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Legislative Story

For this story I covered a bill proposed at the Iowa courthouse

Tipped workers in businesses may be seeing a pay increase if a new bill, HF 121, in front of the Iowa Legislature is passed. 

Current Iowa state law allows for new employees and tip workers to be paid below the state’s minimum wage of $7.25. New hires can be paid only $6.35 per hour for the first 90 days of employment. Tip workers, like restaurant servers, can be paid as low as $4.35 per hour. 

Currently, Iowa Code section 91D allows an employer to consider 40% of the minimum wage is paid to workers in tips, allowing the employer to pay the employee a sub-minimum wage of $4.35 an hour. The new bill, House File 121, would assure tipped workers make a minimum of $7.25 an hour. Businesses would have to pay the employees at least $7.25 after 60 days of work rather than after 90 days. Business also wouldn’t be required to assure an employee’s tips compensated the subminimum up to minimum wage. Prior to this bill businesses who hired tipped wage employees do not have to pay their staff minimum wage because the wage they pay is subsidized by their customers. In addition, the minimum and subminimum wage are subsidized by the government in the form of food stamps, housing, welfare and transportation programs.

HF 121 eliminates the subminimum wage, requiring tipped workers to earn a minimum wage of $7.25. The bill also changed the number of days a new worker could be paid a training wage of $6.35 by reducing it from 90 days to 60 days.

The minimum wage salary of an annual full-time worker is $15,080. This is $1,830 below the Federal Poverty Rate for two people. Creator of the bill, Marti Anderson, Iowa State Representative of House District 36, was influenced to create this bill by a workshop she attended that discussed wages. 

At the workshop she learned nearly two-thirds of the six million tipped workers nationwide are women, 36% of whom are mothers. Anderson explained the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers is legislated pay inequity for a predominantly female workforce, perpetuating the gender pay gap and leading to higher rates of poverty.

“Iowa is a low wage state, and I want to see the minimum wage raised because it would help raise all wages,” Anderson said. “Nobody should work full-time and still live in poverty.” 

John Solow, a professor of economics at the University of Iowa, said the bill’s change for tip workers in particular will have a significant impact.

“The main beneficiaries of the bill will be workers who earn a much lower minimum wage because they receive more than $30 per month in tips,” Solow said. “Instead, they would say their base pay raised to $7.25 per hour, the same as other workers.”

The Iowa minimum wage, subminimum wage and training wage have not been increased since 2008. Republicans have controlled the Governor’s seat and both chambers of the Legislature for four years in 2020, which has pushed aside the minimum wage issue. 

“To reduce government programs that subsidize what employers pay employees, we need to raise the minimum wage,” Anderson said. “This bill would be one step in that direction.”

Recently Iowa has had a problem in the workforce as of February, Iowa is the sixth unemployment rate in the nation. Iowa Work Force Development stated 55,000 jobs are vacant state wide. 

“Iowa’s business community and government has been concerned about a labor shortage for some time, but no one seems to want to consider the obvious solution, higher wages,” Solow said. 

Many local workers are supporting this bill to support the fight for a higher minimum wage. A waitress at a local restaurant in Ames, Iowa, Claire Anderson, is in full support of the bill. 

“Although my ultimate goal would be the minimum wage to increase to above 10 dollars, I think this bill is something that will give a lot of employees paid at minimum wage a ray of hope to know that there are people who are fighting for employees and minimum wage.” 

“This bill is only the beginning of building economic security for Iowans who work hard but receive minimal compensation,” Anderson said. “I want people to start thinking about who benefits from minimum wage and how employers use the government to increase their profits while forcing their employees into government programs.”

Relays Story

Story affiliated with Drake

With the 110thannual Drake Relays right around the corner, staff members are preparing for the event by increasing and reviewing safety precautions on Drake University’s campus to ensure students and staff are safe during the event. 

The annual Drake Relays brings anywhere from 10 to 30,000 spectators every day over the course of three days to Drake University’s campus. There are several abnormal challenges Drake Public Safety and law enforcement face.

 “The challenge with the Relays is we have to look at it and apply fresh eyes,” said Executive Director of Public Safety, Scott Law. “It is very easy to just sit there and say yep we’ve done this, we’ve done this, we can just keep doing this.”

At the end of each Relays the Drake Public Safety team, Des Moines Police Department and Des Moines Fire Rescue, along with the Drake University Athletic Department evaluate all of the safety and security steps that have been put in place to begin planning for the next year. One change they made last year was closing Forest Avenue for Relays from 27thstreet to 29thstreet for the first time.  

“This was a big success for the event and definitely added to overall event safety and security,” Law said. 

Closing Forest Ave reduced the traffic and pedestrian problems they have seen in past years. In addition, it supplied an extra layer of security for access to the stadium. 

“We all learned a lot from this last year, including things we can do to improve the situation for this year,” Law said. “After having closed Forest Ave for one year, we have a better idea about what to do and how to do it for this year.”

The decision to close Forest Ave. last year was because of the safety risks regarding vehicles. 

“You have a potential if you have a vehicle to hurt a lot of people, so my question to the city and the University was why are we not closing the street,” Law said. 

 Unfortunately, there was an incident a couple months prior to the Relays last year where someone drove a car into a crowd and killed number of people. This accident helped the city and the University see the value of closing the street. 

There are also several waves of both children and adult who cross Forest Ave. during Relays. Closing the street allowed people to no longer be at risk of vehicles while crossing. 

For this year’s Relays, they changed the street closing time from 8 a.m. on Thurs. April 25, until 8 p.m. on Sat., April 27. There will also be a significant increase in off-duty Des Moines Police Department members on campus. As well as Drake Public Safety staff, Student Affairs and Athletic staff present to ensure things run smoothly. Drake University has always hired a significant number of DMPD officers to supplement the Public Safety and events staff present for Relays. However, they are not willing to release how many staff members will be on duty during the event for safety reasons. 

“We expect that with increased DMPD and DPS presence on and around campus throughout the event we are well equipped to respond to any problems,” Law said. “In addition, we always evaluate what went well and what could be improved with DMPD, Drake Athletics and the Relays group to make sure we are meeting the needs.”

Students on campus are in favor of the increased safety precautions during the event. 

“I do think students are appreciative of all the safety precautions during Relays because it makes us feel safer, especially at night,” said Drake University senior, Melissa Schlotzhauer. “Closing the street last year went over really well with students because it created a fun environment with the addition of the venders and food trucks on the street.” 

Throughout Schlotzhauer’s college career, Public Safety has implemented new safety precautions each year. 

“My freshman year, there wasn’t near as many safety precautions on campus, however, since then they have increased dorm rules and blocked off the street,” Schlotzhauer said. “The street blocked off went over really well.” 

However, public safety is partly relying on students to keep themselves safe. 

“We ask that students do what they are very good at; look out for one another, show their bulldog spirit and help us out by being an additional five thousand sets of eyes on campus,” Law said. “If you see something, say something, because we are all in this together.”

Feature Story

On a Thursday morning, Alex Rath, a walk-on softball player for the University of Iowa, went in to talk to her coach. As she walked in, shut the door, and sat down she could feel her heart beating. Her palms were sweating. She knew from the look on her coach’s face how the conversation would go—and it wasn’t going to be good. In fact, it was worse than that. It was devastating. They started taking about her worth, or lack thereof. She’s nothing but a runner. She’ll never see the field. She’ll never make an impact. 

After the conversation with her coach, Rath sat down to contemplate her options. She saw two choices;she could either quit her lifelong dream of being a collegiate athlete, or she could work hard to prove them wrong. 

A couple hours and a phone call later from her mom, she was at the field taking reps. She wasn’t going to give up. Because that is the life of a walk-on – all sweat, no glory. 

A Thankless Job

If handling all the excess work, time, dedication and commitment wasn’t already enough, any walk-on player will tell you there is a certain stigma that comes with being a walk-on. They aren’t as good. They are just for practice. They will never see the field. They are the scrubs. 

So the question still remains, why do it? Each athlete has various reasons to walk on, but one common theme emerges from walk-on athletes: love and passion for the game. 

For Rath, walking-on was a way to prove to herself what she is capable of. 

“I believed I was good enough to play and wanted to make an impact at a large school,” Rath said. “I am very happy about my decision to walk on because it showed me I can play at this level.”

Samm Jones,aplayeron Drake University’s basketball team, lives with the stigma of being a walk-on every day.  

“I just wish people outside of the locker room would stop seeing me so drastically different because I am a walk-on,” Jones said. “I lace up my shoes the same way as my teammates do and the word never comes out of their mouths, because they do not think of me any differently than my other teammates.” 

Jones has experienced the life as a walk-on and a scholarship athlete. He transferred from Northwestern after just a semester in Chicago. Jones began as a walk-on at Drake, and after a year of play he received a scholarship. The year after that, he lost his scholarship and was demoted back to a walk-on. Jones has had three coaches in three years here at Drake. Each year the new coaches brought power, and Jones was a victim of that power. He was forced back into a walk-on spot. However, that did not waiver his love for the team and the game. Jones knew he wanted to continue to play because of his passion for the game.  

“I knew I wanted to play basketball no matter my role and I had a chance to work my way up even though I was starting off without a scholarship,” Jones said. “It has been an uphill battle, but it’s better than never putting up a fight in the first place.”

Jones’ experience shows how much power coaches have over the life of walk-on players. There are many different factors each coach must take into consideration for accepting walk-ons, and all coaches have different standards and opinions. Ultimately, the fate of walk-on athletes ends up in the coaches’ hands as they make the final decision of whether or not to accept them.

            For head softball coach at Drake University, Rich Calvert, these decisions have been easy.

Throughout his 16 years at Drake, there have only been three walk-ons on the softball roster.

            Calvert does not oppose walk-ons, but at a small, private university, he has to account for several factors. He is under a limited budget, limited training space, limited amount of coaches–and that’s just the start.

“All of those factors you do need to account for, but for me, the number one thing is team chemistry,” Calvert said. “With a smaller team, the girls really become a family.”

            Even though Calvert does not accept many walk-ons, they have still made an impact for the softball team at Drake.

            Laura Brewer,an alum of the Drake University softball team, became one of the key players for the team during her four years at Drake. 

            “Laura begged me to join the team,” Calvert said. “She had a really good work ethic and attitude, so I decided let her join.” 

            Brewer did not see the field once her freshman year. Her playing time was still very limited her sophomore year as well. Brewer than became an All-Conference player for the Missouri Valley Conference her junior year. 

“She was a great person, a great teammate, and had a great work ethic,” Calvert said. “She worked her butt off to become the player she ended up being.” 

Making a Difference

With dedication, hard work and commitment, walk-ons continue to make an impact regardless of the school, coach, or teammates. 

Junior softball player at the University of Iowa, Allison Doocy, has become one of the key factors to the team’s success throughout her time at Iowa, and she began her career as a walk-on. 

“I wasn’t ready to give up softball yet, which is mainly why I decided to walk-on,” Doocy said. “I also wanted to have an immediate group when arriving to college and be a part of something bigger than myself.” 

Doocy immediately impacted the program when she stepped on campus. She had an excellent freshman year for the Hawkeyes in the circle. After a successful first year, she then earned role of the Hawkeye’s ace pitcher her sophomore year. Not only did she prove herself to team, Doocy earned herself a scholarship after her sophomore year. 

“You have an internal drive to work harder when you enter the program because you are not promised anything,” Doocy said. “Things have gotten a lot easier as I have been in the program and I feel like I have found my comfort level.”

Doocy continues to find success for the team, as she was again the Hawkeye’s go-to pitcher her junior year. She earned 2ndteam All-Conference for the Big 10 this previous season. 

Doocy isn’t the only walk-on to find success, either. Two years later, Rath is now a starter for the Iowa Hawkeye’s softball team. She couldn’t be farther away from that day when her coaches told her she’d never get to play.

 “At the end of the day, I would do it all again because it showed me I can play at this level and compete with other really good players,” Rath said.