Wife of slain prison guard calls for expanding union right

DES MOINES — The wife of a prison guard who was murdered by an inmate at the Anamosa State Penitentiary is calling for changes in Iowa’s collective bargaining law.

Sara McFarland joined an Iowa Federation Labor rally in the state capitol on Monday. “My heart aches as I stand here today, not just as a grieving wife, but as a voice for justice and change,” she said.

Her husband, Robert McFarland, and prison nurse Lorena Schulte were killed nearly two years ago as two inmates attempted to escape. Sara McFarland says prison staff like her late husband should be allowed to bargain over work conditions and safety issues. Under current law, prison staff not classified as public safety officers and are only allowed to discuss their wages during union contract talks. “I promised Robert I would not stop fighting until his brother and sister officers were safe at work…To the lawmakers that say corrections work in a controlled environment so they should not be considered public safety…talk to the officers who do this job every day, then you will see just how wrong you are,” she said. “…My husband died stopping an escape attempt and keeping the public safe.”

Other union members at the event urged Iowans to rally around union priorities like raising the minimum wage and letting Iowans see a doctor of their choice if they’re injured at work. Iowa Federation of Labor president Charlie Wishman acknowledges it will require electing new people to the state legislature and congress who support union priorities. “I know that everybody here, you’re going to do everything you can to get your members registered (to vote)< ” Wishman said, “…and we’re get ou,t and we’re going to fight.”

There was no mention of a bill pending in the legislature that would change the rules for union recertification votes before collective bargaining talks begin in state and local government.