DES MOINES, Iowa
UE Political Action Day brought
together two UE Local 893 members who hold elected office in Iowa (above) —
State Rep. Rick Larkin and Fort Madison City Councillor Neal Boeding, pictured
above with Sen. Eugene Fraise, assistant minority leader, and Local 893 member
Amelie Hanlon takes center stage (below) while father Matt
engages Gov. Tom Vilsack (behind Amelie); Local 893 Pres. Dan Kelly is to the
left of the governor.
More than 50 UE members gathered here for the seventh annual
UE Political Action Day on Feb. 8. A morning of icy fog gave way to a bright
day that saw UE members attending workshops, extensive discussions with
legislators and meeting with Gov. Tom Vilsack.
"It was very upbeat, people thought it was
terrific," reports Local 893, IUP Pres. Dan Kelley.
Delegates came from three locals: Local 893, the large
statewide amalgamated local representing mostly state employees; Local 896,
COGS, representing graduate employees of the University of Iowa; and Local
855, representing the staff of Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo. They
were joined by representatives of the independent Des Moines Municipal
Although legislative committees were in session, the energetic
UE members met with 50 legislators, fully one third of the legislature.
About a week before the conference, newspapers reported that
two and a-half year-old Shelby Duis, a client of the state Department
of Human Services, had been brutally beaten to death. The little girl’s
mother and boyfriend have been charged with first-degree murder. The social
worker assigned to the case, Chuck Ilig, is a Local 893 leader; like
many caseworkers, Ilig has an enormous caseload, logging some 600 hours of
overtime in two years.
"There is every reason to expect that Chuck did
everything right," Local Pres. Kelley says.
The tragedy led to fresh attacks on State of Iowa social
workers by those Kelley describes as "the radical right."
"These are the people who have worked for years to cut our budget and cut
our staff and are now whining that something happened," he says.
Two years ago, the then-Republican governor likely would have
used the tragedy to call for privatization of UE members’ jobs. This year,
the UE members met with a governor willing to defend front-line state
employees. "The visit with the governor was really uplifting," says
Kelley. "The former governor tried to exterminate us, so to have someone
who supported us was beyond belief."
Meeting with the UE conferees, Gov. Vilsack defended the Human
Services staff — and he described himself as having grown up in an abusive
family. The problems in the Human Services Dept., he said, are problems of
understaffing and underfunding created by his predecessor. Gov. Vilsack said
that state employees are set up to fail when the legislature fails to provide
adequate funding, and that failure becomes an excuse for further cuts.
The governor declared, "We have put you, the public
employees, into a system that is often tragically underfunded, and doesn’t
work — but we are going to do something about it."
HAVING AN IMPACT
The Iowa UE activists also heard from Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob
Clark, who told them: "UE is having a political impact in Iowa,
without giving millions of dollars in political contributions — and our work
here has helped elect a governor who is finally listening to us."
In welcoming participants, Local 893 Pres. Kelley pointed out
that "We always have the largest rank-and-file contingent of any union to
lobby, and that speaks volumes about the nature of our union."
Chris Townsend, UE political action director, reviewed the
union’s battle against privatization and Iowa legislative agenda —
emphasizing opposition to privatization, increased funding for public
education, investigation of excessive social worker and income maintenance
worker caseloads and expansion of public-sector worker rights.
District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen brought greetings on
behalf of the district, which includes Iowa.
Pres. Kelley noted sadly the absence of Alex Phillips,
a volunteer in the union’s Johnson County office, who passed away eight days
previously. A physically challenged individual, Phillips energetically and
effectively advanced the union’s political agenda in his wheel chair. Kelley
proposed that the day be dedicated to Phillips’s memory.
UE News - 02/00