Struggle for Workplace Democracy
Iowa's Public Sector
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).
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.
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
"There are men who struggle for a day and they are
"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
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
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
A NATURAL ALLIANCE
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
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.
‘SKEPTICAL AND CAUTIOUS’
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,"
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
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
"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.
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
OBSTACLES NATURAL, AND...
The affiliation movement faced other obstacles, natural
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
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
"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."
‘A WORKER’S A WORKER’
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,
A NEW BEGINNING
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
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.
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.
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
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."
RUNNING THEIR UNION
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.
One • < Part Two)
UE News - 06/00
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Union Connection ] -> Part Three
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