July 29, 2014

Governor says IWD team will help Cherokee Tyson workers

Governor Terry Branstad says the state is responding after learning of Tyson’s decision to close its plant in Cherokee. “Workforce Development will send a team up there to work with the community. Obviously this is a disappointment, as I understand it, this is a chicken processing facility owned by Tyson and one of three they are closing throughout the nation,” Branstad says.

The plant employees 450 people and will close on September 27th. “We want to do all we can to try and help the workers who are gonna be displaced and to try to help the community to try to find new employment opportunities for them,” Branstad says.

He says Workforce Development has a variety of options for those who will lose their jobs. “Looking at retraining and other placement opportunities,” Branstad says, “but also, Economic Development will be actively marketing looking for businesses to replace the one that’s being lost.”

A prepared statement released by Tyson says the Cherokee plant is being closed along with one in New York and another in New Mexico. The statement said the plans “have been struggling financially” and “it no longer makes business sense to keep them open.”


Advocates press for another extension of unemployment benefits

A key labor group and two liberal advocacy groups organized a news conference today featuring an Iowan who lost his job three years ago. The groups hope by highlighting the plight of Bob Shultis, they’ll be able to increase public pressure on congress to again extend the number of weeks laid off workers can receive unemployment benefits.

Shultis was laid off in June 2011 from Clipper Wind Power in Cedar Rapids and he finally found a full-time job for roughly the same kind of salary this April.

“I applied for more than 200 jobs during that period,” he said. “No satisfactory offers. I did have jobs during those times. I did not turn down work, but the jobs were not good fits for my skill sets and also didn’t compensate me sufficiently to be able to support my family.”

Shultis said it was “degrading” to have to make a claim for unemployment benefits, but he disputes those who say extending the number of weeks out-of-work Americans can get unemployment checks will encourage those Americans to stay out of the workforce.

“The unemployment wasn’t even enough to make our house payment, let along provide food, clothing, medical care,” Shultis said. “That all came from my savings and thank God I invested well or we wouldn’t have made it. We would have been out on the street and homeless, there’s no doubt.”

Shultis was among those who were cut off from unemployment at the beginning of the year when congress failed to keep extended unemployment benefits in place. In 2008, Congress voted to make checks available for up to 99 weeks. Last year, lawmakers cut that to 73 weeks and then on January 1st unemployed workers became eligible for 26 weeks of benefits. Advocates for extending unemployment benefits are holding events across the country every Wednesday to call attention to the issue.

State economic development officials use nostalgia as part of their pitch


A Viewmaster used to promote Iowa.

New versions of vintage toys from the 1950s and ’60s are helping to prod business leaders around the nation into building their next facility in Iowa.

Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority, says about 2,500 key corporate leaders across the U.S. are receiving green-and-white care packages from the Hawkeye State.

“We have a targeted list of prospects that we’re going out to,” Hoffman says. “One of the things that we’ve done is to send them things that are kind of different, that they’ll keep on their desk and will put Iowa at the top of their mind when they are considering their next business expansion or relocation project.”

One of the incentive gifts is a rebranded Viewmaster. It resembles a pair of binoculars but instead of being used to see far-away objects, several color photos of Iowa are pre-loaded in the devices.

“We have included with them one disc and there are about eight pictures,” Hoffman says. “It talks about everything from quality of life to business climate to commute times, all of those things that are important when you’re looking at a new business location.”

While stereo-scopes were around decades earlier, the Viewmaster became a very popular toy starting in 1966, so there’s a clear, nostalgic appeal to business leaders who are in the Baby Boomer Generation.

“We also have done the Magic Eight Ball,” Hoffman says. “That’s a pretty cool thing. When you ask the Eight Ball a question, the answer always comes up, ‘Iowa.’ There are several different specific answers but ultimately, it’s always Iowa.”

Each device costs about $15 but Hoffman says it’s worth the price. Since January of 2011, she says the office has been working with projects that will result in more than $9 billion in capital investment in Iowa.


Lawyer says Supreme Court ruling in state descrimination case has some positives

The Iowa Supreme Court upheld a Polk County District Court ruling that determined the State of Iowa did not discriminate against African-Americans in their hiring and promotion practices. Attorney Tom Newkirk had argued in the class action suit that the mostly white managers had an implicit bias against African-Americans.

Newkirk says he is not surprised by the Supreme Court ruling, but says the justices did not totally overlook his arguments. “But it was also surprising and mildly heartwarming to see the court in a unified way express how Iowa law is different, how it is going its own way from the federal system to some extent, and how the court has acknowledge not only the risk of implicit and subconscious forms of bias in our society, but also the role that they may play in generating inequality in our system,” Newkirk says.

The Supreme Court acknowledged discrimination may have occurred, but said the arguments didn’t convince the court it was widespread throughout 37 departments in the state. The ruling did indicate the court may be sympathetic to implicit bias cases in the future. “It’s funny when you read an opinion like this you think, ‘well maybe the lawyers should have taken a different tactic is that what they are telling them?’,” Newkirk says. “But I think that the answer is, noone would have predicted not even myself, that the court would be suggesting that Iowa may go the way of what’s called maybe a negligence theory,” Newkirk says.

The case was first brought in 2007. Newkirk doesn’t believe anything has changed in the years the lawsuit has been making its way through the court system. “I would say almost without fear of contradiction — that other than platitudes and that state saying it is been making continual improvements — that there have been zero substantive changes to how the state runs its hiring and promotion system from the time we exposed this problem to them, to the present day,” according the Newkirk.

He says the Supreme Court ruling suggests the state remains open to more legal action. “Unless they want some other law firm coming in and applying some new theory to it, they need to get on the stick and get it fixed,” Newkirk says. “We’ve offered to help them for the last seven years to get it fixed, but they have continued to ignore us. And I am fearful that they will continue to do so.”

Iowa Solicitor General Jeff Thompson says since the suit was filed, Iowa has worked to make hiring more objective. “Justice Waterman points out that some of the statistics raise questions. We’re aware of that, we’ve been working on that, and we’ve been actively perusing improvements in the hiring process to address those issues,” Thompson says. There are 29 named class members in the lawsuit and as many as 6,000 members involving over 20-thousand employment applications going back to 2003.


State unemployment rate holds steady in June

Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, says the June unemployment rate held steady at 4.4 percent. “This is compared to 4.8 a year ago, and the national rate is standing at 6.1 percent, so the Iowa is still significantly below that,” Koonce says.

Koonce says college graduates out looking for jobs impacts the market at this time of year. “They might not be employed yet, so they’re part of our labor force but they can also increase our unemployment numbers,” Koonce says. “So the overall labor force increased, but so did the number of people that were unemployed, that causes our rate to hold steady.”

Koonce says there were gains. “We did actually add 31-hundred jobs to the economy for the month. Most of those being in the government sector at the local level,” Koonce says. Workforce Development figures show a gain of 10,800 jobs in the last three months.

There were some loses in June. “The education and health services category took about a 17-hundred drop,” Koonce says. She says most of that is from private schools and colleges going into their summer breaks.

The total number of working Iowans increased to 1,624,600 in June, up 500 from May, and 32,100 higher than one year ago.


King seeks end to prevailing wage rule on federal contracts

Republican Congressman Steve King says it’s time to do away with a federal requirement the “prevailing wage” be paid to employees working on construction projects that are financed with federal funds.

“When you have a relationship between two people and they agree to a wage scale, that’s all that should be required here,” King says. “Instead, this federal minimum wage scale sets a union scale. It’s not prevailing wage. It’s union scale.”

A federal agency calculates the prevailing wage for laborers, electricians and other construction tradesmen in areas of the country. King argues the requirement inflates the cost of federally-financed construction projects, like highways.

“I started a construction company in 1975. We almost immediately had to deal with the federal government coming in and saying: ‘On this side of the road you shall pay your shovel operator this and on the other side of the road you shall pay him something that might be half again more than that and the guy that’s with the grease gun gets this and the one that runs the excavator gets that,’” King says. “The federal government micromanaging and disrupting the efficiencies in our construction companies results in far higher costs for our construction projects.”

The prevailing wage requirement is for any federally-funded construction contract worth two-thousand dollars or more. King made his remarks on the House floor this past week as he proposed an amendment which would have repealed the prevailing wage requirement. King’s amendment failed on a 181-239 vote.

Trucking industry looking for drivers

The Iowa Motor Trucking Association has created a jobs website to try and help members fill some of the thousands of open positions in the industry. IMTA president, Brenda Neville, says it’s always been difficult to find drivers but now companies are seeing faster decline as drivers retire. “Frankly we have more drivers exiting the industry than we have entering the industry,” Neville says. “We have a very complex regulatory environment that is prompting some people to leave the industry. So it’s really just a supply and demand issue.”

Neville says it’s difficult to recruit young people as most trucking companies won’t hire drivers younger than 21 because insurance companies have strict parameters on age. “There are kids that are 17, 18 years old and specifically the rural parts of Iowa that have driven trucks, they’re farm boys. And what’s happening is that we lose them because between the age 18 and 21 they find another occupation or another career that is maybe a little bit more desirable,” Neville says.

She says regulations limiting how many hours someone can drive also keeps companies from hiring younger people. Neville says the average yearly salary for a truck driver in Iowa is between 45 and $50,000. IMTA launched the website www.IATruckingJobs.com on July 1st and already has more than 100 job listings.