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Iowa Politics Roundup: Culver Signs Union-Friendly Executive Order PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 05 February 2010 15:48

Governor Chet Culver received a standing ovation at the Iowa State Building & Construction Trades Council convention and shook the hand of almost everyone in the room after signing an executive order that presumes state agencies will use project labor agreements (PLAs) whenever possible.

"It adds stability and structure to a job site that could be chaotic," said Bill Gerhard, president of the Iowa State Building & Construction Trades Council.

"There's a thousand people working big jobs, 17 different unions, all have different work rules, all have contracts that expire at different times," Gerhard said. "It sort of ensures that there's going to be some stability that people, if they go on strike on their contract, they'll keep working on the project. ... The state should have this tool in their toolbox to use."

PLAs spell out project wages and working conditions in advance and require all contractors and subcontractors to sign on. Such agreements can favor labor unions because they are often involved in negotiating the conditions.

The move drew immediate criticism from Republicans and nonunion construction companies.

"The only thing a PLA is going to do is cost taxpayers more money," said Dave Petersen, board vice chair for the Associated Builders & Contractors of Iowa, pointing to a study showing that the project labor agreement used with the Iowa Events Center didn't save the taxpayers any money.

Executive Order 22 requires all state departments and agencies to consider using project labor agreements on large-scale construction projects. Culver described it as a "bold step in support of good wages" that will change the way state government looks at construction projects, and will presume that the state uses project labor agreements whenever possible.

"We're going as far as we can in terms of my executive authority," Culver said. "This has not been done before. This is a big step. We're sending a clear message about how much we value these hardworking families, and I'm using the power of the executive branch to go as far as I possibly can on this."

Petersen asserted that the only reason Culver signed the executive order is to avoid legislative action because he hasn't helped the labor unions that helped get him elected. Attempts at passing four bills that are priorities for labor unions -- choice of doctor, prevailing wage, fair share, and an expansion of collective bargaining -- have been unsuccessful.

Republican Party of Iowa Chair Matt Strawn also called the signing of the executive order an "election-year photo op" that attempts "to pacify the big-labor bosses that fund his campaign."

Strawn said the action would not create jobs.

"PLAs do not bring a project in on-time or on-budget," Strawn said. "Just look at the Iowa Events Center as an example. The reality is that PLAs discourage competition from nonunion contractors, thereby driving up costs for taxpayers. Open competition is fair to both union and nonunion workers, providing taxpayers with safe, on-time, and low-cost construction."

University Tuition to Increase 6 Percent; Student Surcharge to Be Rescinded

Tuition will increase by 6 percent at Iowa's three state universities next school year, but students will likely get back the $100 special surcharge they paid this semester.

The Iowa Board of Regents voted 7-2 Thursday to approve a base annual tuition increase of 6 percent in 2010-11 for resident undergraduate and graduate students at Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa.

Regents Michael Gartner and Ruth Harkin voted against the increase. Gartner said Iowa is about to deprive some men and women the opportunity to get a higher education. Those who attend will be burdened with debt, he said.

"The cost of education -- room, board, and tuition at the University of Iowa -- is within $200 of $20,000 a year," Gartner said. "That's an enormous amount of money. We're talking about a burden of $20,000 to go to the University of Iowa."

The total cost of tuition and mandatory fees will increase anywhere from 3 percent to 12.2 percent depending on whether a student is a resident or nonresident, graduate or undergraduate, and which school they're in.

Regents President David Miles was among the seven voting for the tuition increase. He pointed out that the state's public universities will begin Fiscal Year 2011 with $132 million less in state appropriations than in Fiscal Year 2009, even if the governor's recommendation for a supplemental is approved.

"That's very real," Miles said. "I believe we're holding the line as much as we possibly can at 6 percent. I don't think it's anything we want to do. I am very concerned that if we do not do what I believe is the minimum of 6 percent, we will harm the institutions."

Just minutes after the vote to increase tuition, the regents then voted unanimously to rescind the $100 surcharge that students paid this semester, if Culver's proposed $30.4-million supplemental for the universities this fiscal year is approved by the legislature.

The proposal was offered by Miles, who noted that the surcharge was approved reluctantly to generate $5.9 million of the $60 million lost to Iowa's public universities with the 10-percent across-the-board reduction in October.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said the legislature will likely approve the supplemental funding for the Board of Regents that will allow it to rescind the student surcharge. He said money would come from the state's ending balance this year.

But House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said he didn't think Republicans would support the supplemental spending for the Board of Regents. "It's simply more spending," he said.

Thursday's actions came as university students held a student government "Day on the Hill" at the Capitol.