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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Local unions announce school board election endorsements

The 2018 midterms are still more than a year away, but local elections for offices such as mayor, city council and school board are just around the corner. Candidates for these positions are seeking endorsements from organizations with local influence. Recently the Iowa branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) — made up of 50,000 members and 520 separate unions — released their endorsements for the 2017 School Board Elections. While the AFL-CIO did not endorse a candidate for the Grinnell School Board, they did endorse 31 candidates for other school boards across Western and South Central Iowa.

Scott Punteney is the field coordinator for the Western Iowa Labor Federation and an affiliate of the Iowa AFL-CIO located in Sioux City, including Fort Dodge and Council Bluffs. Punteney organizes both within and outside of the union, runs political programs and community outreach and works to recruit and evaluate candidates.

“Pretty much everything our organization does, I have a role in,” Punteney said.

The first step for candidates who wish to be endorsed by the Western Iowa AFL-CIO is to meet with Punteney. They will then fill out a thorough questionnaire evaluating their stance on everything from election reform to labor laws, and meet with each of the three chapters of the Western Iowa Labor Federation. The Western Iowa Labor Federation is comprised of approximately 40 labor unions, each of which appoints between two and seven delegates who have a chance to review the questionnaire and ask the candidate questions themselves.

“They support us, and so they have a voice at our table,” Punteney said. “Our delegates decide if it’s a candidate worthy of endorsement or not.” If the delegates approve the candidate, the AFL-CIO branch will officially endorse them.

Mark Cooper is the president of the South Central Iowa Area Federation of Labor, encompassing 23 counties in total.

“By combining the talent, energy, activism and sense of justice of all of our affiliates, the Central Labor Council seeks to promote legislation that will enable the government to be responsive to the needs of working people and their families,” Cooper wrote in an email to The S&B. “One of the main reasons we are involved in School Board elections is to assure that workers have a voice at the table of the school board.”

The importance of the school board to the Iowa AFL-CIO has increased dramatically since the passage of House File 291 in 2017 by the Iowa Legislature, a controversial bill that limits collective bargaining rights by changing many subjects from mandatory to permissive.

“There were a lot of things that both sides had to talk about, and now the legislature removed almost all those items and made it where wages are basically the only thing that can be negotiated anymore,” Punteney said. Wages are the only mandatory subjects for every profession, except for public safety, in the state of Iowa.

However, there are still subjects, called permissive subjects, which employers may choose to discuss with their employees’ unions.

“It’s important to have people on those city councils, those school boards, that will talk about permissive subjects,” Punteney said.

Both Punteney and Cooper agreed that school boards are more important now than ever before.

“We’re looking for people who have the same values as working people do,” Punteney said. “Support workers rights and support good education for everybody.”

Grinnell’s own school board will hold its elections on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

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