For Immediate Release: March 27, 2019

Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, drakestraw@fwwatch.org, 202-683-2467

Adam Mason, adam@iowacci.org, 515-282-0484

Aidan O’Shea, aoshea@publicjustice.net, 202-861-5240

Suit alleges state of Iowa is failing to protect its waterways from factory farms

Follow along on our Facebook livestream as we announce the lawsuit

Des Moines, IA – Today, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa claiming that the state has violated its obligation to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans.

This obligation is called the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires the state to protect the public’s use and not abdicate control to private interests. With well documented water pollution and only voluntary agricultural pollution controls, the suit alleges that the state is failing to uphold its duty. The groups are represented by Public Justice, Food & Water Watch, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch gathered at the Capitol building in Des Moines today to demand accountability for the failure of the state to uphold its duty to protect the Raccoon River, particularly from factory farm pollution.

“Iowans are tired of being told that our interests – our water, our health, our enjoyment of public waters, our drinking water, our pocketbooks – must be compromised or balanced with those of corporate ag and other industries willing to destroy our lives for profit,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, “Our lawsuit is holding the state to a higher standard – for us, for our kids, and our grandkids.”

Emma Schmit of Food & Water Watch said, “There is a well-known, statewide water crisis in Iowa, and the Raccoon River in Polk County has been particularly harmed by pollution from factory farms. The Raccoon River runs through one of the most intensely farmed areas of the United States, where runoff from animal manure and fertilizer poses a threat to tap water and recreational use of the river. Once again, the legislature has failed to take any action on water quality, so the citizens of Iowa have stood up to say enough is enough.”

The Raccoon River is the source of drinking water for some 500,000 Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, the largest water utility in Iowa, has one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world. The utility’s struggle to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines residents was documented in its 2015 lawsuit against upstream counties alleging that their failure to regulate tile drains led to excessive amounts of dangerous nitrates in the utility’s Raccoon River source water.

A bill to establish a moratorium on new and expanded factory farms was introduced in the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives during the 2019 session. Despite growing concern from citizens and an increasing number of legislative sponsors, leadership in the Iowa General Assembly refused to allow the bill to even be debated in subcommittee, and the bill died in the first funnel on March 8. No bills to address the factory farm or water quality crises remain alive in this legislative session.

Roxanne Conlin of Roxanne Conlin & Associates said, “Iowans have waited patiently for our elected officials to fix our state’s polluted public waters. As it is clear those elected do not have the willpower to take any substantive action, every day Iowans are now turning to the courts to make Iowa’s waters clean and to protect their ability to enjoy the many outdoor activities that so many Iowans hold dear.”

“The State of Iowa has an obligation to protect the public’s use of the Raccoon River,” said Brent Newell, Food Project Attorney at Public Justice. “Farmers know what practices work for their farms, communities, and the environment. But we are clearly seeing that voluntary compliance does not work in a system controlled by corporate agriculture. Iowans need a system that empowers Iowa’s farmers to be the solution and restores rural communities economically.”

This lawsuit is a response to Iowa’s failed leadership, which has allowed the agribusiness industry to degrade Iowa’s waterways, leaving citizens with the burden of pollution and the cost of cleanup efforts. The suit seeks actionable, mandatory solutions that will restore the Raccoon River and make it safe for people to recreate in and for those who rely on it for drinking water.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement works to empower and unite grassroots people of all ethnic backgrounds to take control of their communities; involve them in identifying problems and needs and in taking action to address them; and be a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental justice.

Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses.

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You can get involved by helping to support this case. Chip in $5, $10, $15 today!

As you know, legal action isn’t cheap. And, the Farm Bureau is going to come out swinging.

That’s why we’re asking you to dig deep. DONATE TODAY. Whatever you can give will fund the legal work, and help us the counter corporate ag’s misinformation at every turn.  

We’ll keep you updated as this case develops.

They dump it, you drink it, we won’t stop till they clean it up! 

Task force passes an ordinance for $10.75/hr by 2019 with a youth wage in spite of public dissent and clear disagreement by the task force itself

Over two dozen Iowa CCI members packed the room Thursday afternoon as the Polk County Minimum Wage Task Force decided on a final recommendation to the Polk County Board of Supervisors. In spite of strong vocal opposition, the Task Force voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.75/hr by 2019 with a cost of living adjustment; and to set a youth wage at 85% of the minimum wage.

Not only does recommending a separate youth wage rate not in line with the state law create a potential legal risk and put the whole ordinance at risk, it’s a blatant disregard for the hard working youth of Polk County.

“I believe that this idea promotes discrimination based on age; discrimination that is unconstitutional and as I understand, unethical. I believe that this proposal simply allows employers to take advantage of young people who will take any job that pays. I believe that this so called “youth wage” is in fact hurting the youth of Polk County,” said Iowa CCI member, Waukee High School student, and Polk County resident Michael Adato in a statement to the task force read by CCI member John Noble.

A youth wage exemption does not exist in federal law, state law, or Johnson County’s minimum wage ordinance, and including a youth wage in the Polk County ordinance is simply the Supervisors kowtowing to big business like the grocery industry.

Adato’s statement continued, “It sets a dangerous precedent of lower pay for teens-a huge market because of our expendable income…Oppose the “youth wage,” and instead, actually support our youth.”

Not only is the youth wage exemption disappointing, but the recommendation also does not go nearly far enough to help the working people of the county. Research by both the Iowa Policy Project and the United Way show that a true living wage is at least $15/hr in Polk County. With a living wage, workers in Polk County can turn around and spend that money in our local economy.

The task force’s recommendation of $10.75/hr is not near enough for Polk County residents to live, and with such a paltry increase Polk County is missing out on all of the economic benefits raising the wage could bring to our community.

Emily Schott, Worker Justice Organizer at Iowa CCI said, “The Supervisors are bowing down to big business in two ways: creating a youth wage for large corporations like the grocery industry so they can continue to hire hardworking youth at terrible wages, and creating an increase of $10.75/hr that is far less than what the people of this county need now, let alone by 2019 when it will go into full effect.”

The task force’s decision is a recommendation – the Supervisors have the ability to change any part of the recommendation. Polk County needs $15/hr, and Iowa CCI will continue to pressure the Polk County Board of Supervisors to raise the wage to a living wage without discriminatory exemptions like a youth wage.

Iowa CCI is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has fought to put people first for 40 years. Visit www.iowacci.org.

 

LIKE and TWEET to Fight for $15!

 

Over 75 community members joined Iowa CCI last Tuesday, June 28th in Des Moines to learn the truth about raising the minimum wage and to discuss the upcoming ordinance for Polk County.

There are dozens of myths around the minimum wage but little to no research to support these arguments. So why do we consistently hear these narratives from minimum wage opponents?

To help combat these myths that frequently surround the minimum wage CCI invited Peter Fisher, an expert in public finance and lead researcher for the Iowa Policy Project (IPP), and Paul Iversen, a former labor attorney and current Labor Educator for the University of Iowa’s Labor Center, to speak to Polk County residents and set the record straight.

Myth #1: We need a raise, but not $15/hr – this is Iowa, not California!

According to a recent poll conducted nationwide by Hart Research Associates, 71% of adults in the US support an increase in the minimum wage to $11/hr by 2020, 75% support an increase to $12.50, and 63% support an increase to $15/hr.

While the support for a substantial increase is overwhelming, here in Iowa we are constantly being told that these numbers are not realistic for our state. Opponents are quick to point out that places like Des Moines or Iowa City are not comparable to cities like New York or Seattle – two cities that have recently adopted a $15/hr minimum wage. What opponents fail to recognize is what it actually costs to live in Iowa.

Peter Fisher broke down the Iowa Policy Project’s 2016 Cost of Living Study and specifically addressed what working individuals and families need to earn in order to make ends meet in Polk County. IPP’s basic budget analysis provides specific information on costs of housing/utilities, food, healthcare, childcare, transportation, and household expenses such as clothing. It is a no-frills budget and does not factor in student loans, discretionary spending, or emergency savings.

Fisher explained that a single individual in Polk County would need at least $13.44/hr to simply make ends meet; a single parent with one child would need at least $22.62/hr; and a family of four with both parents working full time would need at least $17/hr.

Myth #2: It’s just teenagers and college kids working these low-wage jobs.

It is a common misconception that low-wage jobs are entry-level jobs for teenagers to have spending money. At one point in time, a few decades ago, this statement was somewhat true.

However, the working environment has shifted immensely. Manufacturing jobs that were once prevalent – and paid a family-supporting wage – have now been moved overseas where labor laws are less stringent. And the ones that have remained stateside do not offer competitive wages comparable to their value 30+ years ago. Now, these jobs have been replaced by the booming service and retail industries, and these industries are expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

Fisher spent time focusing on who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage from $12/hr-$15/hr in Polk County. Based on IPP’s findings, we can assume that the percentages of beneficiaries also reflects the age range for low-wage workers. For example, adults between the ages of 20-39 would see the greatest benefit with over 50% seeing an increase in their income, while adults 40 and over came in at a close second with 40% or more seeing an increase in their income. Teenagers were a distant third as beneficiaries for a minimum wage increase.

The reality is that its adults and parents working these jobs to support themselves and their families.

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**Image from Iowa Policy Project’s 2016 Cost of Living Study**

Myth 3: Raising the minimum wage will create job loss and force businesses to close.

When President Franklin D Roosevelt enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act and debuted the concept of a minimum wage in 1938, business leaders and opponents claimed that this concept was ludicrous. They felt that during a time of economic despair that setting regulations for pay and workers’ rights would create tough times for business.

Throughout history, opponents of the minimum wage continued to claim these same points but provided no concrete data to support those arguments with the exception of one report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This report states that large increases in the minimum wage would lead to high rates of unemployment.

Opponents of a substantial minimum wage increase often refer to the CBO report as a means to pass a lower raise such as $8.25/hr or $9/hr.

Both Paul Iversen and Peter Fisher explained in detail the various reasons why this report is not accurate. The main reason being that the research examined a change in the minimum wage but kept all other aspects of the economy constant. Iversen explained that this is a flaw in research because an increase of income would cause an increase in purchasing and production. Simply put – when people have more money in their pockets, more money gets filtered back into our economy. When this is not taken into account, research like the CBO report would show that job loss is a certainty.

Iversen continued by providing various examples of studies demonstrating the positive economic impacts that raising the minimum wage has had. Among those was an astonishing report from the University of California Berkley. The study examined employment rates of nearly 300 pairs of counties from 1990-2006. The pairs of counties consisted of one county with the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr and a neighboring county with a higher minimum wage.

There was no evidence in any of the 288 pairs of counties studied that showed there was a higher rate of unemployment in the higher wage counties compared to the lower wage counties. In fact, the employment rates were nearly identical. Iversen stated it was important to note the sample size of this research. In many studies it’s difficult to have such a large sample size.

A study such as this makes it clear that raising the minimum wage does not cause significant job loss. It actually spurs business growth due to the increase of demand. Businesses expand their customer base when more people have higher incomes. They also increase productivity and sales due to more people spending more money.

By the end of the meeting, folks were ready to mobilize and fight for $15/hr in Polk County.

It’s going to take all of us – working together – to get a living wage across Iowa. Join us at our upcoming events to ensure that the Polk County Supervisors hear why we need $15/hr.

Join us for the upcoming Fight for $15 events! Click here.