Mt. Pleasant News, News

Joni Ernst tours Wal-Mart Distribution Center Wednesday

Senator impressed with employee benefits, thinks ‘Future Ready Iowa’ initiative could benefit workforce

Photo by Grace King

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) visited with Wal-Mart employees during her tour of the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Mt. Pleasant Wednesday, April 4, as a part of her 99-county tour across Iowa.

Following the tour, Ernst expressed how impressed she was with the technology Wal-Mart is using, saying it was her first time touring a Wal-Mart distribution center.

“To see how the lines operate and how the employees are using different scanning devices and different technology that I guess I wouldn’t have thought about if I hadn’t witnessed it here,” Ernst said. “It really is great for the community.”

As a veteran herself, Ernst was proud of the Mt. Pleasant facility for employing almost 80 veterans and impressed with the benefits all employees are given. “Wal-Mart really puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to their employees,” she said.

“She was really impressed with the benefits we added,” Wal-Mart Director Lisa Nelson said of Ernst following the tour. “We’re really proud of those things we’ve rolled out for our (employees). She asked some really great questions.”

Ernst chose to tour the distribution center to get out and see something new in the community. Not only are many of the employees there from within Mt. Pleasant, but Ernst said that some even travel from as far as maybe even 100 miles for this employment. Ernst praised their starting wages, adding that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 allowed for employees who have been with the distribution center for over 20 years to get a $1,000 bonus.

“I met one of the men who actually got one of those bonuses,” Ernst said in the lobby of the distribution center. “He loves it. Just tremendous what they have been able to reinvest in their employees and the technology they’re using because of the tax cuts.

“He also was a veteran, so we were able to talk about some veterans’ issues,” she added.

Ernst definitely sees Wal-Mart’s logistics model as a model for other businesses, noting the amount of goods processed through this particular facility. “It is very streamlined. They have got it down to an absolute science,” Ernst commented.

“It was a great chance to talk about the company, share where we are right now. It was a great opportunity for her to tour a facility like this,” Wal-Mart Senior Director Sean Bresett said after the tour.

Ernst said that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynold’s Future Ready Iowa initiative has the potential to provide more skilled labor to businesses like the Wal-Mart Distribution Center by preparing high school students through skills trade programs.

Ernst did say that Wal-Mart has a program right now where they assist employees with G.E.D.s and associate degrees, but she would like to see more people coming out of the school system ready to go to work in skilled trades.

“If (students) are learning that through skills trade programs in their schools, through partnerships with community colleges, it’s going to be that much better for them when they enter the workforce not only with the distribution center but for so many other businesses across the state of Iowa,” Ernst said.

Following the tour, Ernst also discussed the U.S.’s tariff war with China, saying that she hopes to see it end like the tariff war with South Korea. Last fall, Ernst said President Donald Trump pushed back against the South Korean Trade Agreement (KORUS), saying he was going to “rip it up.”

At the time, Ernst and other senators who had interest in trade told the president to please not rip it up, pleading with him to renegotiate. “Actually, a couple weeks ago (Trump) signed a new agreement with KORUS where the U.S. comes out much better than they did in the original agreement,” Ernst said, adding that she hopes to see the same outcome in tariff wars with China.

“We have to push back on (China) because they have stolen a lot of U.S. intellectual property throughout the years,” Ernst continued, saying China has imposed tariffs on U.S. goods in China and the U.S. has not retaliated. “So, we’re in a very bad position when it comes to trade in China,” she said.

Ernst actually said she spoke to Trump over the phone Wednesday morning, April 4, and expressed her concerns about the impact tariffs will have on the Iowa farmer. Trump said they are trying to work through the issues with China, but it’s going to be a process.

“He thinks farmers will come out ahead at the end of this — yet to be seen,” Ernst said.

Ernst also spoke to him about opening up new markets such as the European Union, which would provide a new market for American goods and agriculture products, she said.

Ernst and Trump also discussed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Ernst said he sounded optimistic about.

“That’s one I’ve pushed quite heavily with (Trump),” Ernst said, adding that she spoke to him about NAFTA before Christmas and had a follow-up call with him earlier this year.

During their phone call Wednesday, Trump told Ernst, “Joni, you and a couple of other senators are the reason we did not rip NAFTA up.”

“Being able to present from our perspective what tearing up the agreement would do to farmers, (Trump) gets that,” Ernst said. “He doesn’t want to harm farmers. If we can work through this issue and come out ahead, I would be extremely grateful. I don’t want to see our American farmers hurt in the process.”

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