted from Hable’s personal blog, Adjusting the Sails.

Dear Representatives Koester and Landin,
Dear Senator Whitver and Governor Branstad,
Dear Representative Deyoe and Senator Schultz,
Dear Iowa friends who voted for Republican state legislators in this past election,

I am writing to ask a simple question: Why? What is it that we did to make you want to propose the changes you did to collective bargaining?

I have my guesses. Are you fed up with our continued lobbying for more educational funding? Do you not like it when we point out that business tax cuts are quickly growing while we need to cut millions from the state budget?

Or is it more personal than that? Do I make too much money for the work I do? Based on the proposed bills in our state House and Senate, it feels like you just might believe this. It looks like you also think I should not have the insurance I currently do. Not only should I not be paid what I am for the work I do within the school day, but I shouldn’t be paid for what I do outside the school day either. You want my employer to be able to terminate my contract whenever they feel like, unlike your protected seats in our government. It also doesn’t appear like my experience in teaching and my further professional development beyond my undergraduate degree is of any value. The message you are sending is that you do not want quality public teachers in Iowa.

I understand that it is expensive to fund education in Iowa, but that does not seem to be the conversation we are having. In fact, it does not seem like you want to have a conversation at all. When asked similar questions to the top of this letter. Governor Branstad, you responded with, “They lost.” This appears like revenge politics, retribution for something public employees did to all of you. What was it?

I don’t think that our general public voted you in on a desire to crush public unions. As a matter of fact, Representatives Koester and Landin, you did not campaign on these points at all. Neither did many of your counterparts in this past election. I am curious, what contacts you have received since the start of the session either for or against collective bargaining? School funding? Did you vote for what your Ankeny constituents wanted or did you vote your party line?

There is currently a commercial circulating on our local television media. If the problem, as the ad suggests, is the inability of districts to fire “bad teachers,” I’m curious what their evaluation procedures are. Can districts not prove they are a bad teacher? Let’s go at it in another way. Iowa public school educators do not have tenure. If I understand correctly, districts are under no obligation to offer them a new contract. Why do districts keep offering these “bad teachers” new contracts? As a colleague shared, do people really think there is a pool of great teachers out there who don’t have jobs because those “bad teachers” are out there? You are in for a rude awakening if you start firing teachers without cause, as these new bills would allow.

I do not imagine I will get an explanation or an answer to my questions in this letter. I would happily welcome a personal response, and I would love an open dialogue about how we think education should work in Iowa.

That being said, please know that this is a large group of people who will not forget. If you think we will grow weary of this fight, you are wrong. I hope that sometime in the not too distant future, Speaker Upmeyer uses the phrase, “Nevertheless, they persisted.”

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Burton Hable is a marching band instructor at Ankeny Centennial High School who writes at the blog Adjusting the Sails.