OSHA inspected five Iowa meatpacking plants on site

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) staff have conducted five on-site inspections of Iowa meatpacking plans during the past six weeks, the Iowa Division of Labor confirmed to Bleeding Heartland on May 28.

According to Mary Montgomery, who works in the office of Iowa Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts, OSHA inspectors examined COVID-19 mitigation measures at the Tyson Fresh Meats pork processing plant in Waterloo on April 20, the Tyson plant in Columbus Junction on April 30, Iowa Premium Beef in Tama on May 21, the JBS pork plant in Marshalltown, also on May 21, and the Tyson plant in Perry on May 26.

Montgomery indicated that a complaint prompted the Waterloo inspection, while “media referrals” led to the others. Asked to define that term, Montgomery said either “news items reported in the media” or information relayed “directly to OSHA by a media source” had prompted the site visits. She did not specify which news reports or journalistic sources influenced OSHA staff.

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Essential doesn't mean expendable

State Representative Ras Smith of Waterloo is among 20 Black Hawk County elected officials who urged Tyson Foods to suspend operations at its local pork processing plant. -promoted by Laura Belin

Across the country, we see “essential workers” as the people who keep us safe, treat the sick and injured, and maintain the systems that sustain us in difficult times. In the background, other essential workers toil in silence as they stock our shelves, clean our floors, as well as process, prepare, and serve our food. They are essential before, during, and after this crisis. 

At Tyson’s Fresh Meats in Waterloo, the employees I’ve talked to fear they’ve been placed in harm’s way, not because they are deemed essential, but because the facility has blatantly dismissed effective COVID-19 mitigation strategies that are supposed to keep them safe. Here’s what one employee noted:

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Some bad laws for Iowa's environment take effect today

Continuing Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of the Iowa legislature’s work during the 2019 session.

Iowa’s environmental community had something to celebrate when state lawmakers adjourned for the year without passing legislation that would crush small-scale solar development. An unusual coalition including solar installers, environmental groups, and livestock farmers helped keep the bill bottled up in the Iowa House despite intense lobbying by MidAmerican Energy and its allies, along with massive spending by undisclosed donors.

Unfortunately, lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed several other measures that will be detrimental for Iowa’s natural resources and take our state’s energy policy in the wrong direction. The new laws take effect today, as the 2020 fiscal year begins.

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In bait and switch, Iowa governor hiring "public relations manager"

Governor Kim Reynolds asked for and received a nearly 10 percent budget increase for her office operations during the fiscal year beginning on July 1, with a view to hiring two additional full-time employees. Republican lawmakers told members of the Iowa House and Senate the extra funding was for analysts to focus on health policy and tax policy.

This week the governor’s office posted a new job listing on a state government website. Instead of seeking a health or tax policy analyst, the governor is hiring a full-time “public relations manager” to coordinate messaging about her initiatives.

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Iowa lawmakers pass another unconstitutional "Ag Gag" bill

Iowa legislators just can’t quit violating the constitution in the service of livestock farmers and their lobby groups.

Two months after a federal judge comprehensively dismantled Iowa’s 2012 law prohibiting “agricultural production facility fraud,” the state House and Senate approved a bill creating the crime of “agricultural production facility trespass.” Governor Kim Reynolds has indicated she will sign the legislation. (UPDATE: She signed it on March 14.)

Although the drafters modeled the new bill after portions of an Idaho statute that survived a legal challenge, federal courts could and should strike down this law. Like the previous “ag gag” legislation, its primary purpose is to suppress speech reflecting certain viewpoints.

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