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

'Winds of Change' Bring
UE to Des Moines Suburb


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"The winds of change are blowing in Urbandale" said Kurt Nelson, Urbandale High School head custodian following the Nov. 11 vote by the school district’s 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 capital.

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.


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 district’s 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 don’t 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.


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 "We’re 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.

UE News - 12/97

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

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