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Wage talk prevails at Eggs and Issues

Lawmakers offer their opinions on mandating pay, benefits

March 1, 2009
By BILL SHEA, Messenger staff writer

A bill to establish a prevailing wage for workers on public projects remains very much on the minds of local citizens, as lawmakers serving Webster County found out Saturday morning.

During an Eggs and Issues forum at Iowa Central Community College, some legislators defended their stances on the proposal, which was defeated in the Iowa House of Representatives last Monday. State Rep. McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City, went against his own party to cast the vote which killed the measure.

It is, however, ''still a live round'' for this legislative session, according to state Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
STATE SENATE PRESIDENT Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, answers a question Saturday morning during Eggs and Issues in the Career Education Building at Iowa Central Community College.

Although he has yet to vote on the issue, state Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, emerged as a strong supporter of it Saturday morning.

''You got a better idea on how to improve wages in this state?'' Kibbie asked. ''We're in a spiral downturn on wages in this state.''

About 85 people gathered in the college's Career Education Building to ask questions of the legislators. Joining Bailey, Kibbie and Miller were state Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, and state senators Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, and Rich Olive, D-Story City.

Fact Box

Carpet issue trips up lawmakers


Messenger staff writer

The carpet in the office of a state agency handling the recovery from the 2008 floods sparked one of the sharpest exchanges between lawmakers during the Eggs and Issues forum Saturday.

State Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, said the carpet in the Rebuild Iowa Office probably was too expensive, but he defended its purchase.

He said the office is in a former crime lab in the Wallace State Office Building in Des Moines. He said the original carpet there had to be replaced because it was full of holes.

''Let's get real about the Rebuild Iowa Office,'' he said.

State Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, didn't agree with Kibbie's take on the carpet issue.

''You tell the people in eastern Iowa why the carpet in the Rebuild Iowa Office is more important than the carpet in their living rooms,'' he said. ''Let's get real about the people that are hurting.''

Neither lawmaker said how much the carpet cost.

Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or

Eggs and Issues is sponsored by Iowa Central and the Fort Dodge Area Chamber of Commerce.

The prevailing wage proposal would set minimum wages and benefit levels for employees working on public projects like roads, schools and sewer systems. Critics claim the measure would add up to 30 percent to the cost of those projects. Supporters say the bill would make sure construction companies don't cheat their workers.

The bill went down to defeat Monday after Speaker of the House Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, took the unusual step of leaving the chamber's voting machine on all weekend in hopes that someone would change their vote, allowing the measure to pass.

Miller voted for the prevailing wage. Bailey and Tjpekes voted no.

Miller said her father benefited from a prevailing wage law.

''I'm sitting here because my father was allowed to earn a decent wage,'' she said.

She said enacting a prevailing wage would dovetail with other efforts to keep young people in the state.

Bailey said a prevailing wage would hurt small companies that couldn't afford to pay it.

''This is almost big versus small as much as it is union versus non-union,'' he said.

He said that the states which have a prevailing wage law have experienced fewer accidents and deaths at construction sites. To get that benefit without requiring a prevailing wage, Bailey wants to consider requiring more safety training and apprenticeship programs for the construction trades.

Tjepkes said he opposes the prevailing wage measure because of the added costs it would create on public projects. He's also against the government setting wages, other than the minimum wage. On most economic issues, he said, the government should ''get the heck out of the way.''

A member of the audience asked Miller, who is the chair of the House Ethics Committee, for her opinion of keeping the chamber's voting machine open for a weekend.

''It is legal to do it,'' she replied. ''No one was made to do anything. Anyone who wanted to go home did.''

In the state Senate, Beall would join Kibbie in supporting a prevailing wage.

''I think for too long Iowa has sold itself as a cheap labor state rather than a quality labor state,'' he said. ''Who would benefit from a prevailing wage? All the people that Iowa does such a good job of educating who then go to other states to get good jobs.''

Olive didn't offer an opinion on the prevailing wage.

Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or



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