Union bill: you could cut tension with a knife

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The unions have four bills that they have been pushing since the Democrats gained control of both houses of the legislature and the governorship. These issues are prevailing wage, collective bargaining, employee choice under workmen's comp, and Right to Work.

Prevailing wage is assumed to be the lowest hanging fruit of the four, so that is where they have chosen to begin. In simple terms, prevailing wage would require that any contractor working on a project where government funds are involved would be mandated to pay wages and benefits equal to or greater than the "prevailing wage" in the area. The "prevailing wage" would be determined by an appointed bureaucrat after surveying wages and benefits in the area and could be set no lower than the best wage and benefit package.

Prevailing wage proponents freely admit that passage will increase construction costs on any public project. In testimony during a committee hearing, a northern Iowa contractor who bid on two identical projects, one in Minnesota ( a prevailing wage state) and one in Iowa (not yet prevailing wage), testified that there was a $3 million difference in the bids, $13.3 million in Iowa as opposed to $16.3 million in Minnesota. A twenty per cent increase in labor costs on one relatively small project, multiplied by all the new school buildings, roads, streets, city halls, fire stations, or low income housing projects in the state during any given year and you can see the impact prevailing wage will have on property taxes in Iowa.

Feb. 19, 2009 3:00 PM in the Chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives

Debate has yet to begin.

The reason given is that support staff does not have all the amendments ready for publication. That may be so, but rumors abound. Over the last 3 weeks, I would guess that the Democrats have had their 56 members in private caucus for 25 to 30 hours trying to find 51 votes for the union agenda. They believed they had 51 this morning until a freshman southeast Iowa legislator was overwhelmed with phone calls, e-mails, and personal visits from citizens in his home district who are vehemently opposed to prevailing wage. Fifty votes will not pass a bill in the Iowa House, thus the delay.

The union members who swarmed into and filled the northwest gallery have gotten bored and departed for the cafeteria tables in the ground floor hallway. It was interesting that the northwest gallery was full while the other three galleries remained empty. Their choice of seats was no accident; the northwest gallery is directly over the seat of a wavering representative who may now be their 51st vote.

Feb.19, 2009, 6:30 PM in the Chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Debate still has not begun.

In a parliamentary maneuver, a complete rewrite of the bill has been undertaken this afternoon. This rewrite will come to the floor as a secondary amendment. Under House rules and Mason's Rules of Order a secondary amendment cannot be further amended. So in essence, the Democrat's bill will come to the floor and be debated, it cannot be modified or corrected, and be put to an up or down vote. Barring some eleventh hour surprise, prevailing wage will be passed and sent to the Senate sometime in the wee hours of February 20.

When I started this article at noon I had hoped to give a step by step chronology of how a bad bill is forced through the Iowa Legislature. Instead, the deed will occur in the dark of the night and by morning Iowa will be well on its way to number one as the worst possible state in which to start a business.

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