On a Relay for Life,
And Her Union
By Peter Gilmore
|Margaret Crawley, Local 865 steward,
was a participant in the Relay for Life in June. The UE local raised over
$1,000 for cancer research.
Patti Briels is a cancer survivor and committed to the
UE local she helped to found nearly three years ago — and those facts go a
long way to explain the very obvious presence of the union at the annual Mills
County Relay for Life.
The Relay for Life raises funds for cancer research.
"There’s a lot of cancer in Iowa, so a lot of the money stays in the
state," Briels says. Relay 2000 raised a total of $59,000 — $1,000.05,
thanks to UE Local 865.
The local, which represents employees of the Glenwood
Community School District, fielded a 24-person team comprised of friends,
family and union members. Forty-two teams shared the Glenwood school track,
keeping a member walking or running for 18 consecutive hours on a warm June
Team members took turns on the track, with refreshment and an
opportunity to rest provided in the team tent. Runners get perks in the form
of gifts and meals.
"We have bank presidents walking alongside garbage
collectors. There’s no discrimination," Briels says. "Everyone’s
donating their time."
The purpose of the event is serious, but the community spirit
of giving and sharing helps create a festive atmosphere. "People have a
good time and camp out all weekend," she says. A deejay and bands help
make the 18 hours go by. A cancer awareness booth provides information that
underscores the event’s importance.
Briels was diagnosed with cancer six years ago. "I’ve
had several surgeries, body parts removed, chemotherapy, been bald, gone
running around schools with a hat on — it’s been quite an
She has her own theory why cancer rates in the Central States
are so high. Located in southwestern Iowa alongside the Nebraska border, Mills
County has miles upon miles of corn fields — corn fields that are regularly
and heavily laden with chemical fertilizers. "I live on a farm,
surrounded by corn fields," Briels says. "We have a well, the well’s
right in the middle of corn fields." She’s convinced that chemicals
that have leached into her water supply have made her ill.
Briels notes that the federal government sent her a
questionnaire inquiring about her water source, and that the county public
health office offers free water testing. Her well’s water regularly tests
high for nitrates. "All you can do is pour Clorox in the well and drink
bottled water until it goes down," she says. The house has a filter
system for drinking water.
When the Mills County Relay for Life began four years ago,
Briels organized a team through KidsPlace, the Glenwood schools’
before-and-after daycare. Then UE came to town, and that first year Briels
juggled two teams. "I had help," she says emphatically, "lots
of good member help. Folks go out there and collect money, they do the
work." Briels adds, "I have a good family that backs me up and
sticks around at the track." With the help of her co-workers and their
family and friends, Local 865 has completed a team for three consecutive
The Glenwood School employees — child care workers,
custodians, food service workers and teacher, library, printer and media aides
and associates — voted to join UE in November 1997. Patti Briels became
local president and served on the negotiating committee.
"There was a lot of controversy," she tells us.
"We fought long and hard to get that unit in there."
Initially that controversy extended even to the Relay for
Life. Local 865, the only participating union, enjoys the support of an
anonymous donor who has paid the $250 registration fee every year.
Briels believes the union enjoys greater respect from the
schools administration and has gained "more respect and acceptance
throughout the community." She adds, "We need to be more active with
Briels, who worked both in food service and with KidsPlace,
retired this year after 10½ years with the Glenwood schools, because of
health reasons. But she is still a member of the union and remains as active
as possible. She writes articles for the local’s newsletter, helps to
recruit new members and keep members involved in the union and in the
"I’ve set a record," Briels muses. "I was the
first president and the first retiree!"
UE News - 10/00