Staff Columnist

Iowa workers beware, neither Big Debt Chet nor COVID-19 can stop unleashed prosperity

Iowa Department of Public Health workers pose for a photo as they test people at a COVID-19 testing site in the Crossroa
Iowa Department of Public Health workers pose for a photo as they test people at a COVID-19 testing site in the Crossroads Mall parking lot, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Waterloo, Iowa. (Brian Powers/The Des Moines Register via AP)

Chet Culver really should have known better.

Iowa’s former Democratic governor wrote a letter to current Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds decrying her administration’s declaration that workers who refuse to return to jobs amid COVID-19 fears would be denied unemployment benefits. He was among many who questioned whether Reynolds’ policy is even lawful, considering that unemployment rules allow Iowans to claim benefits for unsafe, intolerable or detrimental working conditions.

“Any such ill-conceived scheme that deprives them of choice and forces those hardworking, yet vulnerable, employees to report to unsafe workplace environments, while the positive incidences of COVID-19 infection are on the rise, is not merely penny-wise and pound-foolish — it is just plain wrong,” Culver argued.

But Culver should have known any overture for the rights of workers during the pandemic would fall on deaf ears. We learned Tuesday that more than 1,600 workers at four meatpacking plants tested positive for the virus. Reynolds continues insisting companies such as Tyson, with more than 1,300 cases at three facilities, are doing all they can to protect workers. In one Tyson facility at Perry, 58 percent of its employees contracted the virus.

Culver lost in 2010 to the Branstad-Reynolds ticket, a team that would go on to gut collective bargaining for public employees and make it far more difficult for injured workers to get compensation, among other greatest hits composed by its big business allies.

And Culver was bounced from office after issuing bonded debt to help Iowa communities, including Cedar Rapids, recover from natural disasters of 2008. Republicans dubbed him “Big Debt Chet” and decried his mismanagement of a crisis.

Strong management, apparently, is Reynolds’ decision to partially reopen 77 counties even as COVID-19 case numbers grow and deaths mount, and before ramped up testing and modeling provide critical information on the scope of the virus.

On Monday Reynolds received a lofty “A” grade from FreedomWorks and the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. Reynolds appeared on a conference call sponsored by the groups to talk about her strategy for reopening Iowa.

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FreedomWorks and the Committee to Unleash Prosperity are conservative groups playing a key role in organizing “liberation” protests in Wisconsin, Oklahoma and elsewhere. FreedomWorks, with roots in the Tea Party movement, has been mobilizing local protesters and organizing events, according to The New York Times. It’s also conducting tracking polls in swing congressional districts and sharing data with presidential advisers and congressional staff.

“This isn’t political, and it shouldn’t be for anybody,” Reynolds told reporters this week when asked about her virus response.

FreedomWorks is among 24 groups who sent a letter to the president in April urging him to waive the Renewable Fuel Standard for the rest of the year due to pandemic concerns, potentially freeing Iowa farmers from more of their already scarce income.

So step aside Big Debt Chet. We’re unleashing prosperity. Even if workers get trampled.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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