February 9, 2016

Survey finds many Iowans don’t use their vacation time

Pine Lake vacation cabin.

Pine Lake vacation cabin.

Iowans are known for having a good work ethic but a new survey shows two in five of us didn’t take a single vacation day in all of last year.

The report also found people who live in rural areas are less likely to take vacation than those in urban areas.

Business consultant Daren Martin says that mindset may be seen by some as noble but it needs to shift for the sake of the businesses and the employees.

Martin says, “Those people probably did not perform as well as they could have for themselves or for their company by neglecting vacation.” Martin, who calls himself a consultant, coach and culture architect, says people think of themselves as more dedicated workers if they skip taking vacations, that, or they’re scared to leave.

“A lot of people think it’s a badge of honor to not take time off, they think that makes them a stellar employee,” Martin says. “For a lot of people in today’s environment, it’s also a fear factor.” If you tell your boss you’re going to be out next week, the boss may reply, “I wish I could take time off,” which Martin says is a way of “shaming” employees for daring to take what’s due.

Martin says it’s often the employer that discourages workers from using that much-needed time off, as he says some managers just don’t get the importance of vacation.

“The typical U.S. company has a 29% engagement rate which means there’s a lot of zombie employees walking the hallways,” Martin says. “This is one of the reasons for that. There’s this work, work, work, work mentality and nobody performs well under that kind of environment.”

The survey shows those who took the least amount of vacation time live in rural areas and women take less time off then men.

By Karla James


State Auditor finds thousands of dollars of improper unemployment benefits

Auditor-logoAn report from State Auditor Mary Mosiman finds Iowa Workforce Development paid out more than $909,000 in unemployment benefits that should not have been paid. Mosiman says her office started investigating at the request of the former IWD director.

“She was letting us know about an internal investigation that they were doing regarding improper disbursement issued as a result of fictitious employer scheme carried out between February 2013 and January 2015,” Mosiman says. “Then, while this review was taking place, a separate concern was identified. So, we have two different concerns going on here.”

The second issue involved a telephone system malfunction which occurred on March 8, 2014.

She says first were able to dig deeper into the fake businesses. “We did verify there were a total 20 fictitious employer accounts. And we verified that the total loss for that situation was a little over $97,000,” Mosiman says. Mosiman says the telephone issue came to light in a legislative hearing, and her office found it was a bigger problem that originally thought.

“IWD had identified a total of 448 claimants for a dollar amount of a little over $96,000s. But, once we came in and started our review, we identified an additional 410 claimants for a total of 858 claimants, and a dollar total of a little over $184,000,” Mosiman explains. So the total loss of from the telephone system malfunction was around $723,000.

The State Auditor says her report includes several recommendations for strengthening the controls at IWD and ensuring this doesn’t happen again. “Just knowing that there is this type of situation that can take place, it is very important — not just in Iowa, but in any state — to make sure as things like this are set up that you have things set up to identify potential red flags,” according to Mosiman. Mosiman says federal and state law enforcement has been made aware of the fake businesses which collected the unemployment.

Teresa Wahlert was the director of IWD when the fake companies and the phone issue came up. She retired in January of 2015 after he reappointment to the job looked to be in trouble in the Iowa Senate.

Mosiman’s full report: IWD State Audit PDF


Eaton Corporation laying off 250 in Shenandoah

Eaton Manufacturing

Eaton Manufacturing

Officials at Eaton Corporation announced layoffs at the manufacturing plant in southwest Iowa.

Company officials say 250 positions will be eliminated at its Shenandoah facility as part of a change in manufacturing strategy.

That change involves the elimination of transmission assembly, gear and shaft manufacturing operations, and retaining manufacturing of some components for final assembly of the transmissions.

Employees were notified of the impending layoffs Thursday morning. Approximately 85 positions will be retained to support ongoing operations.

Thursday’s announcement follows on the heels of 71 layoffs in December. Eaton officials stated this latest round is no way a reflection of the hard work of the people in the facility.

(Reporting by Mike Peterson, KMA, Shenandoah)


Fast food workers in Des Moines join national call for an increase in pay

Fast food workers in Des Moines want their pay upped to $15 an hour.

Fast food workers in Des Moines want their pay upped to $15 an hour.

Dozens of fast food workers in Des Moines walked out of their jobs today calling for union rights and pay of 15 bucks an hour.

The protest was timed with the Republican presidential debate in Iowa’s capital city tonight.

Thirty-year-old Wiley King says he’s paid $8 an hour at Wendy’s. “It’s very difficult working for $8 an hour. There are a lot of critical decisions you have to make as far as sacrifices, deciding what’s more important and what has to be done,” King said.

Originally from Milwaukee, King moved to Des Moines as a teenager with his mother and siblings. He’s worked at several fast food restaurants over the past five years. “They say $15 an hour is too high. I don’t believe that because that would just basically be what’s necessary to survive, to pay rent, transportation, education, and things like health insurance,” King said.


Workers protest at a McDonald’s near the state fairgrounds

Simone Davis, who works at a McDonalds, also believes the corporations running fast food franchises could easily afford to pay workers $15.

“These companies…are making billions and just give us $7.25 and we can’t even meet the basic needs of our living situations,” Davis said.

The 19-year-old Davis said she’s worked for three years at fast food restaurants, but has never made more than $7.25 an hour. And, at times, she’s held down three jobs at once.

“Only making $7.25, I can’t afford my own place. I can’t afford to go to college. I have to struggle from check to check and borrow money from people,” Davis said. “I shouldn’t have to do that when I’m working and doing three jobs at time. The workers marched around a McDonald’s near the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines over the noon hour.

The national group “Fight for 15” helped organize the rally — claiming just under half of the people working in Iowa are paid less than $15 an hour. The strike in Des Moines was the third in recent months to coincide with presidential debates.

The Fight for 15 group also organized protests in Milwaukee in November and Charlotte, North Carolina in January.



December unemployment level unchanged

Workforce-Development-signState job numbers show the unemployment for December stayed the same as November at 3.4 percent. Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Courtney Greene, says good weather played a part in the labor situation.

“Due to the mild winter, construction again added about 2,400 jobs and ended the year up 10,000 jobs. This is the highest gain numerically and by percentage — up 12.9 percent for all sectors for the year,” Greene says. The jobs reports says the number of construction jobs in 2016 could drop as a number of big projects come to an end.

Overall, the state averaged 2,100 new jobs each month in 2015. The job gains offset the job loses in the month. “Trade and transportation were down, hampered by a disappointing retail shopping season — losing 2,500 jobs in December,” according to Greene. “Professional and business services and government also saw declines — with loses fueled by administrative support, waste management occupations and early releases of local government workers.”

Overall, fewer Iowans are getting unemployment. “The number of unemployed Iowans fell to 58,300, down 500 from November. The current estimate is 15,300 lower than the year ago level of 73,600,” Greene says. Workforce Development says the state has gained 25,600 jobs compared to last year, which allowed the number of unemployed to steadily drop from January of last year when it was at 4.2 percent.


Minimum wage debate already underway in statehouse

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith.

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith.

Governor Terry Branstad isn’t calling for a hike in Iowa’s minimum wage this year, but he isn’t ruling it out either.

“I’m going to reserve judgement on that as I do on other issues, seeing what form it takes,” Branstad says, “and what kind of impact it would have on the Iowa economy.”

However, it’s unlikely Republicans in the Iowa House will pass a minimum wage hike this year. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, says it’s not something Republicans in the legislature are talking about.

“But we have talked a great deal about making sure we have a trained workforce to fill the jobs that are around the state,” Upmeyer says. “…We need to recruit more folks to Iowa at the same time.”

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown says raising the minimum wage would “ease the burden” on working families.

“Today too many families are working hard with one, two and even three jobs but are still not getting ahead,” Smith says. “Their wages simply aren’t keeping up with the cost of food, medicine and child care.”

Branstad, a Republican, notes that he did sign a bill back in 1990 that raised the state’s minimum wage above the federal rate.

“But I also am cognizant of if you raise the minimum wgae too much you actually destroy jobs and we don’t want to do that,” Branstad says.

Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, predicts Democrats in the Iowa Senate will pass a bill raising the state’s minimum wage.

“The general population feels we need to have a minimum wage increase,” Courtney says.

But Courtney says Branstad’s veto last summer of $56 million legislators set aside for schools makes him doubt Branstad’s serious.

“He’s pretty good at letting us think he’s going to sign something and then not sign it, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that again,” Courtney says, “but if he wants to tell Iowans that $14,000 a year is enough to raise a family on, then he can tell them that.”

Iowa’s minimum wage is currently the same as the federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour. Last year Democrats in the Iowa Senate voted to raise it by a dollar an hour, but the bill stalled in the Republican-led Iowa House.

Neither Branstad nor legislators appear interested in barring Johnson County from enacting a minimum wage rate that’s higher than the state’s.

Iowa Business Council report shows concern for lack of skilled workers


The top concerns among the CEOs of the state’s largest businesses haven’t changed much in the new year. Elliott Smith is executive director of the Iowa Business Council (IBC).

“Business leaders in the state really continue to be concerned about workforce issues and the availability of the quality, skilled employees that they need,” Smith said.

The IBC has released its annual review of the state’s economic climate — what the group calls the Iowa Competitiveness Index. Smith says the “report card” shows business leaders are struggling to find qualified workers in order to expand their operations or replace employees who are retiring.

Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith

“It’s been an ongoing issue for a number of years now and it’s a real issue that continues to be on a challenge list for corporate executives, recruiters, and economic development officials,” Smith said. “I think that’s the overriding key priority out of the 2016 Competitiveness Index.”

This is the sixth year the IBC has compiled the Index, which examines data in five areas deemed important to the state’s prosperity; economic growth, education and workforce readiness, governance and fiscal matters, and health and well-being.

The index is released just prior to the start of the legislative session. The IBC is pushing state lawmakers to find ways to constrain “explosive” Medicaid costs. “A lot of that is driven by efficient and effective delivery of services,” Smith said. “A lot of that is also based on better disease prevention and management through addressing all the growing chronic disease conditions in the state and things like obesity and smoking.”

In addition to the top executives of the largest businesses in the state, the Iowa Business Council is comprised of the three Regent university presidents, and the president of the Iowa Banking Association. Learn more about the IBC’s 2016 Iowa Competitiveness Index at: iowabusinesscouncil.org