February was a devastating month for unions in Iowa. Following November election wins in the House and Senate, Republicans, already in control of the governor’s office, commanded the entirety of the state’s legislative process for the first time in two decades. And they wasted no time in coming after unions.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 405 RENEW/NextGen member Jeff Cooling speaks in support of public-sector workers at the Iowa state capitol in February. He hopes other young members like him will get involved in politics as well.

One of the first pieces of legislation introduced was a bill taking away public employees’ rights to negotiate with the state, signed by the governor on Feb 17. Similar to Wisconsin’s Act 10, passed under Gov. Scott Walker in 2010, the measure will likely have catastrophic results for public sector unions, whose numbers declined by more than 130,000 after the law took effect.

But young members in Iowa are ready to fight. Jeff Cooling, 29, a Cedar Rapids Local 405 journeyman wireman, led a delegation of young members to the state AFL-CIO’s political and legislative conference and followed it up with a day of lobbying members of the state legislature in Des Moines.

“That very day, they announced the bargaining bill,” Cooling said. It was Tuesday, Feb. 7, and on Sunday, he went back with his wife to rally with working people on the statehouse steps. On Monday, Cooling made the two-hour trip for the third time that week, and when he arrived, he was asked to address a group of pro-labor leaders speaking out before the bill’s public hearing.

"I stand in solidarity with my sisters and brothers in the public sector today because an injury to one is an injury to all. My neighbor, who has two boys, works for the City of Marion and is at risk of losing security and stability for his family. The state Legislature is trying to take away collective bargaining from state and local government working people and that’s just wrong."

The collective bargaining issue has woken a lot of people up, Cooling said. Labor is on its heels in states like Iowa, where project labor agreements are next on the GOP’s chopping block.

“We all hear that elections have consequences,” he said. “What we bargain with our employers can be taken away by lawmakers who only want to destroy unions.” All members, he said, but especially young ones, need to be involved in fighting back. “Whether you like politics or not, it’s important, and it’s important that we get involved at all levels of government.”

Even on losing efforts like the collective bargaining issue, showing up makes a difference, said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Getting active in politics is no longer a choice in the times we’re living in, and we’re proud to see our young members helping to lead the fight for working people across the country.”

Young workers who’d like to learn more about how to get involved are encouraged to attend the third annual RENEW/NextGen conference, scheduled for Sept. 21-23 in Pittsburgh. Registration opened on March 1 through the “Local Connections” page on IBEW.org and more information will be available at Facebook.com/RENEW.IBEW.

Homepage photo  Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Phil Roeder.