There are state legislators who have fought hard for the working class and union workers in Iowa.
And there are legislators who actively work to keep workers down—by passing legislation restricting collective bargaining rights, cutting into unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, and refusing to consider a raise in the abysmally low minimum wage.
Mostly, Iowa union organizers said the bad legislation that’s come out of the state since 2017 has been the work of one party that is increasingly hostile to workers’ rights.
“Gov. (Kim) Reynolds and the Republican legislature don’t value workers, and instead would trade their rights and basic protections for corporate profit,” said Ryan Drew, an organizer with Quad Cities-based Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. “In contrast, what’s at stake in Iowa this election is a chance to try and get back some of the things workers have lost over the last 5 years under Republican control.”
That means taking all that energy you get on the picket lines at places like Ingredion in Cedar Rapids and Case-New Holland in Burlington and putting it into voting for candidates who have your back.
“There are a lot of people fighting back right now, but it doesn’t necessarily, in this state, translate into fighting back at the polls,” said Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO. “That’s what this labor movement needs to do, is take this energy it has fighting back against the company and fight back against the people that enable them.”
But how do you know which officials have been working-class heroes and which ones have been more of an antagonist? We asked those who are fighting in the trenches.
Sen. Jake Chapman has an ‘anti-worker’ record
The Republican from Adel was first elected in 2012 and is now president of the Iowa Senate, making him the perfect target for the anti-worker bills coming out of that chamber.
But you may know Chapman better for making inflammatory remarks, such as when he said teachers had a “sinister agenda” and put forth a bill that would have jailed teachers for assigning students to read books the GOP deems obscene.
“With the amount of hate Jake Chapman has, I don’t think he brings value to either side of the debate,” Wishman said.
That bill wasn’t a one-off: Chapman’s list of ridiculous and unproductive state bills is so long, it’s deserving of more than fits into a Top 10. And none of those bills attempted to help working Iowans facing a multitude of more important issues.
“Just look at his anti-worker voting record, starting with the gutting of Chapter 20 public sector bargaining rights,” said Mike Weckman, business manager at Des Moines-based Laborers Local 177. “Jake is wrong for the working class in Iowa.”
In contrast, Chapman’s opponent is Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, who sponsored legislation supporting paid family leave and has been endorsed by seven different labor unions.
“Too many in our Iowa State Senate fall back on the myth that people are just not working hard enough,” Trone Garriott said. “The real problem is that our economy is not working for the people.”
Iowa Republicans tied to Reynolds’ anti-union agenda
Chapman’s antics aside, it’s difficult to stand up for workers’ rights in the Iowa GOP these days—and those who do can be punished for it. (See: Reynolds successfully endorsing non-incumbent Republicans running against sitting legislators who refused to vote for her school voucher bill.)
So perhaps it’s no surprise that Republicans who remain in office either agree or fall in line with Reynolds’ pro-corporate agenda.
“I do very rarely side with Republican views on issues concerning the working class,” said Luis Marmolejo, apprenticeship coordinator for Northeast Iowa Iron Workers Local 89.
Most of the unions’ animus toward the state GOP comes from the anti-union bills passed beginning in 2017, which they contend are anti-worker.
“One cannot be pro-worker and anti-union at the same time,” said Rick Moyle, executive director of the Hawkeye Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Without unions, every worker suffers losses.”
Instead, Drew says Republicans convince voters to forget about that, distracting them with cultural issues as they gut workers’ rights.
“With unions now at just over 70% favorability rating among the public because of the value they bring to workers, it amazes me Gov. Reynolds and the Republican Party still attack union workers every opportunity they can,” said Drew. “They are running on a record of deceiving facts in hopes the average worker forgets about what they have done the last 5 years to workers.”
Most Democrats support ‘working family issues’
Save for Charlie McClintock, an Alburnett Republican “who actively attended labor events,” the list of candidates endorsed by Hawkeye Area Labor Council (HALC) this election is very blue.
“Contrary to belief, we are nonpartisan and follow policy, not party,” Moyle said.
Nevertheless, he said, “Historically, one party has better supported working family issues in the state of Iowa,” meaning Iowa Democrats. All candidates must receive two-thirds approval from HALC’s delegation.
Candidates getting the nod for Iowa Senate in HALC’s 26-county area in eastern Iowa:
- Liz Bennett
- Molly Donahue
- Kevin Kinney
- Charlie McClintock
- Whitney Mixdorf
- Todd Taylor
- Zach Wahls
- Janice Weiner
“People like Zach Wahls … He’s been a champion,” said Weckman.
Those endorsed by HALC for Iowa House:
- Jerome Amos Jr.
- Timi Brown-Powers
- Sue Cahill
- Jeff Cooling
- Tracy Ehlert
- Carissa Froyum
- Eric Gjerde
- Dave Jacoby
- Bob Kressig
- Ellinor Levin
- Terry McGovern
- Kris Nall
- Amy Nielsen
- Sami Scheetz
- Sarah Smith
- Art Staed
- Sharon Steckman
- Elizabeth Wilson
- Kate Wyatt
- Sara Yedlik
“We focus on working family issues and pay attention to voting records of incumbents,” Moyle added.
Outside of eastern Iowa, Weckman also touted Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, noting “she’s been great” on the issues.
“There are a lot of candidates running … that are focusing their entire legislative races around worker rights,” Weckman said.
That makes it easy for voters to tell if politicians are siding with workers, or the corporate bosses raking in massive profits and benefitting from tax cuts at workers’ expense.
“What’s at stake in Iowa this election is a chance to try and get back some of the things workers have lost over the last five years under Republican control,” Drew said.
By Amie Rivers
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