February 27, 2015

In Iowa, Senator Sanders says U.S. needs ‘fundamental changes’ to help middle class

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is making another campaign-style trip through Iowa, with a book reading in Iowa City Thursday evening and a Friday night speech to members of the Iowa Citizens Action Network, a liberal activist group.

“Yes, of course, I am giving thought to running for president,” Sanders said during an appearance at Drake University earlier today.

With Hillary Clinton rumored to be delaying the official launch of her campaign ’til this summer and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren still saying she’s not running, Sanders is drawing out some Iowa Democratic Party activists who are anxious to begin the next presidential campaign. Iowa Federation of Labor Ken Sagar said the party would be better off with a “competitive primary.”

“Having a primary brings out issues and people I think are connecting more with issues these days than with parties,” said Sagar, who has not publicly endorsed a candidate.

The 73-year-old Sanders, who is the longest-serving independent in congress, is tantalizing many in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing with his call for a “political revolution.”

“I think we need some fundamental changes in public policy so that the government of America begins to represent the middle class and working families and not just the billionaire class,” Sanders said Friday.

But since December Sanders has said he won’t run unless he senses a “grassroots movement” is brewing in all 50 states.

“If I were phenomenally successful in terms of fundraising and got, say, three million Americans to contribute $100 each, that is one-third of the amount of money that the Koch brothers themselves are going to spend,” Sanders said at Drake University Friday.

Sue Dinsdale, the Iowa Citizens Action Network’s executive director, said Sanders appeals to “left-leaning” Democrats who aren’t ready to back Clinton.

“If she does run, we need her to move to the left,” Dinsdale said shortly before Sanders arrived at her group’s event tonight. “We need her not to run as a far-right Democrat. We need someone who will work for the things that we all believe in.”

Chris Schwartz is the Iowa organizer of Americans for Democratic Action and he was even more blunt. Schwartz, who lives in Waterloo, faulted Clinton for failing to embrace the kind of “populist message” he’s hearing from Sanders.

“People have been turned off by what I would consider weak Democrats that are kind of ‘Corporate Lite,'” said Schwartz, who attended tonight’s ICAN event.

Yet a recent “Iowa Poll” conducted for Bloomberg Politics and The Des Moines Register found Clinton was viewed favorably by 84 percent of likely Iowa Caucus goers. Only one-third of those surveyed said they would favor an “anti-establishment” candidate in 2016 and a majority of poll respondents said they didn’t know enough about Sanders to even form an opinion about him.

Sanders plans to spend his Saturday in eastern Iowa, with speeches to two different audiences in Cedar Rapids before a mid-afternoon meeting with Cedar County Democrats at the courthouse in Tipton.

State approves funds for businesses in Clear Lake and 5 other cities

IEDA-signThe San Francisco based company that’s building a massive warehouse and distribution center in north-central Iowa will be getting $4.2 million in tax credits and a $170,000 forgivable loan from the State of Iowa.

The identity of the company had been kept a secret until Thursday and this morning, the Iowa Economic Development Authority board awarded McKesson Corporation the state incentives. McKesson is a pharmaceutical drug distributor and the company’s $65 million project in Clear Lake is expected to create 164 jobs.

Chad Schreck, with the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation, says closing the deal is “huge” for Cerro Gordo County – which has experienced a decline in population.

“Anytime you can bring 160 new jobs to an area, that is definitely a strong encouragement to bring new people into a community. That’s the number one thing, but obviously the investment and fiscal impact is huge,” Schreck said. “Ideally, it will bring in new people. We have a low unemployment rate of about 4.4-percent, so there are definitely some people there (to fill the jobs), but we’ll need to bring new people in as well.”

McKesson is ranked 15th on the Fortune 100 list. For over a year, the firm had remained anonymous – even though the company was seeking millions of dollars in loans and rebates from the state, Cerro Gordo County and the City of Clear Lake. Schreck believes, despite the secrecy, most residents supported those officials who were working to lure the company to the area.

“The leadership asked them to trust them and said ‘this is the only way this is going to get done and if we don’t live up to this end of the agreement, they’re gone.’ It’s pretty hard to look people in the eye and say we just lost 164 jobs and $65 million in investment in our community over ultimately what I think was a pretty small matter if you look at the information they did know,” Schreck said.

For the past year, about the only information released about the project was that it involved a Fortune 100 company. The 340,000-square-foot warehouse under construction in Clear Lake should be operational by May 2016. In addition to the project in Clear Lake, the IEDA board today awarded financial assistance and tax benefits to seven other companies around the state planning expansion projects. Those projects — in Dubuque, Burlington, Ankeny, Sioux City, Ottumwa — are expected to create 553 new jobs.

Here’s more information: www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/NewsDetails/6092


Groups rally at the statehouse for an increase in the minimum wage

Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sager speaks at the minimum wage rally.

Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sager speaks at the minimum wage rally.

More than 100 activists are at the statehouse today, urging lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage. Iowa Citizens Action Network executive director Sue Dinsdale led a midday rally.

‘Get out there and talk to your representatives,” Dinsdale said at the close of the event. “Tell ‘em: ‘Come on! $10.10, $8.75, something.'”

Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sager says raising the minimum wage will help drive working Iowans back into the middle class.

“We absolutely need to get behind this effort to push the minimum wage up,” Sager says. “It’s not just for kids. It’s not just to help seniors. It’s to help our economy because these people who get this increase aren’t stashing it in the Cayman Islands. They’re putting it in the community. They’re paying rent. They’re paying bills. They’re being contributing members of our society.”

A subcommittee in the Iowa Senate has signed off on the idea of raising the state minimum wage to $8 an hour on July 1st, and then to $8.75 on July 1st of 2016. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs plans to bring the bill up for a vote in the full Senate. “We’re going to pass that legislation over to the House,” Gronstal says. “We’ve attempted to come up with a bill that’s kind of middle ground, not what they’re talking about at the federal level, so we think it should get bipartisan support and we think it’s time that 250,000 Iowans who’ve seen nothing from the recovery get a piece of the recovery.”

The top Republican in the Iowa House says House members will consider the bill if it clears the senate, but it is not a priority for Republicans. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen says he and his fellow Republicans are focused on ensuring Iowa’s economy is growing and Iowans can earn a wage that will support a family, something he says the minimum wage hike Democrats propose won’t do.

In 2007 Iowa lawmakers voted to phase in an increase in Iowa’s minimum wage and, by 2008, it rose to $7.25 an hour. A year later $7.25 became the national minimum wage.


Accumold adding 200 jobs with expansion in Ankeny

This photo from Accumold's website shows the size and types of parts they company produces.

This photo from Accumold’s website shows the size and types of parts they company produces.

A central Iowa company is expanding with the addition of a 40,000 square foot facility. Accumold president and CEO Roger Hargens says demand is driving the Ankeny company’s expansion.

“We design and build critical components for our customers that go in different devices, whether it’s a medical device, an implantable device, a surgical device or hearing device of any kind. We make those critical components that make their products work,” Hargens explains. “Same in micro electronics for smart devices as well as optical high-speed data communication devices.”

The company has 221 employees and last expanded back in 2010. The latest expansion will create more jobs.”We’re looking at adding at least 200 additional employees over the next three years,” Hargens says. He says they have a variety of jobs that’ll be available. “We’ll be adding production people, tooling people, maintenance people, processing people, quality techs, quality engineers, project engineers, a good cross section — with the majority being in the production environment,” Hargens says.

The new building will cost around $10 million dollars, and Hargens says the cost was quite a bit more this time as the structure is being built to withstand severe weather up to an F-5 tornado. He says the extra cost will ensure there’s not interruption of production. Hargens says their customers are always looking at ways to reduce their risk, and with Accumold being the sole source of components for 95-percent of its customers, this facility ensures they can deliver the parts to the customers.

Hargens says they hope to have the new building ready by early next year. “We will be starting construction as soon as we can here in the spring, and we hope to occupy it by the end of January 2016,” according to Hargens. The company is not waiting for the building to get done to start adding new employees, as they have already hired 18 new employees.

They plan to hold a job fair at the facility in Ankeny on February 21st from 10 A.M. until 2 P.M. to share information on the new jobs. For more information, to to their website at: www.accu-mold.com.


Vice President touts free community college in DMACC visit (audio)

Vice President Joe Biden at DMACC.

Vice President Joe Biden at DMACC.

Vice President Joe Biden praised the programs at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) Thursday following a tour of some of the buildings on the Ankeny campus and talks with students.

Biden, a democrat, touted the president’s proposal to provide two years of free community college, saying just graduating high school is not enough education for the demands of today’s economy.

“The president and I feel strongly that there should be 14 years — if you are willing to pay the price in terms of effort — 14 years of guaranteed free education in America,” Biden says. “But the last two you’ve got to maintain a grade point, you’ve got to go to a community college that actually has a graduation rate that is acceptable, you’ve got to be in a position where there is job placement, and you’ve got to modernize the community colleges.”

Biden says free tuition is only part of the proposal. “A lot of people — even if they have free tuition — can’t come back to community college because of the cost. The cost of housing, the cost of transportation, the cost of child care, so we propose that you still be able to, if you qualify for a Pell Grant, you get free tuition, plus the Pell Grant to allow you to go back,” Biden says.

Ciommunity college, business officials and students listen to the Vice President Biden.

Community college officials, business representatives and students listen to the Vice President Biden.

He says they need to change the mindset about programs like those at DMACC that allow students to learn a trade and get a good paying job.

Some apprentice programs at the school allow students to work part-time and earn as much at $40,000 while working toward a certificate. They then can earn a yearly wage of 70 to $80,000 once the program is complete.

“There’s this thing in both political parties these days, some more than others, where it’s like the only people who are real value-added are those folks who have masters’ degrees and MBA’s. Give me a break, they didn’t build a country, they didn’t build a country,” Biden says. He says projections show the U.S. is going to need people to fill thousands of those types of jobs by 2020, and DMACC is providing the education needed.

DMACC president Rob Denson and Vice President Joe Biden. (L-R)

DMACC president Rob Denson and Vice President Joe Biden. (L-R)

DMACC president Rob Denson thanked Biden for his support. “Mr. Vice President, what every American wants is a good job. What every American needs is hope,” Denson says. Denson says community colleges are up to the challenge. “More that 60-percent of all the jobs that are going to be needed will take more than a high school degree, but no more than a two-year degree,” Denson says. Biden responded, “Right.” “That’s right in our wheelhouse,” Denson says. “As I always say, I never say that the Iowa community college system is the best, but there’s none any better.” That comment drew laughs from the group.

Biden also heard from business leaders who say they now work with the community college to tell them what they need in workers instead of just taking what the college gives them. It was the Vice President’s second stop during the visit, after speaking at Drake University in Des Moines earlier in the day.

Audio: Biden discussion at DMACC 1:02.

Moral Mondays IOWA launches with roundtable discussion on education

A coalition of groups launched their “Moral Mondays IOWA” effort today.

About a dozen activists from groups like the Iowa Citizen Action Network and the Iowa Federation of Labor gathered in a statehouse meeting room over the lunch hour to discuss the legislature’s debate over public school financing. Connie Ryan Terrell of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa helped coordinate the meeting.

“It’s a moral issue that we have to be able to fund our schools at an adequate level,” she said.

Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, told the group that with 41 percent of the state’s children living at or below the poverty level, adequately supporting public schools is crucial to the state’s future.

“Poverty is one of those social issues that is directly related to student performance,” Winckler said.

“Moral Mondays IOWA” was inspired by weekly protests held in North Carolina to call attention to issues like income inequality and voting rights. For the past three years thousands have gathered on Mondays outside the capital in Raleigh to voice their opposition to laws passed by the Republican-dominated legislature in North Carolina.

Ryan Terrell said the new “Moral Mondays IOWA” effort will involve “progressive organizations” and in coming weeks they’ll highlight issues like domestic violence and criminal sentencing reform.

“How could we not talk about public education first?” she asked. “…It is so critically important.”

The “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina is led by that state’s NAACP and regularly features protests, marches, rallies and sit-ins. The Moral Mondays IOWA group plans instead to hold weekly roundtable discussions with sympathetic legislators to discuss “new, moral and values-driven” bills.

Wage theft victims tell their stories at statehouse

Justin Banks speaks at the news conference.

Justin Banks speaks at the news conference.

Four Iowans who say they’ve been the victims of wage theft testified at the statehouse Tuesday, part of an effort by Senate Democrats to build support for a bill that would require businesses to provide employees with a written record of how they’re to be paid.

Senator Bill Dotzler of Waterloo says he and other Democrats tried to make that state law last year, but Republicans in the House rejected the idea.

“I think that we’re actually encouraging bad actors to steal from Iowans by failing to require this basic paperwork,” Dotzler said during the news conference organized by Senate Democrats.

Valentine Ruiz of Conesville spoke through an interpreter as he talked about his case. State investigators determined he had not been paid for $1200 worth of work, but three years later he still hasn’t gotten a check from the business in West Liberty.

“If this is not theft, then what is theft?” Ruiz asked.

Juan Tristan of Des Moines runs a dry wall business with 30 employees and he said his company didn’t get paid for the last 45 days of work at apartment complex in West Des Moines.

“They told us as soon as you finish the job, you’ll get the full payment,” Tristan said. “…I just don’t supervise, I work myself and we kept working and we finished everything and we went and asked for the paycheck, they said that we don’t have nothing coming.”

Katie Wilson worked as a server at an Appleby’s in Coralville for about six years.

“I was devastated when I found out management was illegally taking my tips…It happened to all of my co-workers,” Wilson said. “Wage theft is an epidemic in the restaurant industry.”

Justin Banks worked as a server at the same restaurant for three years.

“Here in Iowa wage theft is a number one crime because there’s virtually no consequence to the employers who steal from the workers,” Banks said. “…The left and the right need to meet center, because this affects all your constituents.”

The current chairman of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry has said “grandstanding” on the issue of wage theft isn’t productive and legislators should, instead, provide “more resources” so state officials can enforce current laws. Senator Dotzler bristled at that.

“Getting paid for the work that you’ve done so you can feed your family, if they want to call that grandstanding, then I don’t know if they’ve got the same core values that I think most Iowans have,” Dotzler said.

Senator Rick Bertrand, a Republican from Sioux City, sat in the audience at yesterday’s news conference. He agrees with the business group. He said forcing more “paperwork” on every Iowa business isn’t the answer.

“If you have 20 kindergarteners out there and Tommy jumps in a mud puddle, why are we making all 19 (other) kindergarteners the next day show up in boots?” Bertrand asked.

Bertrand plans to introduce legislation that would set up a toll-free number workers could call to report allegations of wage theft.

“Senate Republicans are sensitive to the issue of wage theft,” Bertrand said. “It’s real.”

According to Bertrand, Republicans want to “inject more funds” into the state Workforce Development agency to enforce current law, but he can’t yet say how much money or how many new investigators Republicans would like to hire. Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, is chairman of the Senate Labor Committee where this issue will be debated.

“In some industries, stealing from the paychecks of low-income workers has become a business model,” Bisignano said.

He plans to bring up the bill that would not only require a written record of the terms of employment, it would provide some “whistleblower” protection to Iowans who testify for fellow workers who wage theft victims.