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Iowa Legislature

Are Iowa Republicans Supporting Wage Theft?

Sen. Joe BolkcomWage Theft: Iowa’s Number One Crime

Reprinted with permission from the Prairie Progressive

by Joe Bolkcom

It might seem hard to believe but some Iowa employers are regularly stealing from their employees. It’s a problem in Johnson County and across Iowa. A recent Iowa Policy Project report suggests that unscrupulous Iowa employers are robbing Iowa workers of $600 million annually.

Iowans work hard for every dollar they earn. It should not be stolen from them by their employers. In the fall of 2013, Kossiwa Agbenowossi worked at the Outback Steakhouse in Coralville. She worked hard 7 days a week, scrubbing the dining area, kitchen, and bathroom to support her children. Months and months passed without her being paid for her work.

Thanks to the tenacious organizing work done by the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, Kossiwa finally got paid for the 49 days of work cleaning the now out-of –business steakhouse. After waiting a year and-a-half to be paid, Agbenowossi received the $2,346 an Outback cleaning subcontractor owed her.

This is a classic case of wage theft, when workers aren’t paid the wages they are legally owed. Studies say it’s a growing epidemic in Iowa, and across the country.  The difference in this case is that Kossiwa had the incredible support of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa.  They organized public protests at Outback, and filed complaints on her behalf with the U.S. Department of Labor and Iowa Workforce Development. Most cases of wage theft do not result in the worker getting paid.

Wage theft affects us all. Not only are these employers taking advantage of their employees, they are also not paying withholding taxes, worker compensation, or unemployment insurance. They are cheating the system while good employers
and every taxpayer subsidize this deplorable practice.

Iowa has some of the weakest wage enforcement laws in the country with virtually no penalties or enforcement when cases are reported to Iowa Workforce Development. Until last year the department had just one wage investigator to address concerns of our state’s 1.3 million private sector employees. That’s why last year Iowa Senate Democrats insisted on and got funding to add a second wage investigator.

Iowa Senate Democrats have introduced and approved legislation several times over the past few years to establish better safeguards to ensure Iowans get paid and allow investigators to more easily go after businesses that fail to pay what they owe. The bills called for better record keeping, stronger penalties and retaliation protections for workers.

Unfortunately, these legislative efforts have been stymied due to intense lobby efforts by some of Iowa’s largest and most powerful business associations including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Grocers Association, and the Federation of Iowa Insurers. They have fought the legislation for six years. Moreover, it has no support from Governor Branstad, House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen, or most Republicans. They appear to not care that taxpaying Iowa workers are getting their money stolen from them.

The vast majority of Iowa’s employers is honest and ethical and has nothing to worry about. The legislation simply requires them to provide the terms of employment to their employees in writing and keep a copy on file. This protects both the employer and the worker if there is a disagreement.

It is long past time to protect Iowa workers from the disgraceful practices of some Iowa employers. It’s time to get tough on wage thieves!

To learn more about the problem of wage theft in Iowa, visit

–State Senator Joe Bolkcom
lives in Iowa City.

prairie-dog-logoReprinted with permission from the December 2014 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!!  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

Say Hello To ALEC’s Little Brother, ACCE

just in case legislators forget what to do

just in case legislators forget what to do

Maybe you missed it because there was no birth announcement. The lack of a birth announcement is probably due to the fact that the parents, Charles and David Koch and their corporate concubines don’t want anyone to know. Just like ACCE’s bigger brother, ALEC, ACCE works best behind closed doors and under a rock. ACCE stands for “American City County Exchange.” This will allow the Koch to – shall we say – get involved in your local city councils and county government.

If the Kochs and their lackey congress critters can’t turn the government over to business at the national level, they will work to do so at the state level through their lackey legislatures. And now if they can’t turn government into their personal servant at the national or state level, they now have a new surreptitious organization to corrupt at the local level. If you feel that government is becoming responsive only to those with money, you are right. This is just what the Kochs want. After all they have the money and lots of friends with money.

ALEC and ACCE just completed a session meeting behind closed doors with corporate biggies rubbing elbows with legislators and now supervisors and councillors. Playing kind of a reverse Santa Claus where Santa sits on the knee of the legislators asking for presents. Later there will be campaign donations in a world where campaigns are conducted mostly on the expensive media.

While ALEC seldom announces their want list, we can make some informed guesses. However, the ALEC watchdog group at the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) PR Watch published what they believed to be on this year’s wish list. So from the the CMD, here is an educated forecast for what we may soon see popping up as “model legislation” for legislatures around the country:

Blocking Local Minimum Wage Increases
Citizens in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted overwhelmingly in favor of raising their state’s minimum wage on November 4, as did Republican and Democratic voters in states like Wisconsin, where twenty communities supported advisory referendums in favor of raising the wage.

With such a clear divide between the policies that voters support and those that ALEC corporate interests like the National Restaurant Association (which has been fighting for a $2.13 sub-minimum wage) want legislators to implement, the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force will feature a presentation on “Minimum Wage Preemption Policies.”

ALEC has long pushed bills like the “Living Wage Preemption Act” to block city, county, or local governments from enacting progressive economic initiatives like a higher minimum wage. In light of the renewed grassroots push for fair wage laws, this bill to crush a local government’s ability to increase wages in their community will likely be a top ALEC priority in 2015. (ALEC legislators have also been active in banning local paid sick day efforts, passing 10 laws after Wisconsin’s paid sick days preemption bill was shared at ALEC’s August 2011 meeting).

Local Right to Work

The ACCE meeting will also feature a presentation titled “Local Right to Work: Protect my Paycheck.” ALEC has long pushed anti-union “Right to Work” laws, which allow non-union members to free-ride on union representation, reaping the benefits of union negotiations for wages and benefits but without paying the costs. Michigan’s right to work law, for example, was a word-for-word copy of ALEC’s model legislation and sponsored by ALEC members.

With ACCE, ALEC is now trying to promote this anti-union legislation at the local level.

In September, the Washington Examiner reported that “Conservatives are starting to push the idea that city and county governments can pass union-restricting right-to-work laws, even though it may not be legal and has been tried only a handful of times in the last 70 years.” It is unclear whether local governments have the authority to pass right to work under the Taft-Hartley National Labor Relations Act, but in August the Heritage Foundation issued a report arguing that they do. Heritage hosted a panel discussion on local right to work in August featuring representatives of ACCE, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, and highlighted what they viewed as opportunities for local ordinances in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Those are the two top wishes, but of course business asks for a big package which will also include:

Depriving Low-Wage Workers of Health Insurance

Electronic cigarettes – stopping legislation on vaping nicotine

Protesting “Global Taxes” on Tobacco

Regulating Ride-Share Companies – exempting Uber and Lyft from common carrier laws

Industry-Friendly Dental Bills – moving dental services to less trained “practitioners”

Rigging the Game for Insurers – pretty self explanatory

Free Trade! – again self-explanatory

School Privatization – one of ALEC’s perennials, but once more carving out new areas for business to control. From the article: As one ALEC member told an ALEC education subcommittee earlier this year, “we need to stamp out local control.”

Please go to the link and read the sickening details of how the Kochs and their compadres plan to subvert our government for their business interests.

Don’t Let Iowa Become Another Wisconsin

branstad jobs numbers

Just a short post to remind folks that despite all the press and publicity that the Braley race is getting, there are many lower on the ballot races that really need your votes.

During the last session of the legislature, the Iowa Senate was precariously close to falling into a tie. Since the House was already in Republican hands having the senate in Republican hands or in a tie with a deciding vote to be cast by Republican Lt. Governor would swing all power in the state to Republicans. I believe we can go by what has happened in other states to predict what will happen if that takes place here.

There are a couple of prime examples of what takes place when that happens. One is Wisconsin, where a Scott Walker led takeover signaled harsh policies against unions, an extremely sluggish economy, a veritable war on teachers, unconstitutional voter restrictions, ignoring environmental policies and very special deals for the well connected. Another example is Kansas where Sam Brownback managed to turn a state that was fairly well governed by Kathleen Sebelius into the playground for extreme right wing policies. Results? A government that is totally broke, a school system that is broken and bonds that have been downgraded to just above junk status. In short a true man made disaster.

But Terry Branstad is too nice, too smart to do that in Iowa you say? No he isn’t. He has tried, but that thin edge for Democrats in the Iowa Senate has kept Branstad from being another Walker or Brownback and Iowa from being another experiment at wrecking government with extremist policies. Remember that Branstad is one of the founders of ALEC. ALEC is the group that authors the awful extremist policies that Walker and Brownback (and many others) have pushed into law. The results have been devastating to their states. Branstad is just a couple of votes from joining them.

The smart thing to do is to vote Branstad out. His administration is sloppy, corrupt and incompetent. The jobs increase he claims are much less than Iowa should have gotten just as their share of the recovery in the country. It is also much, much below the promises Branstad made. Jack Hatch would do a much better job just by standing in the way of ALEC legislation without doing anything else. If you listen to Hatch his proposals are quite common sense. He would turn Iowa around. Remember if you vote Branstad in, plan for four years of lawsuits over the corruption during his first administration.

Also vote for Democrats to truly represent you in the legislature. Voting for Republicans is voting for folks who will represent only the richest among us. But you may never realize that since they divert your attention from those votes with talk of pro-life and tax cuts.

Do not forget to vote for Brad Anderson for Secretary of State. The current Republican SOS has turned the office into a tool of voter suppression and a laughing stock across the country. Brad Anderson will make sure every eligible Iowan has the opportunity to vote.

Last do not forget those races for county supervisors and county offices. Remember a couple of years ago when the Koch front organization Americans For Progress tried to buy a city council seat in Coralville? Well, you don’t think they have gone away do you? Unless you want to see billionaire money controlling government from the courthouse to the White House and all levels in between, the smart vote is to vote for Democrats.

If you do vote for Republicans, just look in the mirror for the reason why infrastructure is failing, why your income is falling and why your family can no longer get health care coverage. This is only the beginning of the list things that Republicans want to “reform” so that it no longer works.

Gano holds Branstad accountable

Gano holds Branstad accountable

RELEASE: Joni Ernst’s Role in Sexual Harassment Suit Raises Questions About Her Leadership, Priorities

joni ernst the perfect Koch investment
RELEASE: Joni Ernst’s Role in Sexual Harassment Suit Raises Questions About Her Leadership, Priorities

For Immediate Release: October 16th, 2014
Contact: Matt Sinovic, (515) 423-0530

Des Moines, Iowa — A lawsuit filed today by a former Iowa Republican Senate caucus employee alleges she was fired last year after she repeatedly complained of sexual harassment by her male colleagues against female Senate staff members.

The suit includes an allegation that Republican state Sens. Joni Ernst of Red Oak and Sandra Greiner of Keota witnessed sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior exhibited by their male colleagues, but said nothing while female staffers stood by unable object.

Bonnie Campbell, former Iowa Attorney General, issued the following statement questioning Ernst’s judgment and criticizing her failure to act:

“Joni Ernst and her campaign should stop trying to impugn the motives of the victim and come forward with the details of what she saw, and why she didn’t stop it if she saw something. The facts are clear — either Joni Ernst is accusing the victim of lying, or Joni Ernst is refusing to tell us the truth about the facts of this case. If true, this is an outrageous and troubling fact we have just learned about Ernst.”

“The more we know about Joni Ernst, the more it raises serious questions about who she is, and who she will stand up for in the U.S. Senate. This puts into question her judgment, her background, and who she would actually fight for in the Senate — because if it is anything like we have learned today, it won’t be the everyday Iowans who sometimes need a voice to speak up for them.”



Des Moines Register: Iowa Senate GOP Accused of Sexual Harassment

“The suit includes an allegation that Republican state Sens. Joni Ernst of Red Oak and Sandra Greiner of Keota witnessed sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior exhibited by their male colleagues but said nothing while female staffers stood by unable object.”

Democracy For America To Help Turn Iowa House Blue

Democracy for America launches effort to help Dems take over Iowa State House. 
DFA backs seven state House candidates; Dems need just four to take chamber.

BURLINGTON, Vt — Today, Democracy for America (DFA),  has endorsed seven Iowa House candidates in an effort to help Democrats end Republican control of the state’s lower chamber.

The Iowa State House candidates Democracy for America has endorsed includes Dave Grussing (IA-HD-7) , Charlie McConkey (IA-HD-15), Scott Ourth (IA-HD-26), Joe Riding (IA-HD-30), Teresa Meyer (IA-HD-63), Curt Hanson (IA-HD-82), and Kristi Keast (IA-HD-95). Democrats need to gain just four seats to secure control of the Iowa State House.

“Whether they were voting against an increase to the minimum wage or trying to block legislation designed to guarantee women receive equal pay for equal work, Iowa House Republicans have fought even the smallest efforts to address growing income inequality. This November, Democracy for America members in Iowa and across the country are looking forward to helping Hawkeye State voters end Republican obstruction in Des Moines, turn the state House blue, and send all politicians with 2016 ambitions a powerful message about the importance of responding to the growing divide between the wealthy and everyone else.” — Jim Dean, Chair, Democracy for America.

DFA’s endorsements for Iowa State House are a part of the organization’s “Purple to Blue” Project, a national, multi-year effort launched in 2013 to win state House and Senate chambers across the country by making so-called “purple” state legislative seats decisively Democratic.

As a part of its efforts in Iowa this Fall, DFA intends to contribute over $36,000 directly to Iowa State House candidates and their field efforts to turn out key voters. The group will also work to encourage its over 10,000 in-state members to participate in volunteer canvass efforts for DFA-backed candidates up and down the ballot throughout the Hawkeye State.

Additional key facts about DFA and today’s Iowa State House endorsements:

  • DFA has 10,309 members in Iowa and 1 million members nationwide.
  • During the 2014 cycle, Democracy for America members have have made more than 1,892 individual contributions to DFA-backed campaigns in the Hawkeye State.
  • Also in Iowa this cycle, Democracy for America has endorsed Bruce Braley for U.S. Senate, Staci Appel (IA-3), and Jim Mowrer (IA-4).
  • Since DFA’s 2004 founding by Gov. Howard Dean, DFA members have contributed more than $31 million, made more than 8.9 million volunteer calls and successfully elected 802 progressive candidates across the country.

T. Neil Sroka
Communications Director, Democracy for America

Iowa’s New Laws Effective July 1

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

Rep. Sally Stutsman of Riverside forwarded a link to the Iowa House Democrats’ Statehouse News which covers the new laws that take effect July 1. Among them are several new initiatives aimed at boosting Iowa’s skilled workforce, including $66 million for the skilled worker job creation fund to help Iowans upgrade work skills, fill key shortage areas, and connect businesses with training and education.

In addition, on strong bi-partisan votes, the legislature also approved workforce housing credits to help local communities address workforce housing needs and new measures to protect Iowa seniors from abuse and neglect.

Also starting July 1, firefighters, EMTs, and reserve peace officers can anticipate an increase in their tax credits from $50 to $100; and minors will no longer be able to purchase e-cigarettes.

Other new laws the legislature passed that start July 1:

• Helped Iowans with the high cost of childcare while continuing education and working (HF 2463).
• Created a new income tax credit of up to $2,500 for qualified adoption expenses (HF 2468).
• Encouraged more production and use of ethanol and biodiesel (SF 2344).
• Expanded eligibility for the Military Homeownership Assistance Program (SF 303).
• Extended tax credits for solar and wind energy projects (SF 2343, SF 2340).
• Improved quality of life for kids suffering from seizures and epilepsy (SF 2360).
• Made it easier for students with a Minor’s School License in shared district schools to travel to schools other than their home school for extracurricular activities (SF 2228).

Check out the complete list by clicking on this link:

Gronstal Asks Senate For Subpoena Power

Sine Die? Not So Fast!

Iowa Capitol

Iowa Capitol

DES MOINES— Governor Branstad’s office released an end of session message for the 85th Iowa General Assembly at 8:41 a.m. yesterday, saying, “despite the partisan tone of the session, we are pleased there was agreement on the majority of our legislative plan.” The House had been all high fives and out of there before 6 a.m., busy posting brilliant photos of the east side of the capital on Facebook as the sun rose.

Not so fast! The senate hadn’t adjourned.

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer cautioned members that the session was not over until it was over— after the Senate adjourned sine die. Switching my audio feed over to the Senate, instead of calling up HCR 109, the Sine Die Resolution, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for a rules committee meeting and recess. When the Senate re-convened at 7:34 a.m., a prayer was said, they pledged allegiance, approved the April 30 journal, and then adjourned at 7:48 a.m. until Friday morning.

What happened has been well reported by corporate media. Rod Boshart of the Cedar Rapids Gazette was one of the first to break the story.

“The shutdown of the split-control legislature’s 2014 session got messy Thursday morning when Senate Democrats attempted to pass a resolution giving a legislative panel broad investigative power to look into alleged mismanagement and secret dealings by Branstad administration officials,” he wrote.

Session may end today, but the politics is far from over.

Republicans provided comic relief in the wee hours of Thursday when it was announced State Senator and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Joni Ernst called in around 4 a.m., asking the chair to be excused. The Republican level of participation  in the Senate has been a joke, and Ernst has been campaigning with a clown car of candidates, running down the presumed Democratic nominee, Bruce Braley, and the president. Occupied by posting on Twitter about her footwear, she is likely to miss Friday as well.

The 2014 general election has begun in earnest. It is framing up nicely for Democrats.

Progressives should love it when the Republican U.S. Senate candidates, like Ernst, tie Bruce Braley to the Affordable Care Act. The law is working and its popularity will increase. If that is their campaign issue, please bring it on, because the law is already saving federal dollars on health care. In case you missed it, the escalating cost of health care was one of the drivers behind the law. It was designed to bring health care costs down and it is.

A reason to feel good about it is in light of 17.8 million sign-ups through Medicaid expansion and the web site, the Republicans are trying to switch their narrative to Benghazi faster than the sinking of the Titanic.

Another reason Democrats should be hopeful is the mail from the TEA people indicates they don’t realize their group’s influence peaked in the rebellion of 2010. The TEA party is over, and that they don’t get it is good for progressives.

Iowa Democrats are also fielding excellent candidates in all four congressional districts. The tides are shifting. Signs are everywhere that this could be a great year for Democrats, and with all of the women running, Iowa seems more likely than ever to elect its first female U.S. House member.

There is no useful Republican campaign story for the corporate media to cover outside the weirdness of their debates and events. The more weirdness on display, the more swing voters will be alienated. It seems clear that Iowans don’t want a “true conservative” representing them in the U.S. Congress. Pragmatism would serve them better, but who am I to give advice?

Meanwhile, Braley continues to build support, Hatch is catching Branstad in the polls, and with all their Benghazi, Obamacare, gun, abortion, military hagiography, pro-Israel, free market talk, what reasonable person could take Republicans seriously?

I appreciate the work of our legislators this session, and when the Senate adjourns it will be over, but beginning again with the 2014 general election campaign. I’m in. Are you?

Sen. Hogg: Branstad Scandal Update

Video about 8 minutes long.  4/23/14

Iowans Speak About How Medical Cannabis Helped Them

With signs posted in the background, “Cannabis is medicine” and “Sick people are not criminals,” brave Iowans tell their stories.