Workers Need the Freedom to Negotiate

4 min readJun 27, 2019

By Lee Saunders

For Tina Suckow, helping people who are struggling with mental illness is a calling. She always wanted to be a nurse, and while she understood that her job at Iowa’s Independence Mental Health Institute could be dangerous, nothing could have prepared her for what happened on Oct. 24 of last year. A patient — believed to be in the throes of a manic episode — brutally attacked and beat her, leaving her unconscious with injuries to the head, knee and shoulder.

It has been a long road to recovery from her injuries. But in March, this nightmare took another horrific turn. After Tina’s sick days ran out, her employer, the state of Iowa, refused to grant her request for unpaid leave. And then, unconscionably, the state fired her just a few weeks after she had major surgery, a devastating blow to Tina’s family and their economic security.

For decades, Iowa had a robust collective bargaining system that allowed state employees like Tina to negotiate virtually all terms of employment. But a new state law, rammed through the legislature in 2017 with barely any debate, stripped the system down to its bare bones, leaving workers and their unions with hardly any seat at the table at all.

People like Tina who devote their careers to public service deserve better. They deserve the chance to come to the table with their employer and hash out a fair contract. A new bill introduced in Congress this week would allow them to do just that.

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, sponsored by Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, would give public employees the same rights and protections enjoyed by those who work in the private sector. It would allow them to join together in a union if a majority of employees vote to have one. It would give them the ability to bargain collectively over wages, hours and working conditions. It would provide dispute resolution mechanisms like arbitration and mediation, as well as the ability to sue.

If this bill were law, Tina could have filed a grievance through her collective bargaining contract after she was terminated. And she would have had the chance to negotiate for more rigorous workplace safety standards in the first place, perhaps preventing the incident…


AFSCME’s members provide the vital services that make America happen. We advocate for prosperity and opportunity for all working families.