Branstad Seeks Wage Freeze, Health Insurance Hike

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad's administration has proposed freezing wages and increasing health care costs for 20,000 state workers in negotiations with state employee unions.

The talks are for new contracts slated to take effect next year.

Negotiators for the state want to freeze state worker wages for two years and increase their out-of-pocket cost for health care by 20 percent, Des Moines television station KCCI reported. The state also wants to remove union negotiating power in the areas of discipline, layoffs and the outsourcing of jobs.

More than 80 percent of state employees currently are not required to pay insurance premiums. Branstad has drawn the ire of union leader this year when he gave state employees the option of paying 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. About 95 employees took Branstad up on his proposal, but the unions have asked an administrative law judge to determine whether Branstad's administration broke the law by not negotiating the health care premium change.

Iowa chief labor negotiator Leon Schearer said Friday that the proposal is intended to look out for the best interests of taxpayers.

But the president of the state's largest workers union scoffed at the proposal, saying Branstad is simply trying to score political points with the proposed wage freeze and increased health care costs.

"He wants these people to hurt," said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "He wants to show everybody that he's a tough guy, and he's going to beat up on the unions."

Schearer said the proposals were based on a survey of private-sector employers and other Midwest state governments and would bring Iowa's compensation package more into line with those other states.
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