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Branstad, union chief tangle over problems at juvenile home

(Radio Iowa) – The state’s chief executive says union work rules are to blame for some of the problems uncovered at the state home for troubled juveniles, a charge the head of a union that represents state employees denies.

Critics of care at the juvenile home in Toledo say some teenage girls were kept in isolation cells for months — one for up to a year. The practice started in the 1990s, during Governor Terry Branstad’s previous 16-year run as governor.

“Part of our problem is union work rules,” Branstad says. “We had one individual that was fired there and because of the union appealing this and because of the union work rules we were required to hiring him back. He’s now been fired again and now they’re still trying to get him hired back again. This is a culture that needs to change.”

Danny Homan is the head of AFSCME Local 61, which represents some of the home’s front-line workers. He says it’s the home’s non-union managers who decide when juveniles should be placed in isolation cells — and Homan calls Branstad’s statement “laughable.”

“Here’s a guy that will never take responsibility for anything that his administration does wrong,” Homan says. “It’s always somebody else’s fault.”

Branstad says “new leadership” at the juvenile home is making changes, but he cautions that the institution in Toledo is a “last resort” place for troubled teens.

“We have the union work rules and we have a lot of people that work there that are stuck in the old way and want to continue to do things the way they’ve always done things,” Bransad says. “That’s not acceptable and we’re going to work to see that it’s changed and do it in a way that’s fair.”

Homan says union workers have “absolutely nothing to do” with deciding when teens in the juvenile home are placed in isolation.

“For Terry Branstad to blame what’s going on at the Toledo home on…union work rules — we don’t have union work rules, we have employer work rules — is just unbelievable,” Homan says.

Troubled children between the ages of 12 and 18 can be placed in the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. Females have to be declared delinquents by a court before admission.