DAVENPORT — The number of Iowans who are members of labor unions in the state dropped sharply in 2017, according to new estimates from the federal government.
The decline comes a year after the Republican-controlled Legislature significantly reduced the collective bargaining rights of most public sector workers in the state.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that 104,000 Iowans were members of labor unions in 2017, down from 129,000 the year before.
The figures, which account for both public and private sector unions, aren’t exact totals but estimates derived from a survey of a quarter of 60,000 nationwide households that take part in the government’s monthly Current Population Survey.
This isn’t the first decline in union membership in recent years. Membership in Iowa labor unions has fallen in Iowa since 2014, according to the survey. However, the estimated fall off last year was sharper than it had been previously.
The survey said that 7 percent of wage and salaried workers in the state belonged to unions in 2017. That’s down from 8.9 percent the year before.
Public unions have felt under siege since the Legislature’s changes, but it’s not clear whether their membership totals have suffered.
The state’s two largest public unions, the Iowa State Education Association and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, do not release membership figures.
Union officials, though, did point to recertification elections to demonstrate they still have support.
Of 481 recertification elections held last fall, only 31 unions were not recertified. That came despite new rules requiring unions to get a majority of people covered by their contracts to support recertification, rather than a majority of those voting.
“They still believe unions have a role,” Danny Homan, president of AFSCME, Iowa Council 61, said Wednesday.
Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of ISEA, also pointed to the success in the recertification elections but noted the effort diverted resources from typical union activities.
“I think that’s exactly what the Legislature wanted to happen,” she said.
The federal figures said 127,000 Iowans, or 8.6 percent, of wage and salaried employees in the state, were covered by union contracts, down from 153,000, or 10.5 percent, the year before.
In 2014, 184,000 Iowans were covered by union contracts, according to the survey.
CEDAR FALLS — The Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-4 Wednesday to recommend City Council approval of a proposed 61,000-square-foot, five-story residential-commercial development at the bottom of College Hill.
A company of developer Brent Dahlstrom proposed incorporating the former Ginger’s bar site, 925 W. 22nd St., and two adjacent properties at 1003 W. 22nd St. and 2119 College St. Ginger’s was damaged in the 2016 fire that consumed the now-reconstructed Great Wall restaurant. Ginger’s did not resume business and has been demolished, as would be the properties on the other two parcels.
It would be one of the largest developments in the College Hill area in years and has generated considerable public debate over the past three months.
The matter will go before the City Council sometime in February.
Parking remains a major subject of debate. In November, city staff concluded the project is primarily residential, would need 144 parking stalls and falls 97 stalls short.
Dahlstrom reworked his proposal, increasing from 3,000 to nearly 11,000 square feet the commercial space on the building’s ground floor. But he also increased the number of apartments from 63 to 83, though reducing the number of residential beds from 132 to 120 by proposing more studio and fewer three-bedroom apartments.
With more than 64 percent of the ground-floor space being commercial, city staff said parking is not required under the commercial zoning now applied to the project. But Dahlstrom is proposing 65 on-site parking spaces, including some underground parking accessible off West 23rd Street.
Staff indicated there was precedent for determining parking based on the ground floor being primarily commercial — even though 83 percent of the building will be residential.
Des Moines attorney Daniel L. Manning Sr., representing a group called Concerned Citizens of College Hill, said the proposal “defies logic.”
“You bring your common sense in this room,” Manning said. “There’s no one I’m representing that says we want his project stopped. We want it done reasonably, responsibly and in accordance with a rational, reasonable interpretation of your zoning ordinance.” Rejection, he suggested, would mean Dahlstrom would rework his plan.
Dahlstrom’s attorney, Larry James Jr., also of Des Moines, said, “The fact is the code allows this project to occur without any parking. The applicant has tried to work with staff and tried to address some of the concerns of neighbors and this commission and has added 65 spaces to the project. So I respectfully request you approve the site plan.”
Several people who own property and work on College Hill were divided on the project.
Cara Bigelow Baker, who works at The Razor’s Edge on the Hill, said Dahlstrom’s Urban Flats project on West 22nd Street has already caused parking congestion, and the proposed development would only compound it.
Dave Deibler, who owns two businesses on College Hill, said, “I just want to make sure the conversation we have tonight includes those of us who favor this development. ... I think we have some catching up to do. I think a development like this is sorely needed.”
Former City Council member Nick Taiber suggested the development may solve more problems citywide by providing more housing closer to campus and reducing conversions of single-family homes into apartments.
WATERLOO — Felicia Smith-Nalls is turning a passion for her hometown into a career.
The Waterloo girl who never missed the National Cattle Congress Fair and fondly remembers the former theme park system is now working to strengthen the neighborhoods in which she was raised.
Smith-Nalls was appointed last week as the city’s neighborhood services coordinator, a position she’s held on a temporary basis for the past 13 months as her predecessor Perry Goodman was out on medical leave.
“I was always working with people before, even in my free time, just trying to get them engaged in Waterloo,” she said. “Now I’m here to be a liaison between neighborhoods and the city, to try to get them information that can help them do what they want to do.”
Smith-Nalls received ringing endorsements from several neighborhood leaders, including Liberty Park Neighborhood Association founder and newly elected Councilman Chris Shimp.
“I can’t express what an excellent job she has done since taking that position,” Shimp said. “I can’t express enough my overwhelming support for that appointment.”
Mayor Quentin Hart said Smith-Nalls has the technical ability and personality needed to help give Waterloo’s neighbors the “collective voice they need.”
“In a very short time she’s been able to build incredible relationships with the neighborhood leaders,” Hart said. “She’s been able to help them organize and just enliven the enthusiasm in our neighborhood groups.”
Waterloo has 37 recognized neighborhood associations and several more organized informally, although only a dozen are really active and meet regularly.
The neighborhood services position was created in 1999 by former Mayor John Rooff and funded with federal Community Development Block Grant dollars. It is designed to help neighborhood groups organize and connect them to appropriate city departments and resources to resolve problems or make improvements.
“It’s not always the easiest to navigate (the city government) because there’s not always the natural connectors you would think,” Smith-Nalls said. “Information may not be passing as smoothly as we think it is.”
Not every neighborhood has the same needs or priorities.
One neighborhood may want help securing a vacant city lot for a garden. Another may have issues with tires being dumped behind a home. And another may want help forming a nonprofit organization to apply for grants on their own.
Smith-Nalls helped connect neighborhood associations to businesses to provide food and other resources during the National Night Out celebration in August.
“That’s our Super Bowl,” she said of the event that brought thousands of neighbors out to community gatherings. “That is what it’s all about, folks.”
Smith-Nalls is working on plans to set up a Waterloo Neighborhood Coalition as its own nonprofit organization so it can seek grants, accept donations and have a pool of funds outside of city government, whether it’s for a popcorn machine or face paints for events or flower seeds for community gardens.
“In city budget line items they look frivolous,” she said. “But to my neighborhoods and people wanting to make a small change, that could be great.”
She’s also hoping to put a focus on marketing Waterloo’s neighborhoods, which could include videos showing off areas as great places to live and to highlight positive changes.
“Waterloo gets dinged a lot and I’m not sure why, because there’s such cool stuff happening in Waterloo,” Smith-Nalls said. “You’ve got great neighborhoods. You’ve got people helping their neighbors and helping the woman down the street. You’ve got neighbors that have rebuilt fences for each other.”
Neighborhood Services is located at 620 Mulberry St. Smith-Nalls can be reached at (319) 291-9145 and Felicia.Smith@waterloo-ia.org.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared late Wednesday he’s “looking forward” to being questioned — under oath — in the special counsel’s probe of Russian election interference and possible Trump obstruction in the firing of the FBI director.
Trump said he would be willing to answer questions under oath in the interview, which special counsel Robert Mueller has been seeking but which White House officials had not previously said the president would grant.
“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump said when asked by reporters at the White House. As for timing, he said, “I guess they’re talking about two or three weeks, but I’d love to do it.”
He said, as he has repeatedly, that “there’s no collusion whatsoever” with the Russians, and he added, “There’s no obstruction whatsoever.”
The full scope of Mueller’s investigation, which involves hundreds of thousands of documents and dozens of witness interviews, is unknown. And there have been no signs agents aren’t continuing to work on ties between Trump’s campaign and a Russian effort to tip the 2016 election.
But now that Mueller’s team has all but concluded its interviews with current and former Trump officials, and expressed interest in speaking with the president himself, the focus seems to be on the post-inauguration White House. That includes the firing of FBI Director James Comey and discussions preceding the ouster of White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The timing and circumstances of a Trump interview are still being ironed out. But soon it will probably be the president himself who will have to explain to Mueller how his actions don’t add up to obstruction of justice. And that conversation will be dominated by questions tied whether he took steps to thwart an FBI investigation.
So far, witness interviews and the special counsel’s document requests make clear Mueller has a keen interest in Comey’s May 9 firing and the contents of Comey’s private conversations with the president, as well as the ouster months earlier of Flynn and the weeks of conversations leading up to it.
A focus on potential obstruction has been evident almost since Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. And recent interviews with administration officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have shown that Trump is dealing with prosecutors who already have amassed a wealth of knowledge about the events he’ll be questioned about.
Prosecutors have interviewed numerous White House aides including Trump’s closest confidants such as Counsel Don McGahn, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Sessions, who had urged Comey’s firing, was interviewed for hours, becoming the highest-ranking Trump administration official known to have submitted to questioning. Mueller also wants to interview former adviser Steve Bannon, who has called Comey’s firing perhaps the biggest mistake in “modern political history.”
The White House initially said the firing was based on the Justice Department’s recommendation and cited as justification a memo that faulted Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Trump himself said later he was thinking of this “Russia thing” and had intended to fire Comey anyway.
Sessions, the target of the president’s ire since he stepped aside last March from the Russia investigation, would have been able to offer close-up insight into the president’s thinking ahead of the termination. He also could have been able to speak to the president’s relationship with Comey, which Comey documented in a series of memos about conversations with Trump that bothered him.
In one memo, Comey described a January 2017 meeting over dinner at which he said the president asked him to pledge his loyalty. Separately, a person familiar with the conversation said this week that Trump in a meeting last year with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe brought up McCabe’s wife’s political background following the revelation that she had accepted campaign contributions during a state Senate run from the political action committee of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday night Trump had also asked McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential race. McCabe replied he did not vote. Trump said Wednesday he did not recall asking that question.
Another of Comey’s memos centered on a February conversation at the White House in which he said Trump told him he believed Flynn, the fired national security adviser, was a “good guy” and encouraged Comey to drop an investigation into him. The FBI had interviewed Flynn weeks earlier about whether he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition period between the election and the inauguration. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI during that interview.
Mueller has been investigating the events leading up to Flynn’s dismissal from the White House, including how officials responded to information from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates that Flynn had misled them by saying that he had not discussed sanctions. Despite that warning, and despite an FBI interview days after Trump’s inauguration, Flynn was not forced to resign until Feb. 13 — the night of media reports about Yates’ conversation with McGahn.
Mueller will likely want to know what Trump understood, before asking Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, about Flynn’s interview with the FBI — and whether he had made false statements — and about his conversation with the Russian ambassador.