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The Struggle for Workplace Democracy
    The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector    
In Iowa's Public Sector


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Ten years ago UE had no members in Iowa. Today, UE represents 6,500 Iowa workers and their families; most UE members in Iowa are employed in the public sector. The women and men of Local 893, Iowa United Professionals, have been a driving force in this dramatic change. Local 893 is one of the union’s largest and most influential local unions. This is the  Local 893 story (part 3 of 3).

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector
Dan Kelley

Some co-workers may have seen Dan Kelley mildly annoyed; few have seen him speechless. More than 100 UE members and friends of the Local 893 president got a glimpse of both reactions in May, 2000..

Kelley was mildly annoyed to think a sub-Local 1 picnic was taking place the same day as the Democratic Party district conventions, and flabbergasted that the May 6 event was in fact a roast in his honor. Having been out-organized (for once), Kelley expressed confidence in the future of Local 893.

UE Genl. Pres. John Hovis, District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen and Intl. Rep. Greg Cross were among many speakers to pay tribute to Kelley. Masters of ceremony were Pat Morrissey, a charter member of IUP and currently chief steward of the Waterloo sub-local, and Terry Reed, a charter member and former staffer. UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend sent greetings via tape. Cards and letters of appreciation were also shared with Brother Kelley and he was presented with a caricature by UE cartoonist Gary Huck, appropriately inscribed with the words of Berthold Brecht:

"There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.
"There are others who struggle for a year and they are better.
"There are those who struggle many years, and they are better still.
"But there are those who struggle all their lives:
"These are the indispensable ones."

Iowa United Professionals officers had good news to report at the 1992 convention: the independent union had ended the fiscal year with a positive cash balance for the first time in at least three years; in spite of layoffs and the expense of taking the State to court, the treasury was in good shape. Operating in a state that outlaws union-security clauses in collective bargaining agreements, the union could boast more than 1,000 members.

Despite this growth, however, plans were already underway to affiliate IUP with a national union. A number of IUP leaders had concluded that their organization would benefit from greater resources for organizing and for fighting the anti-union hostility and privatization efforts of the governor and legislature.

Dan Kelley, a principal founder of the union, had been convinced for some years that IUP’s survival would be guaranteed by affiliation. So had Bill Austin, a state officer and union leader in Ottumwa: "I had decided by around 1986 that we needed to affiliate with somebody larger, somebody with more resources both financially and technically."

The IUP constitution required an 80-percent vote of the membership to approve affiliation. Austin’s local proposed an amendment that would have lowered the requirement to a simple majority; the union’s convention adopted an amendment which set the requirement at a two-thirds majority.

In June 1989, the IUP state executive board voted to establish a committee to investigate the possibility of affiliation with a national union. Initially, the committee looked at a dozen or more unions, then narrowed the search to three organizations, using a number of criteria: compatibility, autonomy, structure, organizing, staff training, dues and a revocation clause. The three were UE, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and National Hospital and Healthcare Workers/1199, parts of which subsequently merged with SEIU. Representatives of each union were personally interviewed by committee members. The 1989 convention deferred action on affiliation for further study.


Morrissey, Burke, Austin and Kelley

At the Roasting of Dan Kelley on May 6. From left, MC Pat Morrissey, Local 893 Rec. Sec. Becky Burke, Local 893 Vice Pres. Bill Austin and Kelley.

Dan Kelley was outspoken in support of an affiliation with UE. As a founder of IUP, he had helped model his union after UE. As is still the case in UE, IUP staff salaries were kept in line constitutionally with members’ pay. The IUP stewards structure was based on UE’s. Cartoons by UE’s Gary Huck appeared in the IUP newsletter. IUP and UE worked together to defeat President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. The following year the two unions continued to cooperate on political action issues, including the fight for affordable child care and UE’s "living wage" campaign.

Bill Austin

Bill Austin

Not everyone agreed that UE was the obvious choice, certainly not at first. "I guess I wasn’t originally that confident that UE was the right choice from the standpoint that it wasn’t a significantly large enough union on a national scale," says Austin, who is currently a member of UE’s General Executive Board. "I came to appreciate the rich history of UE and I think it was certainly the right choice for us."

In May 1990 the executive board voted to survey the membership on affiliation. The results, reported in July, showed that 60.6 percent of those responding favored affiliation and 70 percent of those favoring affiliation backed UE.

In a secret-ballot election conducted in September 1990, a clear majority endorsed the affiliation, but not the two-thirds majority required by the IUP constitution.

IUP members were hesitant to give up their hard-won independence. Those attending the union’s conventions in 1990 and 1991 decisively rejected amendments that would have lowered the requirement for affiliation to a simple majority.

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector
The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


Matt Hanlon, who describes himself as "one of the last to come on board," was skeptical and cautious. The Cedar Rapids social worker still had what he called "that dirty feeling" from AFSCME, what Joe Fleming termed "burning memories of the other group." Mary Lou Welter said that for her and her co-workers in Iowa City there was some initial wariness, particularly with regard to the financial responsibility implied by a merger with a larger union. "With AFSCME I had seen such a big chunk of dues going off into oblivion," she says.

Affiliation with UE brought IUP enhanced political action ...

Affiliation with UE brought IUP enhanced political action. Participants in the union’s 1997 Iowa political action day helped kill four bills that would have destroyed Chapter 20, Iowa’s public-sector collective bargaining law.

Familiar with Iowa AFSCME’s reputation for corruption, Welter’s co-workers looked favorably on UE’s approach to finances. "It looked as though there were safeguards to protect our money, for one thing. You knew where it went and how it was being spent. And you didn’t see the union leaders making fortunes off the backs of the workers," she says. "And I really liked that."

Welter became convinced that the financial burden of fighting an anti-union governor required partnership with a larger union willing to assist IUP in its struggles. So did her co-workers. "Most of the time people would say, ‘yeah, that makes sense.’"

Ray Smith, a longtime leader in Local 1, agreed with that assessment. "We were at a place where we needed resources and outside assistance. We were fighting the governor, we needed help. It was a logical step."

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


Backers of the affiliation regarded the 1990 vote as only a temporary setback, if not encouraging — after all, it showed majority sentiment for bringing IUP into UE.

"After that first affiliation vote, when we got a majority with relatively little effort, I knew that if we put some of our best staff on the project and worked with the IUP leadership, there was little doubt that the IUP would eventually affiliate," said UE Genl. Pres. John Hovis.

UE presented a detailed affiliation program to the 1992 convention, where a large majority adopted a motion by Tom Sawyer and seconded by IUP’s first president, Barb Adams, endorsing affiliation with UE.

Ron Ewald, an IUP founder and past president, was among those who campaigned for affiliation. "We had expanded a little bit, but for [the union] to continue to grow and get stronger I think we needed some fresh ideas and some outside guidance. And I think that the agreement we were able to negotiate with the United Electrical Workers was something that meshed real well with our history and our philosophy," Ewald says.

"I could go to people I had gone to in the past about why we should be represented by AFSCME and why should decertify them and support IUP and explain why they should support affiliating with UE. I think it was just consistent with what I believed in," Ewald says.

Ewald and Welter (who at the time was vice president of Local 1) were among the many IUP activists who worked on the affiliation campaign, visiting other offices, working the phones.

Rank-and-file UE delegation traveled across Iowa  ...

This rank-and-file UE delegation traveled across Iowa by van during the summer of 1993 meeting with IUP members during the affiliation campaign. From left, Ron Flowers and Mary Stewart of Local 618 Shellie Cockling, Local 274, Carl Rosen, District 11, Butch Pridgen, District 1, Ed Bruno and Ruth Schafner, Local 791. Bruno, a former director of organization, drove the van.

Hard work by UE staff, a tour by rank-and-file UE leaders, phone calls, visits to offices around the state and one-on-one conversations with co-workers made a considerable difference in winning over some of those who had been doubtful. Matt Hanlon credits the direct interaction with UE members in helping to change his outlook.

Not everyone’s outlook changed. In decertifying AFSCME, Pat Morrissey had the idea that the Iowa United Professionals would be their own union, forever, period. Mary McElroy, now president of Local 2 in Waterloo, says "I was not opposed to affiliation but thought it should be with a bigger union." Local 2 overwhelmingly rejected affiliation, largely out of pride in IUP’s accomplishments and independence.

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


The affiliation movement faced other obstacles, natural and unnatural.

The UE affiliation campaign peaked at about the same time as the flood waters of the Mississippi, Iowa, Cedar, Des Moines and other rivers. The floods, with the resulting damaged buildings, washed-out roads, power outages and extended periods without functioning toilets and clean tap water, caused a range of inconvenience and added a new dimension to the organizing.

Volunteers like Ewald and Welter in Cedar and Johnson Counties recall detours and longer travel times for office and home visits. Elsewhere, entire DHS offices were underwater — which meant that IUP members who worked in those offices were scattered among various temporary locations. Des Moines residents were without water for 19 days. "We’d get home late at night and then have to collect water, even to flush the toilet," says Barb Adams. "It might take you an hour to get ready in the morning, when it would usually take half an hour."

Many IUP members — including social workers, income maintenance workers or secondary road crew workers — suddenly had extra workloads because of the natural disaster.

Meanwhile, AFSCME had decided to make a last-minute intervention. The AFL-CIO union did a series of "vote no" mailings. AFSCME’s message stressed UE’s lack of affiliation with the federation and inexperience in the public sector. AFSCME also hired a Washington, D.C. telemarketing firm to contact the entire bargaining unit during balloting.

"I don’t know if AFSCME was actually trying to get an affiliation but they were going to great lengths to keep IUP from affiliating with UE," recalls Bill Austin. "It got to the point where we got mailings almost daily. I think that, actually, some of the mail I got from AFSCME was one of the things that made me think that UE wasn’t too bad of a choice."

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


Inevitably, in meetings, workplace discussions and home visits, the question would come up: Why would the Iowa United Professionals — a union consisting mostly of social workers, income maintenance workers, counselors and other social services professionals — choose to affiliate with the United Electrical Workers? IUP activists interviewed by the UE NEWS agree that while the question came up frequently, it never became a major issue or obstacle.

"The bottom line is, a worker is a worker. That’s basically how you had to approach it; you had to look at what the union does for you, not the totality of the people the union represents," Welter says. "And we were still being left with a lot of our independence, so we still had the ability to make decisions about what’s important for us, what needed to be done for us."

Ballots, mailed out July 26, 1993, had to be postmarked Aug. 3. The ballots were counted on Aug. 9. The results: 549 for affiliation with UE, 195 against — a resounding 69 percent majority.

The Iowa United Professionals had become UE Local 893, IUP.

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


UE had promised assistance in organizing. An internal organizing drive began within two months of the vote, raising membership to the highest in IUP history. The following year, an eight-month-long campaign resulted in a majority of employees in the State’s scientific bargaining unit voting to be represented by UE Local 893.

In the years since, Local 893, IUP has added to its ranks City of Tipton employees and the support staff of the Adel-DeSoto-Minburn, Boone Community, Keokuk, Storm Lake, Urbandale and Western Dubuque School Districts.

Local 893 has been at the center of a dramatic explosion of UE organizing in the Hawkeye State. UE now has a total of 12 locals representing 6,500 working families in all of the state’s 99 counties. The support and example of Local 893 has been crucial to that progress.

"We’re not that lone local out here all on our own now," says Dan Kelley. "We suddenly have all these buddies around, buddies in terms of being in the same national union." And, Kelley points out, all but 100 of the 6,5000 are in the public sector.

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


Within a year after affiliation, Local 893 put together a grassroots political action program that forced the introduction of legislation to place a moratorium on privatization and a cap on caseloads, and held the first of a series of annual political action conferences that unite members from around the state to lobby legislators and advance the union’s political program.

In 1997, UE helped kill in committee four bills that would have destroyed the bargaining rights of public-sector workers.

In 1999, with help of the Vilsack Administration, Local 893, IUP defeated a proposal to contract-out adoption workers’ jobs. The union’s pressure convinced legislators and the Vilsack Administration to pull the plug on a poorly designed computer system that complicated working conditions and could have paved the way to job loss among income maintenance workers and privatization. And the same year, UE led a surprising, come-from-behind effort to defeat two heavily financed, tax-related amendments to the Iowa constitution.

IUP activists interviewed by the UE NEWS were nearly unanimous in their praise for UE’s political action work. "UE brought an infusion of political savvy," says Matt Hanlon. And many expressed appreciation for the union’s recognition of the global dimension to labor issues. Local 893 became an early supporter of the UE work with Mexico’s Authentic Labor Front (FAT), providing contributions to the UE-FAT Alliance through dues check-off. Four Local 893 leaders — Bill Austin, Barb Adams, Pat Hasenclever and Becky Burke — have participated in worker-to-worker delegations to Mexico.

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


Local 893 members speak appreciatively of the contributions UE has made to improving living standards. "The Research Dept. is a real strength," comments Kelley. Austin credits the UE Research Dept. as being crucial to the 1997 arbitration award. "I view that as one of our highwater marks," he says. "I had always aspired to do better than AFSCME. While we didn’t do that at the table, we did win in arbitration a contract that gave us about 2 percent more than what AFSCME got. Clearly, something we wouldn’t have been able to do without the resources we got from UE."

The two-year contract negotiated by Local 893 in 1999 on behalf of some 2,300 State employees provides for two 3 percent across-the-board wage increases and upgrades for social workers and income maintenance workers.

Hundreds of social workers received retroactive payment for overtime, thanks to the union’s aggressive and persistent work.

"UE has done a lot for IUP," says Austin. "It’s made us a better organization."

The Struggle for Workplace Democracy in Iowa's Public Sector


Judy Putnam

Judy Putnam

And, say Local 893 activists, one crucial promise of the affiliation remains fulfilled: the members still run their own union. "We’re still running our own affairs," says Welter. Affiliation "turned out to be all benefits and no drawbacks," avers Judy Putnam. "I like the idea that we make our own decisions," says Mary McElroy.

"It’s a good marriage," says Pat Morrissey.

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