Sen. Amy Klobuchar shared the details of her newly released plan for the future of work Thursday afternoon at the Machinists Union Lodge in Des Moines.
Klobuchar spoke for nearly an hour with a table of Iowans about the new challenges workers and businesses face in a modern globalized economy.
Panelists on the roundtable included Randy Tucker, the membership development coordinator for IBEW Machinists 347; Jenny Foster, Des Moines Area Community College’s dean of industry and technology; and State Rep. Marti Anderson of Des Moines.
“Today, more than 1 in 3 workers are in the gig economy,” said Klobuchar. “And that includes people working as independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers. So, we have to remember we need an economy that works for them.”
Klobuchar laid out her plan to help people save for retirement with the “UP” savings account bill she wrote with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons.
The bill, which is supported by the Service Employees International Union, encourages employers who don’t offer 401k or pension plans to put aside 50 cents an hour for workers’ retirement. It includes provisions for the federal government to help small businesses pay for the added expense.
“In Iowa, nearly 25% of people said they have less than $10,000 saved for retirement and another 18% have nothing at all,” Klobuchar said. “So think about that.”
The bill also allows workers to take out the first $2,500 in an emergency, since nearly half of all people in the country have indicated they couldn’t pay for a $400 emergency expense.
Klobuchar’s full plan for workers includes a section dedicated to health care. She favors a nonprofit public option that people can buy into.
“That works especially well for workers in the gig economy,” Klobuchar said. “And we have to make sure they get covered as well to get child care, and that they’re able to get paid family leave.”
Her plan for the future of work includes an education pipeline to move students through affordable college paths and into fields that need workers most.
The country is projected to have 74,000 job openings for electricians that can’t be filled in the next 10 years, 100,000 open nursing assistant jobs, and 1 million open jobs for home health care workers.
“You’ve got to look at where those openings are, and it especially matters in a state like Iowa with a low unemployment rate,” Klobuchar said. “You have to figure out how you’re going to fill those jobs.”
She said her administration will incentivize people who take those high-demand jobs by providing two-year college degrees for free, by doubling Pell grants and making it easier to pay back education loans if a student takes a job in an in-demand field.
“All of this is related to making sure we have an economic plan that works for our country,” Klobuchar said.
During the roundtable, Foster spoke about the Last Dollar Scholar program.
Last year, the Iowa Legislature funded the Last Dollar Scholarship to help students who are enrolled in training for in-demand jobs.
The program takes whatever Pell grants and federal money does not cover and makes sure the state covers what’s left.
Foster said about $2 million was awarded to 1,000 DMACC students last year. Statewide, nearly $6 million was given to students in the program’s first semester.
“These are the tool and die [maker], the welding, the diesel mechanics, the auto-mechanics, the robotics and all of the areas that we struggle to fill in the pipeline,” Foster said. “It’s taken away the barrier for students.”
“She’s a leader who stands up for workers on issues like collective bargaining, wages, health and retirement,” Anderson said. “She stands up and leads the push for consumer protection and the protection of our Midwest family farmers.”
Once elected, Klobuchar promised she will go to union halls and make sure union jobs give everyone a high quality of life to raise a family.
“I want to go to our senior centers to make sure our seniors know someone has their back when it comes to long-term care and prescription drugs,” Klobuchar said. “And I want to go to those factories we’ve seen shut down — some of them right here in Iowa — and say you’re not alone, we’re going to invest in your community and not leave you behind.”
By Paige Godden