Cathy Glasson says she’s seen enough to know it’s time for radical change in Iowa.

Glasson has worked as a nurse and union leader in Johnson County for more than two decades, and with her campaign for governor she hopes to turn her organizational experience into a Democratic domination in June.

 

Cathy Glasson says she’s seen enough to know it’s time for radical change in Iowa.

Glasson has worked as a nurse and union leader in Johnson County for more than two decades, and with her campaign for governor she hopes to turn her organizational experience into a Democratic domination in June.

After helping lead the unionizing charge for nurses and staff at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, and serving as president of the Service Employees International Union Local 199, Glasson has watched as a Republican-controlled Legislature chipped away at the institutions she’s been defending her whole career. Union rights, affordable access to health care and stable wages are all in jeopardy, Glasson felt, and she decided to take on the fight herself.

Glasson is running as the “bold, progressive” candidate in a crowded field of Democrats. She and her opponents — Fred Hubbell, John Norris, Nate Boulton, Andy McGuire and Ross Wilburn — share similar positions on things like ending tax breaks to large corporations and restoring education funding, but Glasson repeatedly has made firm commitments on a variety of progressive issues.

More: Compare the candidates

She supports restoring union bargaining rights, and establishing a $15 minimum wage and a universal, single-payer health care system. Her platform is informed by decades of organizing work in Johnson County.

Iowa democratic candidate for governor Cathy Glasson
Iowa democratic candidate for governor Cathy Glasson speaks during a rally for a $15 minimum wage and unions after Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed the Iowa Legislature during her first Condition of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Des Moines. (Photo: Brian Powers/The Register)

It makes sense that a candidate like Glasson would come out of Johnson County, known for its progressive roots and voting for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic caucus. But the trick for Glasson will be taking her local energy across the state come June 5.

Crash-course in politics
The SEIU Local 199 chapter formed during a bubbling period of union energy. Nurses and other staffers voted to establish the branch in 1998, a year the Press-Citizen declared at the time “the Year of the Unions.”

The year before, nurse Pauline Taylor, now an Iowa City council member and mayor pro tem, got to talking with her then-husband, Rick Taylor. A plumber represented by the Local 125 Plumbers and Pipefitters union, he was in the hospital frequently and saw nurses’ working conditions, Pauline Taylor said. Hospitals around the country were implementing “managed care” at that time, an approach that emphasized cutting costs. Health care professionals were seeing hours cut, she remembers, and job security was waning.

Taylor and her husband got the ball rolling. They started making connections and reaching out to hospital staff, making phone calls and knocking on doors gauging interest and to teach people the benefits of unionizing.

More: Iowa House, Senate approve sweeping collective bargaining changes

That’s how Glasson first learned about unions.

She had worked as a nurse for seven or eight years when she got a call at home from an organizer inviting her to an informational session, Glasson told the Press-Citizen. At first, Glasson didn’t want to go. She had no experience with unions, she said, and didn’t know what to expect. But the organizer was persistent, and finally convinced Glasson to meet for coffee.

“I was intrigued by that conversation,” Glasson said. “Things were happening to us without any input from us.”

Cathy Glasson, a democratic candidate for governor
Cathy Glasson, a democratic candidate for governor of Iowa, joined hundreds of Iowans outside of Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017, to protest for union rights, higher minimum wage, and safer working conditions. According the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 report, Registered Nurses in Iowa were ranked 50th in salary. (Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/The Register)

Glasson quickly became instrumental in the unionizing effort. She joined in making phone calls, door knocking and driving all over the state to meet with hospital staffers in their homes. She put 1,000 miles on her car, Glasson said, and in the end the hard work paid off: the nurses and other staff voted 922 to 810 at the end of July 1998 to join SEIU.

Glasson was elected president of the newly formed local chapter the following year and remains in the position to this day. The chapter currently represents about 5,000 people across the state, including employees at Iowa City and Cedar Rapids schools, the Greater Regional Medical Center in Creston, and other educational and health care chapters.

“My life in the union movement is what really grounded me in, and taught me, how very important local and state government and politics are, and the influence they have on so many people’s lives,” she said.

Around the hospital there were other workers exerting their own organizing power. In June of 1998, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 1634, representing employees at a Rockwell Collins plant in Coralville, went on strike for two weeks during a contract negotiation. There were also notable strikes elsewhere in the country, like the United Auto Workers at General Motors, the pilots for Northwest Airlines, and workers from U.S. West phone company.

Quiz: Which gubernatorial candidate do you agree with most?

John Delaney, now a dean at American University in Washington, D.C., was a professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa in the late 1990s. Unions’ strength had been and continues to be on the decline, he said, but the burst of energy served as a political turning point in the state — one that would help usher Democrat Tom Vilsack into the governor’s mansion, he said.

“People saw that maybe the sun was beginning to come out, and it was an opportunity for things to change,” Delaney said.

Same story 20 years later?
Cathy Glasson, democratic candidate for governor, holds
Cathy Glasson, democratic candidate for governor, holds a roundtable discussion about health care and other issues on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, at the Blue Top Tap in Lone Tree. (Photo: Kelsey Kremer/The Register )

On a sunny Saturday in early May, Glasson hosted her first campaign event at the University of Iowa. The small but diverse crowd gathered at the Pentacrest to hear speeches from local political leaders, and drag performances by local dancers. In the crowd were some of the same people who sparked the energy Glasson saw 20 years ago: workers fed up with their situation, and young people ready for serious change.

Much like in 1998, 2018 has seen a swell in organizing activity nationally and locally. Teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and elsewhere have sparked demonstrations at other workplaces. In Iowa City, the University of Iowa’s non-tenure track faculty are working to get better wages, benefits and more stable contracts in the long run.

The group composed a letter signed by nearly 200 non-tenure faculty listing demands of university President Bruce Harreld. They’ve camped out in the president’s office calling for a meeting, and even marched to his front door a couple of times. The second time around, Glasson joined them, giving a brief speech from Harreld’s doorstep before joining the crowd on the lawn in chanting “we are essential, not contingent.”

“Now they want us to think that they’ve won, and that all hope has been lost, but I have to tell you looking out here today, we’re not defeated,” Glasson said through a megaphone on Harreld’s landing on May 4. “We’re going to rise up today and fight back.”

Cathy Glasson, candidate for Iowan Governor, stoppedBuy Photo
Cathy Glasson, candidate for Iowan Governor, stopped by a non-tenure faculty protest at the University of Iowa on May 4, 2018. Here she delivers a speech on the steps of UI president Bruce Harreld’s home. (Photo: Aimee Breaux / Press-Citizen)

While the UI non-tenure track faculty have not taken formal steps to unionize, they have been working with Faculty Forward, which is part of SEIU and helps university faculty in organizing efforts around the country.

“We have a moment here to advance Iowa, and not just keep bad things from happening but to make this state even better,” said Anne Sand, an organizer with the non-tenure track faculty.

Meanwhile, Glasson’s own campaign staff unionized last month, becoming the first in Iowa to do so and the second staff for a gubernatorial campaign to unionize in the nation.

The Republican-controlled legislature last year passed sweeping changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws that have significantly weakened union power. The changes included limiting negotiation topics to only wages, and requiring unions to hold recertification votes with every new contract negotiation (that’s once every two to three years) requiring a majority of all employees to vote in favor, not just a majority of those who vote.

The new standard has already affected SEIU directly when the nursing staff at Broadlawns Medical Center, who had been represented by the union, failed to recertify in October. Despite having 74 “yes” votes to 27 “no” votes, the tally failed to reach the newly required 99 votes needed.

“People are afraid to do something different, and things never change if we walk the same path over and over again.”

Cathy Glasson, Democratic candidate for Iowa governor
Broadlawns was one of 32 unions that failed to recertify in the state, with 436 successfully maintaining their union, and received some internal criticism for potentially not giving SEIU enough attention while campaigning. Glasson noted that the new majority requirement is needlessly burdensome and a standard that most elected officials can’t even meet.

Iowa has also long been a right-to-work state, meaning employers can’t require employees to join and pay dues to unions — which means lower membership and less funding for unions.

Of course, the current Legislature has passed plenty of other bills that have appalled Democrats, including the privatization of Medicaid, a bill targeting so-called sanctuary cities and counties, and a bill that bans nearly all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Restoring union rights has been one of Glasson’s central issues since the start of her campaign, but it’s also essential to achieving her other goals, she said. Her platform includes a $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care for all Iowans, cleaning up Iowa’s water, and other goals Glasson believes will require strong, grassroots political power to achieve.

“If you talk to (people) about how would you like to have health care that’s extremely affordable for you and your family, it’s not a partisan issue,” Glasson said. “If you focus on the issues, and not the party and the politics, you can actually move people.”

Looking to June
In 2016, the Iowa Caucuses gave Hillary Clinton a narrow victory in the Democratic presidential primary, but noted progressive and Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders won Johnson County easily. Glasson said a lot of that progressive energy among young people and others has carried over into her campaign.

Since declaring her candidacy last fall, she’s been endorsed by People for Bernie and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and gotten national media attention from progressive outlets like The Young Turks and The Nation.

The resurgence of progressive, grassroots energy that has washed over much of the country following the 2016 election hit Johnson County as well.

A chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America launched at the University of Iowa within the last year, and while the Iowa City DSA did not endorse any candidates, the group does support positions like restoring union rights and universal health care. Not to mention a resurgence of protest energy among younger students, with local middle- and high-schoolers staging walkouts earlier this year to protest gun violence.

At least within Johnson County, the swell of youthful energy could snowball into a strong base of wider support for a more progressive candidate, Delaney said.

“If you’ve got another wave of young people coming in you may have a group of people who are sympathetic to them who are under the radar,” he said. “This could mean, for political purposes, you see things tilt more in the progressive, Democratic direction.”

Still, Glasson doesn’t have unanimous support in the county.

Cathy Glasson takes part in the Iowa Democratic Gubernatorial
Cathy Glasson takes part in the Iowa Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Debate at IPTV Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register)

Earlier this month, Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton and Coralville Mayor John Lundell wrote in a Press-Citizen letter to the editor that they will be supporting John Norris, a former chief of staff to Vilsack and member of President Barack Obama’s administration. Other area elected officials have come out for Norris as well, including county Supervisor Rod Sullivan and State Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville.

More: Key moments from Democratic gubernatorial candidate debate

Norris and Glasson’s platforms have some overlap, with Norris advocating a $15.30 minimum wage. But Norris also has experience at high levels of government, and a message that may be better crafted to reach all Iowans, Throgmorton said in an interview with the Press-Citizen.

“It works here in Iowa City, big time,” said Throgmorton, referring to Glasson’s progressive platform. “I don’t believe it’s going to resonate effectively out in the state.”

Other Democrats in Johnson County have expressed similar concerns. Sen. Dvorsky said while he respects Glasson and her work, he feels Norris is best prepared to step into the role of governor on day one.

“He’s a progressive candidate; he’s a realistic candidate, also,” Dvorsky said.

Both Glasson and Norris polled in the single digits in a recent statewide poll from KBUR AM/FM in Burlington, with businessman Fred Hubbell and State Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, leading the pack.

Timothy Hagle, associate professor of political science at UI, said the key for anyone hoping to win a gubernatorial race in the state is the no-party voters, adding that “we like our incumbents” in Iowa.

But Glasson is undeterred.

“We have major problems that Democrats like to nibble around the edges and never get to the core of the real problem,” she said. “People are afraid to do something different, and things never change if we walk the same path over and over again.”

And even if Glasson falls short, her campaign could spread some of that Johnson County energy across the state the same way Bernie Sanders’ campaign has been credited with moving the needle within the Democratic Party.

“I want to see something different and I want to see something now,” said Kingsley Botchway, Iowa City councilor and equity director for Iowa City schools, who came out publicly in support of Glasson at earlier this month. “I’m supportive of a candidate that’s actually going to put in the work.”

Reach Will Greenberg at wgreenberg@press-citizen.com, by phone at 319-887-5407, and follow him on Twitter @wrgree

Src: https://www.press-citizen.com/story/news/2018/05/18/iowa-governor-race-candidate-cathy-glasson-democrat/613343002/