July 3, 2015

Strong hint AFSCME will sue governor over MHI closures

AFSCMEE president Danny Homan. (file photo)

AFSCMEE president Danny Homan. (file photo)

The head of the union that represents the largest share of state employees is in southwest Iowa today meeting with workers who’re being laid off from the state-run Mental Health Institute in Clarinda. AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan said his message to the 53 employees serving their last two days is simple.

“I’m very sorry the governor has decided to take this action. I believe not only has he violated the collective bargaining agreement by his actions of laying everyone off effective at the end of the day June 30, but I also believe he is violation of a state law,” Homan said. “And we will take the appropriate action and attempt to fix this situation.”

That’s the strongest hint yet that Homan’s union will be part of a lawsuit challenging the governor’s call to shut-down Clarinda’s Mental Health Institute, as well as the one in Mount Pleasant. Homan says this situation is different than the one his union faced in Toledo with the shutdown of the Iowa Juvenile Home. AFSCME filed a lawsuit in that case that went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, but the court did not rule in the union’s favor and order that the home be reopened.

“I believe what the Supreme Court said is the issue was moot because there was no funding appropriated for the Toledo Juvenile Home,” Homan said. “That’s not the case here. Funding has been approved by the Iowa Legislature for both the Clarinda and the Mount Pleasant MHI’s. I believe that is, I hope that is a significant enough difference to where the outcome will be different if in fact this gets in front of the Supreme Court again.”

Homan said despite the disruption to the affected workers and the economic hit to Clarinda, the real losers in this case are the patients.

“The real losers in this process are the citizens of the state of Iowa,” Homan said, “the citizens of southwestern Iowa who no longer have a facility to take someone who is having a chronic episode of a mental health issue.”

Homan said Iowa lags behind other states in mental health care options and the absence of replacement community based services will only worsen the situation. Clarinda’s MHI has offered care to elderly patients with a mental illness who are too frail or violent to be cared for in a private facility, like a nursing home. Mount Pleasant’s MHI has had a residential treatment program for patients with the dual diagnosis of a mental illness and a substance abuse problem.

(Reporting by Chuck Morris, KMA, Shenandoah)

Survey finds vacationers not leaving work behind

JetlinerAs Iowans head off on their summer vacations, more of them are taking their work along for the trip.

A survey by the staffing service Robert Half International shows 68 percent of people on vacation still check in with the office or do work online. Mike Gremmer , regional vice president for Robert Half in Des Moines, says that number took a big bounce since the last survey in 2012.

“It’s up 20% so that’s up what I would consider substantially,” Gremmer says. Today’s electronic gadgets are making it harder and harder to unplug, even if the boss isn’t demanding you stay in close touch. “Definitely the advancements in technology and on-demand access to financial information is making it so much easier and tempting,” Gremmer says. “As far as how much is self-inflicted versus the boss, I think a lot of it is self-inflicted, to be honest with you.”

He says workers sometimes feel obligated to check in with the office because their boss set that trend. Supervisors should reverse that habit, if possible. “There’s a way you can do that by setting the expectations with your team members and then sticking to it,” Gremmer says. “It also gives one some work-life balance. It shows your team that if you’re leading by example and if you’re doing it, then they will do it as well.”

Gremmer says everyone needs to recharge their own personal batteries while on vacation, and not the ones on their smart phone, laptop or tablet.


Unemployment rate holds steady in May

Workforce-DevelopmentIowa’s unemployment rate in May stood at 3.8 percent, unchanged from April. Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson Ed Wallace says the state’s jobless rate was 4.4 percent one year ago.

“Right now, Iowa’s total employment is almost 20,000 more than last year,” Wallace said. Iowa’s manufacturing sector trimmed 3,200 jobs in April, but added 1,700 jobs in May. “We are seeing a big rebound in manufacturing as durable goods orders are up,” Wallace said. Financial services added 900 jobs in May following declines in March and April, while professional and business services added 700 jobs.

Leisure and hospitality added 400 jobs and Wallace credits gas prices. “More Iowans have discretionary income in their pockets as the result of lower fuel prices,” Wallace said. In April, the total number of working Iowans increased to a record 1,647,700. There was a slight decrease in that number in May.

“The total number of Iowans employed (in May) was 1,645,800,” Wallace said. “The number of unemployed Iowans was 64,700.” The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 5.5 percent in May from 5.4 percent in April.


Sergeant Bluff call center expanding, adding 400 jobs

Barry Belcher

Barry Belcher

A company which operates a call center at the Pioneer Mall in Sergeant Bluff is expanding and adding 400 new jobs.

Barry Belcher is the site director of the Convegys facility. “We’re really excited, we recently entered into a partnership with a leading national wireless provider, and as a result of that partnership, we’ll be increasing the team here,” Belcher says. He says they have 80 people already in training at the facility and they hope to fill the rest of the jobs by the end of the year.

“It’s inbound customer support — taking care of our wireless customers — and then along with that we need staff and leadership to help manage the business,” Belcher says. “We’ll have about 350 of those positions will be entry-level positions, taking care of customers, and the rest of the positions will make up our training and our leadership and our staff positions.”

Sergeant Bluff Mayor Jon Winkel help found the facility when it was owned by Long Lines Wireless. He says there are a lot of employees left from the original company, but he says it is also like having new life breathed into it with the expansion. Winkel says both Sergeant Bluff and the Siouxland area will benefit from the expansion.

(Reporting by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)


Manpower survey shows strong job market in Iowa

logo_manpowerIowa has one of the strongest job markets in the country according to the latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. Manpower spokesperson Karen Miller says 96 percent of the state’s employers that were surveyed plan to hire more employees or maintain their current workforce levels between July and September.

“We’ve got 30 percent of the employers around the state that were surveyed saying they’ll be adding (employees),” Miller said. “Only 3 percent said they would be decreasing staffing levels.”

The fact that so many employers intend to hire more workers means companies will face a lot of competition for top talent. “If they’re going to be hunting and trying to find the right talent to fill their open opportunities, they’re going to have to get aggressive,” Miller said. “They’re going to have to make sure they’re competitive with their salaries and benefit offerings.”

In addition, Miller suggests employers consider hiring candidates with “transferable skills” who can be taught to fill needs within the company. The 30 percent of Iowa employers who plan to add workers over the third quarter of 2015 compares to 22 percent in the survey conducted one year ago. Iowa, North Dakota, Michigan and Virginia were the top four performing states in the latest Manpower survey.


Some progress, but much work remains as 2015 legislative session winds down

CapitolLegislators have spent much of their day so far in small huddles, trying to hammer out final deals on a host of issues – with the hope of concluding the 2015 legislative session tonight.

By mid-afternoon, the House and Senate had approved one budget bill that outlines spending for the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Workforce Development. Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said it’s a start.

“We did add a wage theft investigator — one — so that’s a 33 percent increase, so that’s something to be excited about,” Running-Marquardt said. “We’re still woefully short in that area.”

Separate legislation to increase the penalties on businesses that commit wage theft stalled and is not on the legislature’s “to do” list this week.

Republican Senators are meeting privately at this hour to review a budget bill that outlines spending for various administrative agencies in state government, as well as the governor’s office. Legislators have decided not to give the governor any more money to operate his statehouse office. The governor had asked for a six-figure increase, so he could hire another person to work on his communications staff.

State unemployment drops below 4%

Workforce-DevelopmentA record number of Iowans were working last month, according to a new report from Iowa Workforce Development. IWD spokesman Ed Wallace says the state’s jobless rate in April dropped to 3.8-percent, down from 4-percent in March.

“This is the lowest Iowa unemployment rate in 7 years,” Wallace said. The total number of working Iowans increased to 1,647,700 in April. That’s 600 higher than March and 23,700 higher than one year ago.

“We’ve got more Iowans working today than we have ever,” Wallace said. The dip in Iowa’s unemployment rate in April occurred despite the loss of 1,700 jobs in nonfarm employment. “We had a number of nonfarm job losses, but they were offset by a number of job gains throughout all industry sectors,” Wallace said.

Prior to April, the last drop in nonfarm employment in Iowa occurred in September of 2014. The loss in nonfarm jobs last month was heavily influenced by losses in manufacturing and trade and transportation, according to Wallace. The manufacturing sector trimmed 3,200 jobs in April while trade and transportation shed 1,000 jobs.

“We see durable goods manufacturing leveling out a little bit, however, construction jobs have continued to advance well into the summer season,” Wallace said. The construction sector added 2,400 jobs in April due to strong hiring for highway and infrastructure projects. The IWD report shows 65,500 Iowans were unemployed in April. That’s down from 74,100 one year ago.

While Iowa’s unemployment rate stood at 3.8-percent in April, the national jobless rate dropped to 5.4-percent.