Culver’s latest executive order

Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, spoke to the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council convention this morning.  He used the occasion to sign an executive order which requires project-labor agreements on most large-scale, state-government-financed construction projects.  Think Hancher II in Iowa City.  Here’s the Radio Iowa story, complete with the audio of the 15-minute speech Culver delivered this morning.  There’s also audio there from the five-minute Question-and-Answer session Culver had with a handful of reporters after the speech. 

Here’s a transcript of Culver’s exchange with reporters:

William Petroski of The Des Moines Register: “How important is labor support going to be for your reelection campaign?”

Governor Culver: “I’m proud of the fact that I’m fighting every day for hard-working Iowa families.  I’m going to continue to do what I can as governor to support them and proud to get as much possible support as possible in my reelection.”

Petroski: “Is Iowa going to eliminate the Right-to-Work Law under your administration?”

Culver: “I don’t believe we’re going to do that.  I mean it’s, there’s a lot of exciting things on the table at the statehouse. It’s unclear now in terms of what particular steps we might take to help hard-working families, but I know that the Democratic Party is interested in fighting for those families and making some progress in terms of helping those families out, especially during these tough economic times.”

O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa (me): “Republicans have criticized this (executive order) as something that is harmful to small companies, many of which aren’t unionized because they’re small, and they also say it will add significantly to the cost of public projects.  How do you respond to that?”

Culver: “Well, they’re just not being accurate. I mean, you know, elections are about a choice.  Governing is about choices every day.  I’m choosing to stand up and fight for hard-working Iowans and disappointed to hear that for whatever political reason other aren’t on board.  I mean, you had people that were actually against (raising) the minimum wage, against expanding the earned income tax credit and often a lot of political rhetoric is used to mislead and misguide people.  This is a very common sense step to ensure that these projects are done on time, that good wages are paid and the projects are done right.”

Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register: “If this is such a good deal of the state, why make it optional? Why is it just something that they may pursue?”

Culver: “No, we’re going as far as we can in terms of my executive authority and this has not been done before.  This is a big step and we’re sending a clear message about how much we value these hard-working families and I’m using the power of the executive branch to go as far as I can on this.”

Obradovich:“So is it your expectation, then, that most agencies will be using PLAs most of the time?”

Culver: “Yes, especially when the rules permit them.  There are certain projects that will not be covered.”

Obradovich: “Under what kind of circumstances?”

Culver:“There’s a certain threshhold in terms of the overall project.”

Lynn Campbell of “Governor, what do you say to those who just say that this executive order is political payback in your reelection?”

Culver: “Again, that’s not the case.  We’re moving forward on hundreds and hundreds of very important infrastructure projects whether it’s related to the flood recovery or the (I-JOBS) and infrastructure initiative.  We’ve never had this kind of economic development. We’ve never had this many projects on the board at the same time and so it’s important that we pay good wages for these projects and again it’s not only about good wages, it’s about making sure these projects are done on time with skilled laborers that are qualified to do these jobs and at the end of the day it’s probably going to save money because they will be done right the first time instead of coming back time and time again, as is too often the case, to fix inefficiencies with a project.  That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Obradovich asked about Iowa contractors being “undercut” on projects, then she asked whether this executive order negates the need for a prevailing wage bill.

“No, I still believe we need to push forward on prevailing wage,” Culver said. “…It’s very similar to the minimum wage.  We’re just talking about paying a carpenter, a pipe-fitter a couple more dollars an hour at a time when, again, families need more income. They need to work. They need to have good wages and that’s what prevailing wage will do.”

Former Governor Terry Branstad’s campaign manager sent an email last night to denounce Culver’s executive order — and heused the occasion to ask for donations to the Branstad campaign.

Reaction from other quarters included the following statements:

A statement from Iowans for Tax Relief president Ed Failor, Junior: “It is unfortunate Governor Culver wakes up in the morning trying to payoff Union Bosses instead of serving taxpayers.

“Governor Culver is clearly willing to again drive up the cost of government. That is a horrendous judgement and displays an utter lack of leadership at a time when Iowa’s budget is facing a massive hole.”

DES MOINES – Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawntoday commented on Governor Culver’s executive order forcing state departments to consider signing Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs.
“Today is yet another election-year photo-op from our Governor that has nothing to do with creating a single job that will put any of the over 110,000 unemployed Iowans back to work.
“Instead of attempting to pacify the big labor bosses that fund his campaign, Governor Culver should be aggressively marketing Iowa as a right-to-work state. Today’s order, while completely symbolic in nature, sends Iowans and job creators a clear signal that his priorities are elsewhere.
“Lastly, as a practical matter, PLAs do not bring a project in on time or on budget. Just look at the Iowa Events Center as an example. The reality is that PLAs discourage competition from non-union contractors, thereby driving up costs for taxpayers. Open competition is fair to both union and non-union workers, providing taxpayers with safe, on-time and low-cost construction.”

John Gilliland of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry:  “This doesn’t help put the thousands of non-union workers back to work.”

UPDATE: Council Bluffs, Iowa – February 3, 2010 – Councilman Matt Schultz announced today his opposition to Governor Chet Culver’s Executive Order requiring all state departments and agencies to consider using Project Labor Agreements on large-scale construction projects.

Today Governor Chet Culver issued an Executive Order, while attending the Building and Construction Trades Convention, requiring all state departments and agencies to consider using “Project Labor Agreements” on large-scale construction projects. “This Executive Order is just another example of Union Pandering during an election year. If the Governor wanted to promote fairness and stop the underbidding of state projects by unethical contractors, who hire illegal aliens for cheap labor, the Governor should issue an Executive Order requiring all contractors making state bids to verify their workforce through the Federal E-Verify system operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. Iowa is a Right to Work State and all Iowans, including our Secretary of State, should stand-up and tell the Governor that we don’t want laws that take power away from the people and give it to the Unions under the disguise of Fairness.”

“When I am elected Secretary of State I will use the office as a Bully Pulpit to fight for Iowa Jobs. This would be a perfect opportunity for Michael Mauro to stand-up and show Iowa that he does not just administer all of the business filings in the state, but that he cares about Iowa’s Right to Work laws and promoting jobs. Iowa’s unemployment is at a 20 year high, our elected officials should focus on ways to promote jobs for all Iowans and not just for Unions. E-Verify allows businesses to verify their workforce making sure that Iowans are put to work and not illegal aliens. The Secretary of State should be promoting E-Verify through the Secretary of State website and encouraging Iowa businesses to verify their workforce, not only leveling the playing field for Unions, but making more jobs available to all Iowans.”

Councilman Matt Schultz announced his candidacy for Iowa Secretary of State on October 31, 2009, making a pledge to be a “Pro Jobs” Secretary of State and fight for Fair Elections.  Matt Schultz was first elected to the Council Bluffs City Council in 2005 and is in his second term. Matt is a graduate of Creighton Law School and the University of Iowa. Matt is married with three children and is an Attorney at the law firm of Coats, Schultz & Watson, LLP. 


NEWTON – Gov. Chet Culver’s order the state agencies must consider expensive project labor agreements shows he is “more worried about winning political favors with union leaders than looking out for working Iowans who will have to pay the cost,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats said today.
 Project labor agreements, (PLAs) are a direct assault on Iowa’s right-to-work laws because they usually require that all workers be hired through union halls, non-union workers pay dues for the length of the project, and union rules on pensions, work conditions and dispute resolution are followed.
 Culver’s signature on the order today will not create more jobs for Iowans but will increase the cost of taxpayer-financed construction projects such as at the state’s three public universities and at state agencies. His order currently excludes road construction.
 When the Democrat-controlled Polk County Board of Supervisors entered into a project labor agreement with the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trade Council it failed to keep the project on time or on budget, according to a report by the Iowa Policy Institute.
 Instead, the construction of Hy-Vee Hall was 105 days past its deadline and the total project came in $9 million over budget. The report concluded the PLA was “an unnecessary burden on the workers who were frozen out of the opportunity to work, businesses that were not allowed to compete, and the taxpayers who were forced to pay even more for the Iowa Events Center construction because of the cost overruns of the project.”
 “PLAs kill competition. Iowa has plenty of highly qualified non-union firms and workers who should be allowed to bid on state contracts. We’re going to get Iowa back to work and get our state budget under control by broadening the number of people and businesses that can compete for state contracts, not reducing that number,” Vander Plaats said. “Once again, Chet Culver has shown he’s desperately trying to put his political future ahead of the futures of the rest of us. That’s not what leadership is all about.”


Des Moines, IA – The Iowa Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) today denounced Executive Order 22 issued by Governor Chet Culver, which encourages the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) on large-scale construction projects.
“Construction contracts subject to government-mandated PLAs are designed to be awarded exclusively to unionized contractors and their all-union workforces,” said Mike McCoy, ABC of Iowa Chairman.  “PLAs drive up construction costs by as much as 18 percent and discriminate against 8 out of 10 Iowa construction workers who have chosen not to join a construction labor union.”
“In the face of sagging poll numbers, Governor Culver issued an order that is nothing more than a political handout to Big Labor at the expense of taxpayers,” McCoy continued.  “There is no question that PLAs increase construction costs.  Studies conducted on a project here in Iowa found PLAs to be an unnecessary burden on local workers and taxpayers.  The only reason for Governor Culver to issue this order is to satisfy Big Labor after Democrats failed to repeal Iowa’s Right to Work law in 2007 and enact burdensome construction wage requirements in 2008 and 2009.”
A PLA is a contract that requires a construction project to be awarded only to contractors and subcontractors that agree to recognize unions as the representatives of their employees on that job; use the union hiring hall to obtain workers; pay union wages and benefits; and obey the union’s restrictive work rules, job classifications and arbitration procedures.
PLAs have been hotly contested because they discriminate against nonunion workers.  President Obama signed controversial Executive Order 13502 to encourage PLAs for use on federal construction projects over $25 million.  The order is under government review and is expected to be implemented.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. As usual the republicians and the ABC are fighting a order that is fair for workers. What they don’t tell you is the TRUTH about non union contractors, That is they (the non union contractors) KNOW what a union contractor’s labor cost are and then underbid by just enough to get a job, The difference is the union contractor pays a fair and living wage usually with benifits. The non union contractor pays about half as much in wages with little or NO BENIFITS. He then keeps the BIG PROFITS all to his self.
    So look at this way, with a PLA a hundred families make a good living. Without a PLA only ONE family makes a good living. I have seen this first hand as I was foolish enough to work non union once in my life.
    John J Merrick IBEW LU 347

  2. Pat O'Regan says

    Unions aren’t the problem. Pandering to Unions and using executive priveledges to reward political contributions is the problem. People work for whom they work for a variety of reasons. Forcing someone to adapt to a one sided set of political ideals (unionization) is wrong. Preventing a company from competing is wrong. Why cant any company that competes be put on the same labor and wage scale? It’s a simple clause in a contract that is specific to the job. Culver has just put the noose around his own neck! It proves the character of the individual. Whatever happened to the investigatiion regards the Voting Funds scandal from his days as Lietenant Governor? As soon as that story surface, he made the “deeply thought out” decision to cut the budget across the board. That really helped Iowa families didn’t it? Culver was elected Governor, not King. He needs to be investigated!


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