Joe Biden best choice for Iowa workers who want a fair shot

Bill Gerhard, Iowa View contributor
Published 6:00 a.m. CT Sept. 7, 2020


Joe Biden speaks at the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO’s annual convention on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 at Prairie Meadows Hotel in Altoona.

The Des Moines Register

I will admit to being dismayed by the efforts of the Reynolds administration here in Iowa and the Trump administration nationally to weaken essential protections for our workers.

Since it became a federal holiday 126 years ago, Labor Day has been an opportunity for Americans to recognize the men and women who keep our nation moving forward and those that fought to ensure our workplaces are safe.

Labor Day 2020 holds a special significance this year as the health pandemic continues to rage and impact communities across Iowa. As most Americans were setting up home offices and quarantining earlier this year, workers at our meat processing facilities continued to show up to work week after week in often-unsafe situations so that their neighbors would still have access to beef, pork and chicken. Today, as COVID-19 cases spike in Iowa, teachers are returning to their classrooms in what can best be described as uncertain conditions. Even setting aside the health pandemic, we have seen thousands of line workers across Iowa work around the clock in recent weeks to restore power and clean up our communities following the derecho storm that devastated the state in August.

These individuals and many others are the front-line workers we celebrate on Labor Day and, frankly, those we should celebrate year-round.  

I have been a member of the Laborers and the Building and Construction Trades Council since the 1970s. Throughout that time, I’ve been proud to stand with men and women across the state from both political parties to increase compensation for our workers, improve the safety of our workplaces, and give working families a voice when it comes to the terms of their employment. Although we have made real progress on this front, I will admit to being dismayed by the efforts of the Reynolds administration here in Iowa and the Trump administration nationally to weaken essential protections for our workers.

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In Washington, Donald Trump has dramatically scaled back the number of health and safety inspectors who help ensure Americans are protected in their workplaces, reduced overtime opportunities that tens of thousands of workers rely upon, and consistently sought to eliminate health coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Here in Iowa, Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds decided to scrap a collective bargaining system that had worked for employers and workers alike for more than 40 years. Under their law, most public sector unions are no longer able to negotiate with employers over critical benefits such as health insurance, leave and vacation time, overtime compensation, health and safety issues, and more. If that wasn’t enough, they also passed a workers compensation bill that substantially reduces benefits for injured workers. That includes shoulder injuries that workers at meat processing facilities, the same ones who showed up for work during the health pandemic, often experience as part of their jobs. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Nearly a year ago, I decided to endorse Joe Biden as he sought the Democratic nomination for president. Now as we enter the fall campaign season, it is more critical than ever that we unite behind Vice President Biden and partner together to advance a positive agenda for America. That includes Biden’s plan to rebuild an economy that works for all Americans, including working families that have struggled under the mismanagement of the Trump administration. Biden will make meaningful investments in manufacturing and innovation to create millions of good-paying jobs with good benefits, while making it easier for workers to join a union if they want to do so.

As we celebrate Labor Day this year, let’s recommit to fighting for programs and policies that value working families and the hard jobs they perform every day. And let’s recommit to candidates who have demonstrated time and again they understand and will fight for middle-class values that reward hard work, honesty, and opening doors of opportunities for all Americans. I believe that candidate this year is Joe Biden, and I hope you will join me in voting for him this fall.

Bill Gerhard is president of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council.

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