"The winds of change are blowing in Urbandale" said Kurt
Nelson, Urbandale High School head custodian following the Nov. 11 vote by the school
districts custodians and building/grounds and maintenance and food service workers
and printers for UE Local 893 representation.
Urbandale is a suburb of Des Moines, located to the northwest of the Iowa
The Urbandale school district employees began organizing with UE in
February. The union filed for an election with the state Public Employment Relations Board
(PERB) in March, only to face delays engineered by the administration.
FAIR WAGES, BENEFITS AND DIGNITY
Focusing on winning fair wages, fair benefits, dignity at work, and a
voice on the job, Urbandale school employees took part in weekly "button days,"
attended and spoke at school board meetings, marched on the school districts
administrative offices and continued to hold membership meetings to keep the organizing
drive alive through the summer months.
While the union continued to argue with PERB for a fair election
procedure, the organizing drive took on new energy in the fall with the involvement of
food service workers.
Activity among food service workers was generated by Shelley Thomas, a
cook at Urbandale High School. She had not supported the union at first but her own
encounter with the administration in the intervening months changed her outlook.
This 17-year school employee had been dropped several steps on the pay
scale in the spring. "I now make 18 cents more than the person walking in off the
street," she told the UE NEWS.
Armed with facts and figures and a well-prepared case, Thomas went through
the channels to seek redress of her grievance. She quickly learned that bosses seldom
listen when one worker talks not even a worker, like Thomas, who has never missed a
day of work. She even met with the Superintendent of Schools, who told her, "If you
dont like your job, there are plenty of people who would be happy to have it."
When UE organizers came to her home again, she signed a card and
took a stack to work with her. "I talked to the girls about my situation, and said it
could happen to you. The union would be good for us."
When management illegally demanded that union supporters stop wearing
buttons, workers wore white "unity" ribbons instead. The supervisors
demand that the ribbons come off only convinced more workers to put ribbons on.
WE'RE VOTING YES!
Workers collected hundreds of signatures from teachers, members of the
community and members of other unions on a petition that demanded "No more
delays!" and a "Free and fair election process." When the administration
issued a leaflet that stated "Control your own destiny, vote no," a
majority of workers signed a "Were voting yes" petition indicating
that fully intended to control their own destinies.
The tally on Nov. 11 was 40-5 for UE.
The Urbandale employees celebrated their election victory on Nov. 15 at a
party open to friends, family, and other Urbandale School District employees as well.
Their next step is to bargain a legally-binding first union contract with the Urbandale
Community School District.
Shelley Thomas says she is "excited but a little scared" and
feeling positive about the upcoming negotiations. "We help make Urbandale the best
place it can be for our children to learn. Now, we can help make it a better place to
work, too," Thomas says.
The Urbandale Community School District workers were assisted by UE Field
Organizers Todd Ricker, Rick Hartmann and Ryan Downing and Intl. Rep. Greg Cross.