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Iowa School Workers
Say, 'We're The Union!'


"The people are the union. The union is as strong as the people," said Chelsea Hunt, a bus driver with the Newton Schools.

No Stranger, UE Returns To Newton

UE is not new to Newton, Iowa.

Sixty years ago, Newton was essentially a company town, dominated by the Maytag Washing Machine Co., when UE organized Maytag’s 1,600 employees and negotiated a 12-month contract.

Profit-rich Maytag, determined to break the union, demanded wage cuts and issued a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. The politically-well connected company quickly got injunctions and had UE leaders thrown in jail on charges that included trying to overthrow the government!

Strikers occupied the plant. The governor ordered the National Guard into Newton. Martial law was declared. In the end, under the threat of machine guns, rifles and bayonets, Local 1116 members returned to work. (The local was lost some 14 years later during the height of cold-war attacks on the union.)

In 1993, the Iowa United Professionals (IUP) affiliated with UE. When new UE Local 893-IUP held a meeting in Newton, an IUP member serving in the National Guard officially welcomed UE back to Iowa.

With the 112-45 vote by the Newton School District support staff, UE is truly back in town.

The union organized by Hunt and her co-workers in the Newton School District Support Staff is starting out strong. They voted 112-45 for UE representation in a mail ballot conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 10.


The school district employees — custodians and maintenance workers, cooks, paraprofessionals and bus drivers — organized after years of fake "negotiations" or no negotiations at all. "We want to have a legally-binding union contract," said Mary Wright, a paraprofessional for more than 20 years. Instead of negotiations, workers have been told by management for years, "Here’s what you get, and if you don’t like it, there’s the door."


In recent years, management has arbitrarily added steps to the wage scale so that it takes longer to top out, as well as added responsibilities in all job classes, without revising the pay scale. Most workers are considered part-timers, although they might work up to 39.75 hours her week. Part-timers do not receive benefits such as health insurance or paid holidays.

In addition, management instituted new policies that actually reduced people’s wages. Paraprofessionals, for example, are sometimes asked to work extra hours or summer hours. But for performing the extra work, they receive the lower substitute rate, which is close to the minimum wage, not their regular hourly rate.


Part-time custodians have a separate pay scale, starting at the minimum wage. Walt Druyff, a Newton schools custodian for more than 30 years, had his wage rate cut almost in half when he went part-time a few years ago. He’s now worked his way back up to $5.80 an hour — after 34 years.

Management disrespect added fuel to the union campaign.

The human resources director responsible for slashing Walt Druyff’s wage rate almost in half offered the custodian an unconvincing argument for opposing the union. Standing nearby while Druyff scrubbed a hallway, she said to him, "I think you get paid well for just cleaning marks off the floor, don’t you?"

Walt just smiled — and voted "yes" for UE!

Management ran a low-key anti-union campaign, encouraging workers to "shop around" for a union. Custodian Phil Brown wrote a letter to his co-workers explaining there was no need for "shopping:" "We are the union! ‘We the Union’ make all the decisions that concern us, our jobs, our contract and our union. From the lowest paid paraprofessional to the highest paid maintenance worker, we all have an equal voice in our local UE union!"

Teresa Conner, a paraprofessional, also wrote to her co-workers. "We cannot allow any more dictating. Together we will bargain, and divided we can only beg! The time is now to vote UNION YES!"


And by a better than two-to-one margin, that’s exactly what Newton school workers did.

Field Organizers Jennifer Hill and Ryan Downing worked on the campaign, with support from Intl. Rep. Greg Cross. Volunteer organizers also participated in the campaign: Mike Evces, chief steward of UE Local 896-COGS, and Jean Sorsen, vice president for organizing of Boone Schools, Local 893-30.

UE News - 11/97

Home -> UE News -> 1997 Archives -> Article

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