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Supporters of Labor Center Urge University of Iowa to Reverse Cut

Jason Parrott
Robert Cale speaking out against the proposed cuts to the University of Iowa Labor Center during a public forum in Burlington.

The University of Iowa has announced plans to stop funding the Iowa Labor Center, which provides education programs and offers research support to labor organizations across the state. Supporters of the center are speaking out across the state to try to stop that from happening.

The group Save our Labor Center scheduled seven public hearings across the state, including one in Burlington. Organizers say they are collecting public input from citizens because the University did not do so before announcing plans to pull its $500,000+ in annual funding.

The comments will be compiled and presented to the Board of Regents, which governs Iowa’s three public universities and two specialty K-12 schools. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12-13 in Iowa City.

Save our Labor Center is encouraging supporters to attend the meeting and to sign a petition demanding a reversal of the decision to close the Labor Center and to rescind furlough notices given to its employees.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Carrie Duncan was one of about a dozen people who called on the University of Iowa to reverse its plan to close the UI Labor Center.

The University’s proposed funding cut would eliminate more than 50% of the Labor Center’s annual funding. The remaining support comes from a federal grant and from the labor unions that pay for the educational programs and research.

About a dozen people spoke during the public hearing in Burlington and all support keeping the Labor Center open. Some of their comments are below.

The public comments made during the Save the Labor Center forum in Burlington

Tracy VanHyning – Letter Carrier – National Association of Letters Carriers, Branch 403 (Fort Madison)

Van Hyning said her organization attends annual classes at the Labor Center.

“We really enjoy the economics class because you would be surprised how many working-class folks we have in our labor union who have never been exposed to any type of economic education. They did not have it in their core education in school and it is a real eye-opener for them. After this class, they understand not only how working Americans figure into the economy, but how as a labor union, we fit into the economy as letter carriers and how we are a leg of the national economy.”

Robert Cale – Vice President of United Food and Commercial Workers International, Local 617 (Pinnacle Foods-Fort Madison)

Cale said his facility is one of the better places to work in southeast Iowa. He said it provides good pay, good benefits, and a generally safe workplace. He said that’s possible because of a good working agreement between hourly and salaried workers.

“Traditionally, many workers like myself don’t come into the workforce with skills to adequately represent 450 workers at a plant. There are no schools with thousands of instructors who are dedicated solely to making sure workers know their rights and that they are protected by law. My first visit to the Labor Center was in 2009 and it had a pretty profound impact on me. I was then elected to a position where I was able to send our members to these classes at the university and let them have the same experience. Thousands of workers across Iowa rely on the labor center for a safe workplace.”

Carrie Duncan – Chief Steward at the IAAAP (Middletown) – Trustee for the Des Moines County/ Henry County Labor Alliance and Vice President of the North Lee County Labor Council

Duncan said she has attended many classes at the Labor Center. She said losing the resources there would hurt the state for generations to come.

“These classes have been taught by your highly-educated, compassionate and most pragmatic University of Iowa Labor Center staff. They don’t just do their jobs 100%, they give their 200%. I equate the very presumptious idea of closing the Labor Center as a concept of the pit and the pendulum. Why would the University of Iowa administration want to swing the pendulum to demote labor education by closing the Labor Center. As I shall refer to it as a dire situation, to oscillate between one extreme and another, the other extreme being the pendulum of labor. We are the Iowa workforce of which would be thrown in a pit if our valuable resource of enhancing our labor education were to dissolve. Labor has been the backbone of their great state and country.”

Lorri Walker – President United Steelworkers, Local 444 (Henniges Automotive – Keokuk)

Walker spoke about her personal experience with the Labor Center. She said she considered her job as a way out when she started work in 1988 as a newly-divorced mother of two small boys. She said the Labor Center gave her the voice and confidence to become the first female union president at Henniges.

“These thoughts never would have happened had it not been for the education that was afforded to me through the University of Iowa Labor Center. They have taught me about labor history, labor law, FMLA laws, workers comp laws and that is just the tip of the iceberg. The biggest thing the labor center has given me is the confidence to stand in front of a room full of people and speak my heart and mind. The University of Iowa has this all wrong. They need to upright this decision to close the Labor Center. This is nothing more than a mean spirited way to attack unions and working families of Iowa and bordering states. To be a publicly-funded university that would dismantle a great program like the Labor Center is beyond belief for me.”

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.