Abby Finkenauer has fought against the practice of evading federal wage protections for workers since she was a member of the Iowa Legislature. Now she has taken her efforts to Congress and secured provisions in House Democrats’ multi-faceted infrastructure package.
“I’ve been fighting since I came to Congress to get Iowa’s infrastructure priorities on the agenda,” Finkenauer said in a statement. “This bill is a major step in that direction.”
The INVEST in America Act, unveiled last week, includes the Eastern Iowa congresswoman’s “Stop Swaps, Protect Local Jobs Act” in addition to increased funding for bridges in rural communities and small towns, and provisions to make it easier for rural areas to access federal money for infrastructure projects.
The INVEST in America Act includes critical protections & investments for #IA01:
➡️ Buy-America & good wage provisions for building projects
➡️ $3.5 billion to rebuild Iowa’s roads & bridges
➡️ $337 million to support Iowa transit systems
Read more here: https://t.co/JcOqnVjmyv
— Abby Finkenauer (@RepFinkenauer) June 8, 2020
“By fixing bridges, funding transit, protecting local wages, strengthening Buy American provisions, and helping recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, this package will provide immediate economic benefits to our communities and infrastructure improvements to last for generations,” Finkenauer said.
Putting an end to federal “fund-swapping” has been a priority for Finkenauer since Republicans in the Iowa Legislature passed a bill in 2017 to allow the practice.
Finkenauer’s new Stop Swaps, Protect Local Jobs Act ensures state and local infrastructure projects use American-made materials, hire local laborers and guarantees wage protections. Fund-swapping, which was signed into law in Iowa three years ago, allows state and local governments to skirt federal wage and American-made requirements by moving all the federal dollars into some road projects and excluding them from others, swapping in local and state funds for those. That way, projects without any federal funding lets the state avoid federal requirements for higher wages.
In practice, Finkenauer argues fund-swapping allows governments to use lower quality materials on infrastructure projects and pay workers less.
Finkenauer’s Republican opponent in the 1st Congressional District, state Rep. Ashley Hinson, voted in favor of Iowa’s fund-swapping bill as a member of the Iowa House. She also voted to dramatically scale back the state’s collective bargaining law and supported legislation to reduce workers’ compensation benefits.
“After racking up a reckless, anti-worker record in Des Moines, Ashley Hinson has proven that she would be a rubber stamp on Washington Republicans’ agenda of lower wages and higher health insurance costs in Congress,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement. “Meanwhile, Abby Finkenauer has built a strong track record of fighting for working families like her own.”
In 2019, Finkenauer’s first year in Congress, she worked with the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to open a Government Accountability Office investigation into federal fund-swapping. The investigation still is in progress.
“Congress has enacted rules (Davis-Bacon, Buy American, etc.) for federal transportation funding in order to ensure that workers are paid a living wage and our infrastructure is built with high-quality American materials,” Finkenauer wrote in a July 2019 letter to the GAO. “We are concerned that federal fund swapping programs reduce the number of transportation projects bound to such standards. As such, this is of particular concern in states, such as Iowa, where wage or domestic content laws are not as strong as those of the federal government.”
During a press conference announcing the GAO investigation, Finkenauer pointed to her position as vice chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee as a role giving Iowans “a literal seat at the table as we advocate for more investments in our communities, but also the jobs that those investments sustain.”
“We need to make sure that any federal investments in our infrastructure come with strong prevailing wage and Buy American requirements,” Finkenauer said.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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