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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.
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 day.

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 experience."


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 years.


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 new members."

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 community.

"I’ve set a record," Briels muses. "I was the first president and the first retiree!"

UE News - 10/00

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