Hundreds of union workers have been laid off at the giant Iowa Fertilizer plant in Lee County, and critics complain the company has hired a new non-union contractor to take their place with out-of-state employees.
It’s a controversial project that the state spent millions of dollars in incentives to attract.
Senator Tom Courtney (D-Burlington) says he’s been advised that the main subcontractor has been fired and the union workers let go.
He says an ad in Texas shows a non-union contractor is recruiting replacement workers to come to Iowa through December.
“There’s nothing in the contract that said it had to be union workers,” Courtney says. “I want to say that there a lot of good Iowans who wanted to live here and wanted to stay and now those jobs are gone.”
Iowa Fertilizer Company, which is constructing the plant, was a subsidiary of Orascom, the Egyptian firm which received half a billion dollars in local, state, and federal subsidies to locate in Lee County.
Richie Schmidt with the Laborers International Union briefed a statehouse committee on the layoffs.
“The 14-hundred and 80 members that were laid off in Wever, Iowa last week,” Schmidt says, “They are now sitting without jobs right now. They're going to be replaced with other workers from out of state. That's what we're hearing down there.”
Tina Hoffman with the Iowa Economic Development Authority calls the layoffs a business decision.
“From all of the information we have,” Hoffman says, “it seems the transition has been nearly seamless.”
Senator Courtney says he plans to meet with IEDA officials and union representatives about the layoffs.