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New brand of Labor day recognition

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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This Labor Day, the state’s under- and unemployed can look forward to investing their futures in the Iowa Workforce Development’s equivalent of a Redbox.

On Sept. 5, 1882, the Central Labor Union of New York marched into Union Square in order to show the strength and resilience of the prominent trade and labor organizations that were responsible “for all the grandeur we behold.” The first Labor Day featured a street parade, a festival, and speeches from notable men and women, but it wasn’t until 12 years later, in 1894, that Congress unanimously voted to make Labor Day a national holiday.

Falling on the first Monday of every September, Labor Day reminds us that our workers are the driving force behind many of our economic and social achievements and that, for this, they must be celebrated. While Labor Day traditions vary from state to state, one constant remains: Labor Day is a time in which the state honors the strength, unity, and accomplishments of its workers.

As Labor Day draws near, however, many of Iowa’s workers feel compromised, rather than appreciated, by their state’s governing officials.

Given the state’s easily manageable budget, job creation must be prioritized over fringe deficit-reduction strategies.

Earlier this month, Gov. Terry Branstad made clear his intentions of shutting down 36 Iowa Development Workforce field offices and replacing them with computers and kiosks when he line-item-vetoed language of Senate File 517. Branstad, while vetoing the proposition to keep the offices open, didn’t veto the funding, proposing that the funds instead be allocated to these new computers and kiosks. This, according to Danny Homan, along with Sen. Bill Dotzler, and Reps. Bruce Hunter, Dave Jacoby, and Kirsten Running-Marquet, is a violation of the state Constitution, and, after Republican lawmakers refused to meet in a special session to address and resolve this issue, prompted them to bring lawsuit against Branstad.

“The veto is mean-spirited and aimed at state workers,” said Jacoby, D-Coralville. “And that does include those in the University of Iowa.”

Under Branstad’s new plan, more than 500 computers and kiosks, distributed throughout the state and accessible in public locations, such as libraries, are to be provided. Lawmakers in favor of Branstad’s plan argue that dispersing these computers around the state in easily accessible locations will enable many more thousands of under- and/or unemployed individuals to seek help and will, in the long run, be much more effective at addressing Iowa’s unemployment rate. Many of the field offices Branstad aims to shut down are only open part-time, as opposed to computers and kiosks, which would be available full-time. Additionally, the closures of the workforce centers are expected to save the state $7 million a year.

But if an individual is in such a compromised situation to seek guidance from a government authority, that individual would undoubtedly be underwhelmed at the prospect of consulting a machine. The current offices are easily accessible from nearly any point in the state and are distributed in accordance to population density to ensure efficiency.

When Iowa’s steadily increasing unemployment rate is weighed against the low deficit the state is currently running, it makes sense to keep these offices open and make lowering the unemployment rate a higher priority.

The issue of shutting down the field offices is about much more than facts and statistics, however; some lawmakers believe that the veto targets state workers and will anger the labor movement and lead to discord, if not rebellion.

“If Branstad wants a transition, he needs to work with the Legislature better.” The Legislature made clear the changes that needed to happen in these field offices, Jacoby said — specifically in the realms of “consolidation, streamlining services, and improvement of services.”
Instead of attempting to make these changes, Branstad is shutting them down.

“One hundred thousand unemployed people are just as important as 100,000 people who are underemployed, and he decided to skip the groove and shut down the workforce centers completely at a time when they are most needed,” Jacoby said.

Not only does this compromise the futures of those seeking direction and opportunity from the state government, it also jeopardizes those of hundreds of state employees offering that same guidance.

On a day that the federal government has set aside to recognize the plight of the American worker, many unemployed Iowans will find themselves victimized by strong pattern of misguided state priorities, many specifically aimed against them.

Here’s to celebrating those that are happily employed, and here’s to hoping that others will have an opportunity to experience that same happiness.


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