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Use Local Workers When You Use Local Money. What’s So Hard About That? (Iowa Edition)

The workforce at the Kraft-Heinz plant may be slashed by two-thirds.

The workforce at the Kraft-Heinz plant may be slashed by two-thirds.

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Unions in the Quad Cities region of Iowa are concerned that most of the construction jobs created by a new $203 million Kraft-Heinz plant in Davenport will go to out-of-state workers and contractors.  So union leaders are calling on Governor Terry Branstad and local lawmakers to increase the number of regional workers on projects that receive public subsidies.  Subsidies for the plant include a proposed 15-year real estate tax rebate worth an estimated $10 million from the city of Davenport, $1.75 million in tax benefits from the state of Iowa, and a further $3 million in direct financial assistance from the state.  

At a news conference on Tuesday, Tri-City Building Trades Council spokesman, Rory Washburn, said:

“We’re concerned with the direction of the project going right now that it’s gonna be import and out-of-state workers and contractors. We’re calling on Governor Branstad today with legislators to put together incentives and some things that can help the local construction industry.”

Construction at the plant is expected to begin in the spring.  Unions had been working with Boldt Construction of Wisconsin on labor plans for the Kraft Heinz development but the firm has since withdrawn from the project.  Currently, it looks as if Gray Construction of Kentucky will take over the project.  Unions report that Gray Construction seems uninterested in utilizing the local workforce. 

“This is a problem that has gone on too long,” Washburn added. “The local workforce appears to be frozen out.”

Washburn suggests that the reputation of the region’s workers should incentivize their inclusion:

“Collectively, we brag about our workforce. Everybody brags about Iowa’s workforce and work ethic.  It’s about time we backed up that bragging with a little bit of reasonable expectations of what we expect Iowa workers to get when deals like this are made.”

Representatives of Gray Construction say they are “dumbfounded” by the claims, noting they have yet to be awarded the contract.  Jill Wilson, Gray’s vice president of communications, said:

“We will work with as many local contractors as we can provided they are qualified.

Union representatives hope Wilson’s comments were true, but argued that they are not being given enough time to bid on the project.  Local firms have been given one week to come up with bids.  

At the news conference, Washburn floated the idea of a taskforce which would find ways to ensure that local labor is used on publically subsidized projects.  The building trades do not want to stop outside firms from bidding on projects, Washburn says, but wants to ensure local contractors have a fair shake:

“We are not talking about issues that are going to prevent somebody from coming to the state of Iowa and bid work but we are talking about preventing bottom feeding contractors that exploit their workers and come into our communities and steal our tax dollars.”

The project is steeped in controversy because it will result in job losses for the region.  The current plant employs roughly 1,200 workers but the new plant will trim that number to 475.  

A spokesperson for Gov. Branstad, Ben Hammes, said that the governor enjoys “a great working relationship with building unions” and will “consider and look at proposals they might have.”


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