Democrat Fred Hubbell is taking to the airwaves to defend his record at Younkers, the department store chain he headed in the mid-1980s and early ’90s.
The move comes in response to a recent television ad from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds that criticizes his tenure there.
Hubbell is challenging Reynolds this year in the race for governor, and the argument over his stewardship of the Younkers chain, which he led from 1985 to 1992, has become a prominent part of the campaign.
Republicans have already criticized the retired Des Moines businessman for closing stores. But a new Reynolds ad says Hubbell also cut pay and benefits for Younkers workers in 1986, then gave himself a raise.
The Hubbell campaign says the Reynolds ad is misleading, but Republicans say Hubbell is feeling the pinch from the criticism.
In his new ad, Hubbell speaks directly to a camera and defends his record, saying he took the company reins during Iowa’s farm crisis and worked to keep people on the job in tough times.
“Yeah, we closed a couple of stores, but we opened some more stores, too,” Hubbell said, referring to openings in Sioux City and Cedar Falls. “When you’re running a business or you’re running a state, your job is to make the hard decisions so the most people get the most benefit, and that’s what I want to do with the state.”
He said that during his tenure, Younkers added 1,000 jobs.
The campaign also said Hubbell invested in a new overtime and day-off policy for employees.
Republicans say Hubbell is being misleading with the claim of adding workers, saying it was Younkers’ 1986 acquisition of the Omaha-based Brandeis department store chain that accounted for the employment increase. The acquisition added 1,000 workers to Younkers’ workforce, according to news reports at the time.
Reynolds’ camp also is painting a different picture of Hubbell’s treatment of Younkers employees. Her new ad features four people, who the campaign does not identify, criticizing Hubbell for cutting pay for “hundreds” of workers, as well as benefits, then giving himself a $90,000 pay raise.
The ad says Hubbell commented at the time the employees should just be happy to be working.
“He didn’t care about working people like us,” a man in a welder’s helmet says.
The Reynolds campaign says the cuts in the ad refer to a move Younkers made in 1986 to close its downtown Des Moines store at 5:30 p.m., instead of 7 p.m., on Mondays and Thursdays.
A Des Moines Register article at the time said the Younkers workforce of 250 were told to expect an average cut of about 2½ hours each. It then quotes Hubbell as saying fewer than 10 percent of the store’s sales force would be affected and the loss of hours wouldn’t be that great. “I’d think they should be happy they still have jobs,” Hubbell is quoted in the article as saying.
The raise refers to Hubbell’s salary going from about $145,000 in 1986 to approximately $234,000 the next year.
Hubbell’s campaign has said he didn’t give himself the salary increase, as the ad claims, but answered to a board of directors. The campaign also said his salary went up after a promotion in 1987 to lead Younkers’ parent company, Equitable of Iowa.
However, the Reynolds campaign said the salary figures came from Des Moines Register articles published in 1986 and 1987. Those articles list Hubbell as chief executive and chairman of Younkers. But the articles also said the salary figures were taken from the previous years, meaning 1985 and 1986.
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“Throughout his tenure Younkers invested in employees and the communities they served — with a generous overtime and day-off policy for employees and establishing the Younkers Farm Aid scholarship and concerts to help struggling farm families go to college,” Hubbell spokesperson Remi Yamamoto said Thursday.
Pat Garrett, a Reynolds spokesman, said: “Fred Hubbell has made his leadership at Younkers a key pitch to voters, but now Iowans are finding out that the only paycheck Fred Hubbell cares about is his own.”