BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
The Lee County Republicans were holding their annual dinner Saturday at a local hotel in Fort Madison, but attendees got a pre-meeting message from a group in support of the state’s public employees.
“Leave IPERS alone”.
The rally was organized by Cathy Roberts, a Lee County employee, with the help of some citizens, teachers, and local legislators and was focused on the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System and preserving that fund and fighting privatization of public services. Demonstrators were lined up on Creve Court.
“I’m a payee for some of the mental services in Lee County. I can tell you first hand that privatization has not had a good result on the services the state provides,” said Roberts, who carried around a sign with the message, “We’re not the enemy.”
Roberts said she has neighbors who are Republicans and she doesn’t see them as an enemies, but it’s more the decisions being made by the Republican party
“They’re great people. I know some of the people that will be going to that dinner tonight and they are great people, but we can’t give this away. You take away state benefits and wages and you’re gonna get employees that can’t do the job.
Rachella Dravis, a teacher and union rep with the Iowa State Education Association, said the rally is meant to show Republicans that IPERS should be left alone and people need to keep an eye on the direction of the Republican party when it comes to public employees.
“I read recently that Gov. (Kim) Reynolds said in an article they weren’t going to do anything with IPERS and we should just relax,” Dravis said.
“Well, I think that’s what they said right before they gutted Chapter 20, so I really don’t trust anything people say and we’re going to have to make our voices heard to make sure more changes don’t come.”
Chapter 20 is the section of the Iowa Code that governs collective bargaining of public employees in the state.
“IPERS just happens to be the issue now with all the big money the Koch brothers have brought into the state of Iowa. If we continue to not have our voices heard, what happened in the legislature is going to happen again.”
Personally I think it’s a union busting thing. We have the Koch brothers in behind closed doors guiding the legislators on what do with Chapter 20, that’s a big sign. IPERS is what next.
Dravis said she will be spending three days in Des Moines next week to discuss state rallies and how public unions are going to plan for voicing their concerns.
State Sen. Rich Taylor was also on hand carrying signs at the rally.
“I’m here to support public employees. I was a public employee for 20 some years and IPERS is a good, sound system. Does it need some work? Sure, but like any system you have to keep working on it.”
Taylor said he believed the last statistics he heard had IPERS third in the nation for public retirement systems and he said the rumor of attacks on that system is just another punishment of public employees.
“Well, I’m guessing what they want to do is punish public employees in general. In my opinion, they (Republicans) hate public employees. Teachers, the guys that plow your snow, the prison workers, doesn’t matter what the worker does, they don’t want you there. They want to privatize everything and this is the next step in doing that,” Taylor said Saturday.
Taylor said the gutting of collective bargaining and Chapter 20 now has people in the state wondering if they want to stay in the state any longer.
“We have people wondering if they want to work in this state anymore. The reason IPERS was developed was to get people into those jobs and it worked. If you promise someone a bright retirement, like IPERS does…people will take those jobs,” he said.
“But if we lose all the good employees they’ll have to privatize it. That’s been (former Gov. Terry) Branstad’s goal – to eliminate public employees.
He said Reynolds will be even worse.
“She is, like the rest of Republicans, a puppet for the Koch brothers. A lot of the hateful bills that were passed in Iowa this year were written by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Commission) and the Americans for Prosperity. Let’s just be honest about it…it’s the Koch brothers.”
ALEC is an organization of state legislators, corporate members and lobbyists dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism.
State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald has written publicly about the IPERS program and that the state’s large tax credits are what’s hurting the budget and Republicans may look at IPERS as a way out of the problem.
He said the program is about 82% funded and should be fully funded in the next 10-15 years.