Iowa Senate approves bills on wage theft, minimum wage increase

While the gasoline tax increase grabbed most of the attention, the Iowa Senate approved two other significant bills on Tuesday. Senate File 270 would combat Iowa’s wage theft problem, estimated to cost workers about $600 million annually. After the jump I’ve enclosed State Senator Bill Dotzler’s opening remarks on the bill, which cover its key provisions. Victims of wage theft testified at an Iowa Senate hearing in late January, and when you hear their stories, it’s hard to understand why this remains a partisan issue.

It makes sense when you read the lobbyist declarations on the bill, showing various labor groups in favor and business groups opposed (including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Iowa Retail Federation, the Iowa Grocery Association, and the Iowa Propane Gas Association). During the Senate Labor and Business Committee’s hearing on wage theft, GOP Senator Rick Bertrand had criticized the idea of forcing more “paperwork” on all Iowa businesses because a minority are stealing wages from workers. Democrats later incorporated some amendments suggested by Bertrand. Nevertheless, the final vote on Senate File 270 was strictly partisan, with 26 Democrats in favor and 23 Republicans against. Senators approved a similar bill last year, also along party lines. It died in the Iowa House.

Senate File 269, which would raise Iowa’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.00 this year and to $8.75 next year, cleared the Iowa Senate on February 24 as well. This time Bertrand joined the 26 Democrats in voting for the bill; the other 22 Republicans who were present opposed it. For the last couple of years, many Democrats nationally and in Iowa have endorsed a minimum wage of $10.10.  I assume Senate File 269 set a lower goal in the hope of attracting bipartisan support, but I would have stuck with $10.10. Not only is that closer to a living wage, it’s closer to the purchasing power of Iowa’s minimum wage the last time it was raised in early 2007.

Incidentally, only three of the current Iowa Senate Republicans were in the legislature when Iowa last raised the minimum wage in 2007. Of those, David Johnson voted for raising the minimum wage to $7.25, while Brad Zaun and Jerry Behn voted against it.

Republican statehouse leaders have no interest in raising the minimum wage now, but when a minimum wage increase came to a vote in 2007, it passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both chambers. At that time, supporters included nine current Iowa House Republicans: Kraig Paulsen (now Iowa House Speaker), Linda Upmeyer (now Iowa House Majority Leader), Clel Baudler, Dave Deyoe, Cecil Dolecheck, Jack Drake, Dan Huseman, Linda Miller and Dawn Pettengill (she was a House Democrat at that time but switched to the Republican Party later in 2007). Seven of the current Iowa House Republicans voted against raising the minimum wage to $7.25 in 2007: Greg Forristall, Pat Grassley, Tom Sands, Chuck Soderberg, Ralph Watts, Matt Windschitl, and Gary Worthan.  

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Iowa Senate news release, February 24:

Opening remarks on SF270

by Senator Bill Dotzler

Wage theft is Iowa’s biggest crime, costing costs Iowa workers an estimated $600 million each year.

When Iowa workers aren’t paid for the work they’ve done, that’s wage theft.

• That could mean not being paid for all the hours you worked.

• Not being paid the wage you agreed to.

• NOT being paid overtime, or being paid LESS than the minimum wage.

• Having managers steal all or part of your tips.

• Shorting checks by making unauthorized or illegal deductions

• Falsely labeling employees as “independent contractors”

Being paid for your work is a core Iowa value. Cheating the people who work for you is not.

Simply hiring more wage theft investigators is not the answer. We’ve got two investigators now. If there were 20, they still couldn’t keep up.

We need a better, smarter approach-one that solves the problem before it develops.

Here’s what the legislation before us would do:

One, it will require businesses to keep a written record of the terms of employment.

That’s simply good business practice. That’s common sense. If there’s no basic paperwork, it is a matter of “he said, she said.”

If you don’t vote to require a written record, you are voting to make it easier to steal from Iowa workers.

Two, it will eliminate the “I didn’t mean to” defense.

Under current law, to commit wage theft, “an employer has intentionally failed to pay an employer wages or reimburse expenses.” We’ve made provisions to protect honest people made an honest mistake.

This legislation makes it harder for crooks to steal from Iowa workers while pretending they didn’t really mean to.

Three, it will protect whistleblowers.

Current law protects the employee who files the claim. Even so, almost 100% of the claims come from ex-employees, employees who have already left their job.

Standing up to a boss who cheated you is not an easy thing to do. Standing up against that same boss on behalf of your co-worker isn’t any easier.

That’s why our legislation expands whistleblower protections to co-workers. Co-workers will be able to answer questions or testify on behalf of wage theft victims without fear of retaliation.

Our vote today against wage theft is about what kind of state we want Iowa to be.

Is Iowa a state that respects the right of every worker to be paid what they are owed? Or is Iowa a crooked state where the laws are stacked against workers?

Is Iowa a state where if the boss rips you off, you have the right to speak up for yourself and the people you work with? Or is Iowa a crooked state where honest employers are underbid by crooks cut costs by stealing from their own employees?

I know what kind of state I want Iowa to be. I want Iowa to be a state where working men and women have the right to be paid. A place where state law recognizes that right and helps enforce that right.

I ask for your vote for Senate File 270.

end

Iowa Senate news release, February 24:

Raising Iowa’s minimum wage, putting more money in the pockets of 181,000 Iowa workers

Prepared remarks on SF 269, minimum wage increase

Senator Tony Bisignano,

chair of the Senate Labor and Business Committee

“Iowa’s lowest paid workers have waited 7 years for a pay increase.

“There is absolutely no reason for them to wait any longer.

“The average minimum wage worker is 35 years old, 55% work full time, and 28% have children.  The average minimum wage worker earns HALF of their family’s total income.

“All of the states surrounding Iowa but one already have higher minimum wages.

“We are trying to build a high wage, high skill economy.  We don’t want to become a regional haven for low wage employers.

“A higher state minimum wage is a way to put more money into the pockets of working families that will boost the local economy by spending additional dollars at Iowa businesses.

“This legislation would increase Iowa’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8 and hour by July 1 of this year.  It would increase again to $8.75 an hour by July 1, 2016.

“According to the Economic Policy Institute, increasing Iowa’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour would help 12% of all Iowa workers.

“112,000 would see a direct increase in their wages.  Almost 70,000 would receive an indirect increase as the Iowa wage floor moves up.

“All in all, it is estimated that the wages of 181,000 Iowa workers would increase by $147 million, and Iowa’s GDP would increase by $93 million.

Increasing Iowa’s minimum wage is another step toward making Iowa’s economy work for all Iowans, not just the wealthy.”

  • Heaton

    Dave Heaton sounds like a No on the minimum wage increase based upon comments he made in the Daily Gate City.  He typically is a pretty good barometer of whether something has a chance of gaining ground with House Republicans.  

    Brian Moore, let’s get him on the record as well.  He’s a good guy that typically has working people on his mind.  Any chance Tedd Gassman votes for an increase? Doubtful.  Brian Best feels emboldened by the margin he beat Dan Muhlbauer by as well.  

    • thanks

      Heaton happened to be absent the day they voted on this in 2007, so I wasn’t sure where he stood. I could see Moore as a yes vote if Paulsen ever allowed the bill to come to a vote.

  • Best

    I asked Brian Best about the wage theft bill at today’s legislative forum. He asked for more information. He seemed unaware that wage theft might be a problem. Do Republicans really want to be seen as the party that’s O.K. with wage theft?

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