- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A lawmaker called for an investigation Monday to determine why so many more workers at the Iowa Veterans Home have been fired and disqualified from future state employment under Gov. Terry Branstad than his predecessors.

Democratic Sen. Steve Sodders of State Center said his analysis of recently released state data shows that 61 employees have been terminated and added to the so-called “do-not-rehire” list during Branstad’s current term, which started in January 2011. He said that was far more than the total of 40 added to the list during the previous 12 years under Democratic governors, and twice as many as those added during Branstad’s previous term in office from 1995 to 1998.

Sodders has long accused the home’s former commandant, David Worley, of creating a hostile work environment in which workers faced harassment and retaliation. Worley, who had been hired under Democratic Gov. Chet Culver in 2010, resigned in October after months of criticism from Democrats and former employees.

Branstad had repeatedly defended Worley and thanked him for his “years of service and important changes” when he resigned. Branstad has appointed former Iowa Army National Guard Gen. Jodi Tymeson to run the home, where more than 600 veterans and their spouses live in nursing home and assisted living facilities on a 150-acre campus. The home has nearly 1,000 workers and is Iowa’s largest nursing facility.

In a statement on the Senate floor Monday, Sodders said that 50 of the 61 workers who were fired and placed on the list were women. He said many of them had worked for modest wages preparing meals, cleaning clothes, bathing and providing care for elderly veterans.

He said he believed the practice of disqualifying those workers from state employment “violated the civil rights of people in my Senate district,” and he asked Branstad to investigate.

“I’m asking you to launch an independent effort to determine if Veterans Home workers were wrongly fired and then blacklisted under the leadership of David Worley,” Sodders said. “If you refuse to act, then the Legislature should undertake this responsibility. It is the least we can do for those workers whom the evidence indicates were bullied by the administration, wrongly fired, and then banned from future employment.”

Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Sodders should focus his attention on supporting a bill that would allow the public to view employee personnel files and see why an individual was terminated.

“The governor’s office would welcome a decision by Sen. Sodders and Senate Democrats to buck the union opposition to this transparency bill and shed light on why some former employees are no longer working for the state.” Centers said.

Sodders‘ call is the latest development after The Associated Press obtained a list last week of 975 former workers who are barred from returning to work at the executive branch based on prior firings or resignations. Lawmakers complained they were misled by then-Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll when he testified April 3 that no such list existed, and demanded copies.

A union official said last week the list contains some major mistakes, including the names of at least two current state workers and others whose firings aren’t final.

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