Guest post from Matt Chapman on the workers compensation and minimum wage preemption bills that passed the Iowa Senate this week.
At this point I don’t even see these as separate bills. They are all running together in a nightmare for the working class folks. No raise for the working poor. Busting unions in the public sector. Taking negotiating rights away. And if you get hurt while working, well that got cut some too. Unemployment is also in their sights. It was in committee on Thursday so there is still some way to attack workers.
We shouldn’t think that these bills were passed at night due to shame. The presence of shame does not seem to exist in the majority Republican Party that is running both legislative chambers in Iowa. Or in the governor’s seat.
I also am not going to talk about the amendment or bill numbers because this is and isn’t about numbers. The numbers I want to talk about are the numbers that the shareholders are enjoying. The numbers on Wall Street keep going up and up. They’re keepin’ on the sunny side of the street. The sky’s the limit on Wall Street.
But one set of numbers they look at isn’t a number at all: hard working folks. Productivity has risen and they keep giving and giving and not getting their piece of the American dream. Because it never is enough.
I was at the meeting in the lobbyist lounge about the preemption bill when I heard from the National Restaurant Association what an inconvenience it would be for them if we let local government, cities and counties set their own minimum wage. And I heard quite a few comments from clergy about how we needed to lift these people up. But those pleas fell on deaf ears. The National Restaurant Association was told that, with all due respect, until they had to work one thirty-hour-a-week job and then cross the street to go to their other thirty-hour-a-week job just to get their family by, they had no idea what being inconvenienced is.
Amazing. Inconvenient. I think that what they really don’t want to inconvenience themselves with is to look at these people in poverty as human beings. Look at them as the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and as a whole family. It can be very inconvenient to have empathy for these folks so we just put numbers in columns and figure out how to use slash-and-burn tactics to squeeze out every cent of productivity. And if they get hurt, well I guess they are sorry to inconvenience you. But we just passed a bill on that as well.
When they denied the exemption of veterans in the workman’s compensation legislation it was brought to Republicans’ attention by Senator Tony Bisignano that they show up at every parade. They show up at every Fourth of July celebration. If a flag or the pledge of allegiance is playing at a political event, they are hand on heart. But where are the Republicans when the veterans need their vote? They are on the other side of that street shouting about personal responsibility in the very game they have a hand in on rigging. No need to look further than their votes this session for confirmation.
When they denied the exemption of public safety workers in the workman’s compensation benefits, Senator Nate Boulton pointed out that Republicans had supported this in collective bargaining. These are men and women who put their life on the line protecting the citizens of Iowa. They are walking around, even in the State Capitol, with a bullseye on them, and after Governor Branstad signs this bill on workman’s compensation if you do get targeted, well, sorry.
Profitability is a little sluggish and somebody’s got to make up the slack. And ask any peace officer what they think of our recent gun legislation. I do every time I see one and – on second thought – if you are a legislator who supports the gun omnibus you might not want to. Just a heads up, they are not happy about it.
Senator Mark Chelgren spoke of how Ottumwa opted out of Wapello County’s minimum wage raise because it would be a hardship on business. Or maybe he meant an inconvenience. He also spoke about how the Democrats never brought up the issue of minimum wage. He was corrected on that charge. It was commented that maybe he missed that day. And here’s some statistics for Senator Chelgren on Wapello County and Ottumwa that he thinks is doing just fine:
15.5 % of Wapello County lives in poverty (IA Legislative services)
Wapello County and Des Moines county are tied for top SNAP beneficiaries in Iowa (Iowa Policy Project)
Wapello County is tied for 4th in Iowa in unemployment at 5.8% (IA Legislative services)
16 – 20 % of people in Wapello County are on food stamps (IA Legislative services)
Wapello County is 2nd in Medicaid recipients in Iowa at 16.4% (IA Legislative services)
Senator Chelgren did comment that he was interested in raising the cap on poverty levels to access public aid programs, and I have no problem commending him on that. Poor folks would be appreciative for that help as well as an increase to the minimum wage. The issue with the preemption bill keeping the minimum wage uniform was fixed in that bill.
When Senator Randy Feenstra started his final comments on Senator Bisignano’s amendment he quickly mumbled “and I urge my colleagues to resist this amendment” (removing the preemption of wage language).
When the chair was going to recognize Senator Bisignano for final remarks on his amendment, Senator Rob Hogg wasn’t having it.
“Senator Feenstra is that all you have to say?” Hogg asked. “To the tens of thousands of Iowan?”
“You’re gonna say local Government can’t make employers pay just a little bit?” he continued. “Linn County, Polk County, Wapello County, Johnson County. Lee County is in the process. They are saying hey. We want to reward work. Work is a good thing. And we want to reward work. We want to attract workers. We want to reduce the burden on taxpayers from all these programs.”
That sums it up. Senator Hogg laid it out not in final comments but at a point when this cruelty could have been stopped while the prohibition on local control to outlaw plastic grocery bags could have been left in tact. Because priorities. The iron heel is on the neck of Iowa workers and it’s about enough.
by Matt Chapman