Thursday, May 16, 2013

Labor on Etheredge's Agenda

Looks like Johnson County is back to square one on the justice center, or if that's a dirty word the jail and courthouse. Most of the ink in the wake of Tuesday's meeting focused on the masterplan offered by the New Guy, Republican supervisor John Etheredge, but another part of his agenda, a cheap shot at organized labor, was overlooked.

Etheredge got elected in March basically to say NO, and he has: to the Newport Road zoning, marriage equality, and Earth Day. If he had kept his remarks short and sweet to "I think we need to build at the county farm, not downtown," he would have been OK. There are a fair of people arguing for a justice center, or at least a jail, at the county farm location. Though it's worth noting that the downtown justice center got roughly 55% of the vote twice, while the jail at county farm plan drew barely a third of the vote in 2000. And as Terrence Neuzil quickly noted, a post-election survey in 2001 showed that the location was a leading reason for the loss.

(Hint: If you build a jail other than where a jail is now, there will be people who do not now live near a jail who do not want to live near a jail. And in this case, those people have very big houses and will spend a lot of money on a No campaign. At least that's what happened in 2000.)

But Etheredge, possibly on the fly, rolled that out into a grand long-range vision in which he would sell off all the county's mid-town holdings, including the new HHS Building, and move all county operations to the county farm area. The old courthouse would become a museum run by... someone. (I had the best plan for that.)

County Attorney Janet Lyness did a remarkably polite, diplomatic job informing Etheredge that 1) the county had been through the County Campus discussion circa 2005 and 2) decided to create one, by closing the old Human Services and Health buildings and building the new HHS facility in 2008 across the street from the Administration Building in mid-town Iowa City.

But Etheredge's proposal to sell off a five year old building and a newly remodeled Admin Building aren't the biggest thing wrong with his agenda. I may be coming to this party a day late but I got something everyone else missed. Just to remind folks he's a Republican, he attacked organized labor and buying local.

Here's the audio; discussion starts 5:15 into this clip.
Harney: Anyone that's talked to the unions right now are saying that they are full, they don't have room for any more capacity right now for jobs. They are very busy, there's a lot of construction going on. And that's going to continue with $1 billion of work the University's proposing out there, that's going to continue to happen. Labor's going to be hard to come by no matter what we do. And the other thing I wanted to mention was the modular units. I went through that years ago when they had put those out around the courthouse. They had heating problems, they had water problems, they had all sorts of things out there. Unless you make something nearly permanent, you're not going to have something that's going to be real workable for those units when they're doing...

Etheredge: Well that's what I say, they would definitely be temporary. They're not designed to be there for decades. When you take a look at labor costs, I mean... do we have to go, really, do we have to use unions for everything? Because, I mean to me, that really opens it up. If you don't have to use unions for everything, you can use other businesses who, you know what, put in a lower  bid but the same quality. Again, we'd have to... with every building that goes up you have to have somebody out there to ensure quality. Which...

Sullivan: Well, we will take the lowest bid. I mean, that's... we did that over there (HHS Building) and frankly...
There were a lot of problems and delays that came up in the construction of HHS by low-bidder Tricon Construction of Dubuque, and there were quality issues even after the building opened. Back to the Board already in progress:
Etheredge: ...when he said he talked to the unions, they're full up, you know...

Harney: I'm not saying we'd only use union help. There's non-union help that's busy too, they're doing...

Etheredge: What I'm saying is, we wouldn't necessarily have to use someone who's located in Johnson County because if they're a higher bid, they're a higher bid. I've talked with a number of people, a number of contractors and commercial and industrial builders and they said there are people from even other states that are putting in way lower bids even though they'd have to move a lot of stuff here. Putting in way lower bids than the current in-state operations are. They said it was much greater than 10%. It's because they want the work. To me it's an optimal time to find some of those businesses that, you know, want the work. I see, you know, the economy, I'm forever optimistic, I see it turning around and really increasing and really getting back to what Americans like to do best and that is work.
A bit later, Etheredge brings up another conservative buzzword (start at 7:23)
Etheredge: When I was looking at some of the jail stuff, and I'm going to have to maybe ask Lonny about some of this because he knows a little bit more about it. But I saw there were a few places in Florida and throughout the country that actually taken their jail and essentially the whole operations, internal operations and essentially - you have sheriffs but you drop the prisoners off there and everything else is just privately run.

Pulkrabek: Yeah, the Code of Iowa says that the sheriff will and shall be responsible for taking care of the inmates. And then it also says that the Board of Supervisors shall fund that.

Etheredge: So I just was...

Rettig: So it prohibits outsourcing?

Pulkrabek: It prohibits privatization. 
Worth noting: Those internal jail jobs Etheredge wants to privatize are also union jobs.

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