Waterloo's "ban the box" ordinance survives in part—for now

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that part of the city of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance can remain in effect despite a 2017 law prohibiting local governments from regulating “terms or conditions of employment.”

The city adopted the ordinance in November 2019 to address economic racial disparities. Because African Americans are more likely to have a criminal record, they are adversely affected by job applications that require a person to note whether they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Under Waterloo’s ordinance, employers may not inquire about past convictions, arrests, or pending criminal charges “during the application process,” but may do so after extending “a conditional offer of employment.” The court found that was allowed, because it regulates only “the time when an employer can inquire into a prospective employee’s criminal history,” which is not “a term or condition of employment.”

However, the Iowa Supreme Court held that state law preempts other portions of Waterloo’s ordinance, which prohibit employers from making an “adverse hiring decision” based on an applicant’s criminal history.

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Iowa Republicans opposed bill on pay equity for women

Every U.S. Senate Republican, including Iowa’s Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, blocked debate last week on a bill designed “to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex.”

Like most Senate actions, a motion to proceed with debate on a bill requires at least 60 votes to pass. The 49 to 50 party-line vote on June 8 was Republicans’ second formal use of a filibuster this year. The first blocked a bill authorizing a bipartisan investigation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

The Paycheck Fairness Act “has been on the Democratic wish list since 1997,” Jonathan Weisman reported for the New York Times. When Democrats controlled the U.S. House, they approved similar legislation in 2008, 2009, and 2019.

For nearly 60 years, federal law has banned employers from paying men and women differently for “substantially equal jobs.” But the Equal Pay Act of 1963 has failed to adequately address gender-based wage discrimination. A 2019 study found “Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations.”

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Iowa OSHA's call for "immediate" action on COVID-19 came too late

Eleven weeks after beginning to inspect workplace safety at the Iowa capitol, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) informed legislative leaders about conditions “that may expose workers to COVID-19 hazards.” OSHA recommended “immediate corrective actions where needed,” as well as a review of safety and health practices “to ensure consistency” with advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines

What took them so long?

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Re-establishing Democratic governance

Charles Bruner is a longtime advocate for policies that support children and strengthen families. -promoted by Laura Belin

About this essay

I studied political science at the beginning of the 1970s at one of the elitist of universities, Stanford University. My graduate school class, if not all radicals, shared a serious critique of American government and the military-industrial complex, the Vietnam war, the academic privilege and not freedom that embodied the Stanford administration, and the failure for society to listen to youth and follow-through on the vision expressed in the decidedly liberal document, The Port Huron Statement.

I returned to Iowa in 1975 feeling alienated and full of angst at my better understanding of the darker side of American politics. But I had no clue how to contribute to changing it. Fortunately, I found a group of 20-somethings in Iowa – largely through the Community Action Research Group (Iowa’s Public Interest Research Group) – doing that work in the policy field on the environment. They connected me to a job at the Iowa Welfare Association funded by the Compensatory Education and Training Act, the federal jobs program that provided nonprofits with funding to create jobs. It gave me space to learn and grow, as it did for others in my group.

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Lessons from Bessemer

Buzz Malone is organizing director of Teamsters Local 238. -promoted by Laura Belin

Regardless of the outcome of the unionization campaign in Bessemer, Alabama, the efforts of workers there have delivered a powerful message to the nation.

Enacted 86 years ago, the National Labor Relations Act sent an equally powerful message to companies large and small: that workers have inalienable rights of free speech, legally protected concerted activity for economic improvements, and the right to form, join, and assist a union of their choosing.

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