Union nurse in chaotic Iowa Dem gubernatorial primary
Nurse Cathy Glasson, center, is running for governor of Iowa on a platform of Medicare for All, $15 and a union, and other progressive causes. | SEIU

DES MOINES, Iowa—It’s been overshadowed by congressional primary conflagrations in California, but Cathy Glasson, leader of a large Iowa nurses’ union—running on a platform that includes Medicare for All, Fight for $15 and a union, making it easier to unionize, and other progressive causes—is smack in the middle of a chaotic Democratic gubernatorial primary there.

As a matter of fact, after sexual harassment allegations pushed one leading hopeful out of the running, Glasson, president of Service Employees Local 199, is one of the top two contenders left in the June 6 tilt. But even that contest’s outcome may not be the final word.

Glasson and businessman Fred Hubbell now lead the six-person field for the Democratic nod to take on incumbent Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has held the office barely a year. As lieutenant governor, Reynolds succeeded three-plus term GOP Gov. Terry Branstad.

President Donald Trump named Branstad as his ambassador to China, but not before Branstad and the GOP-run legislature pushed through a law they thought would emasculate public worker collective bargaining rights in the Hawkeye State. It backfired.

The measure yanked union bargaining power over many key issues—such as wages and health care—and forced them to stand for recertification, local by local, government by government, school district by school district. Only then could they bargain new pacts. But when those votes came, last year, more than 94 percent of local union units won recertification.

Glasson has pledged to repeal the Republicans’ law and restore unions’ bargaining rights.

“I believe the #1 job of the governor is to improve the standard of living for the people of Iowa. That’s why I’m running,” she said in announcing her candidacy, after two decades of political activism and a key role in founding SEIU’s Iowa nurses local.

“Our plan centers around three bold ideas: Creating a universal health care system to cover every Iowan, raising the minimum wage to $15 so no Iowan who works full time has to live in poverty, [and] making it easier to join a union no matter where you work.”

The other top remaining contender, businessman Fred Hubbell, says he’s for collective bargaining rights, too, but hasn’t specifically said he’ll fight to repeal that GOP law. And he’s silent on Medicare for All and the Fight for $15.

All of this has put Glasson at the top of progressive organizations’ lists. National Nurses United endorsed her candidacy last year, as did the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. The latest to join in was the Working Families Party, on May 31.

“We endorsed her many months ago,” NNU Political Director Ken Zinn said in a telephone interview.

“She’s an RN, a union leader—even if it isn’t our union—running on a very progressive platform that addresses income inequality and health care. We’re very happy someone as forthright and as progressive as Cathy is running.”

“Cathy Glasson is a registered nurse who led the fight to organize her fellow nurses 18 years ago, and then became president of her local union, SEIU Local 199,” PCCC, which has jousted with the Democratic establishment, says on its website. “She is running for governor of Iowa on a bold progressive platform that includes support for a $15 minimum wage, the right to form a union, and single payer health care.” PCCC backed Glasson in late 2017, co-director Melissa Barrow e-mailed.

The Working Families Party signed on to Glasson’s candidacy in late May. “We’re seeing unprecedented enthusiasm among progressives this year,” said spokesman Joe Dinkin. “Cathy may not have the establishment support, but she’s gaining ground every day. She has the energy as well as a vision that will appeal to the progressive grassroots.”

NNU is chipping in to Glasson’s campaign with door-knocking and phone banking. Glasson’s own union, SEIU, is chipping in with money.

As of March, Glasson was running second among all the Iowa Democratic hopefuls in fundraising, with more than $2 million, and $1.8 million of that came from SEIU campaign finance committees. Hubbell is in the lead. He raised $3 million in the first three months of this year alone. Much came from his own fortune.

Zinn, too, says Glasson, a Bernie Sanders backer in 2016, isn’t the establishment hopeful. The question is: Who is?

Many other Iowa unions lined up behind State Sen. Nate Boulton. The latest polls put him second, with 20 percent of the vote, to Hubbell, who had 31 percent. Glasson had 13 percent, but 44 percent of voters were undecided. Other hopefuls’ shares were in single digits.

But then Boulton, the establishment favorite, had to drop out on May 24, due to the sexual harassment allegations. That left his backers, including Iowa’s top Steelworkers local and the state AFL-CIO, with a problem, two weeks before the primary.

The June 6 vote may not solve anything, anyway. If the primary leader fails to get at least 35 percent of the vote, a state Democratic Party convention, scheduled for later this summer, will make the pick.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).