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Bill to crack down on ‘coyotes’ bringing workers to Iowa construction sites

DES MOINES — A group of senators is working on a bill aimed at unscrupulous recruiters who supply workers for taxpayer-funded construction projects in Iowa.

Felicia Hilton of the Carpenters Union said they’ve documented cases of labor brokers who pay substandard wages to workers — or don’t pay them at all.

“Right now, they’re hidden,” Hilton said during a Senate subcommittee hearing this morning. “We’re not talking about the workers. We’re talking about the broker, the coyote, the people trafficking or bringing people into the state of Iowa to perform work this way and to leave them unpaid.”

Peter Hird, a lobbyist for the Iowa Federation of Labor, said people who aren’t involved in the construction industry probably don’t understand how prevalent the problem is on private and public projects.

“These people can hide in the shadows and exploit workers,” Hird said.

Brian Ewing is an assistant director of organizing for the Carpenters Union, based in Altoona. He told lawmakers that when workers brought in by so-called coyotes are paid in cash rather than by check, proper payroll taxes aren’t being paid.

“We see it every day. We have affidavits. We tons of proof of guys not getting paid,” he said. “We help people file mechanics liens. They are totally taken advantage of and the reason they’re taken advantage of is because they can.”

The bill would require that the names and contact information of labor brokers involved in publicly-funded projects be filed with a state agency. Three senators have voted to make the bill eligible for committee consideration, but the group is planning to make changes in it.

Associations representing the state’s construction industry oppose the bill. A lobbyist for the Master Builders of Iowa said the subcontractors hired by general contractors to work on public projects are licensed by the state, but general contractors may not know all the people the subcontractors hire to finish a job.

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