South Central Iowa Labor Hosts Public Celebration

OTTUMWA-South Central Iowa Labor is hosting a Working Families Celebration this Sunday, May 7. The event will honor the important roles of workers and labor unions in the Ottumwa area’s past, present, and future, while calling attention to new laws affecting workers and their families. The day’s events will begin with a 1:30 Solidarity March (line up at 1:15) from the John Deere
parking lot, 928 E. Vine. A rally and social time will follow from 2:00-4:00 at the Sycamore Park shelter. The celebration is open to the public. Speakers will discuss important issues which
directly impact Iowans. Food, drink and live music will all be provided at no charge to those attending.


The Ottumwa area is notable for its vast labor history. During early years, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) were not united. Area unions evolved from both Houses of Labor, separately and completely independent. The United Mineworkers (UMW) and United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) were among the labor groups that had a tremendous impact economically, socially, and politically. The historical significance of organized labor was further advanced by the elections of local leaders like Iowa Governor Herschel Loveless and State Representative Jack McCoy. These two men were stalwart worker advocates both inside and outside the capitol walls. They fought
against social injustices at all levels of government. Besides being an avid proponent of working class issues, Loveless, who had previously served as Ottumwa’s mayor, also took a
special interest in flood control, social services, and mental health issues. Both elected officials understood the need for political action and its purpose in strategically effecting statutory,
regulatory, and rule-making provisions that would better conditions for the working class. The historic value of Loveless and McCoy’s accomplishments individually and later collectively
should not be underestimated.


Recently local labor leaders began discussing the substantial labor history associated with the Ottumwa area, it’s correlation with today’s political environment, and the fact that Labor Day was
originally celebrated in May. The Working Families Celebration evolved from those discussions. United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 74 Retiree Chapter President Stephen Tews commented
“The trials and tribulations of workers internationally were once honored on May 1. It was the United States government that changed this country’s Labor Day recognition to September. The
May 1st date should not lose its commemorative place in history.”


Jesse Haines, organizer for Laborers Local 538, said he is worried about the impact of the recent legislative session. He said, “Legislative changes in Iowa this year set back issues such
as those associated with workers, social services, health, education, veterans, disabilities, minorities, retirees, and voter rights to the days of yesteryear.” “Furthermore,” he added, “we
have a state senator who voted to allow Chinese steel to be used in Iowa road construction. Those of us in rural Iowa are particularly concerned that the usage of Chinese steel jeopardizes
public safety when traveling these roads.”



Steve Siegel, former Wapello County Supervisor and retiree member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61 noted, “This year
the Iowa legislature has lowered wages for public workers, minimum-wage workers, road construction workers, just about any regular working person you can think of. These are changes that are going to make tough conditions in Ottumwa and the rest of south central Iowa. The only way to change this is for working Iowans to make it happen.” Siegel added, “The first
step is for us to come together, learn more about the issues affecting all of us, and start discussing what our vision is for the state.”


“Ottumwa has a rich labor history, and a long history of being involved in improving conditions for Iowa workers”, said John McKerley, historian at the University of Iowa, who will speak at the
celebration. “It’s exciting for Ottumwans to be coming together to consider how they want to shape Iowa’s future, the same way important leaders from Ottumwa have often shaped working
conditions in the state’s history.”