The future of the University of Labor Center remains in doubt after the University cut off funding last summer. For Iowans not involved in labor unions, they may not realize the value of the Labor Center at the University of Iowa. They may have the impression that the purpose of the Labor Center is limited to labor issues.
It’s true the Labor Center provides direct education to over 2,500 workers per year. But in addition, they reach thousands more Iowans with continuing education programs. These continuing education students equipped with the knowledge of basic labor practices enrich each of our communities, businesses and factories. They share the most up-to-date knowledge in health and safety laws, anti-discrimination rights and leadership skills. These graduates implement sound labor practices that improve the working environment for all Iowans.
For over 70 years, the Labor Center has provided these essential educational and training programs for working Iowans and labor organizations. It is the only center in Iowa that provides this unique and crucial labor centered education.
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld claims the loss of legislative funding made the elimination of the Labor Center necessary.
“We’re disappointed to be in this position because these centers and employees provide valuable outreach and service to Iowans,” Harreld said in a statement at the time. “But we can no longer ask our students to support activities previously supported by the state just a generation ago.”
The cost of the Labor Center is approximately $500,000, less than Harreld’s 2016-2017 annual salary of $609,996.
Liz Bennett, Democratic Representative from Cedar Rapids, added some perspective on the issue of funding.
“The story that’s being told here is, ‘This is just about money.”
It is, and it isn’t. “What they want you to think is, ‘We just don’t have money for something so important.’ Not true,” Bennett said.
“We know the money’s there. It is about the money in that this is about people who profit from the labor of workers, whose sweat and labor makes them rich, wanting to make more money by stripping workers of their power … Apparently the Reynolds administration thinks that’s fine,” she said. “Well, I’m here to say that Reynolds is wrong.”
In a Des Moines Register September 2018 editorial, Jan Laue, a former executive vice president and secretary-treasurer of the Iowa Federation of Labor provided a testimonial on how the Labor Center launched her labor career. The Labor Center provided her the essential skills to advance to leadership in her union.
“To close the Labor Center would be a travesty. Thousands of workers have benefited from the center’s research and education. There is no other resource in the state that comes close to its equivalent. There is no other place in Iowa where workers can get relevant and useful information to apply in their workplaces. There is no good reason to renege on Iowa’s almost 70-year commitment to its workers,” said Laue.
In a December update in the Cedar Rapids Gazette it was reported that some alternative funding might be available. However, it is contingent on the University agreeing to a minimum investment.
Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer said, “the center stands firm that the UI must commit some financial support. She said, “her staff has presented budgets to the university showing how the center could continue to operate with a 25 percent reduction in UI support.”
“We’re serious and dare I say even enthusiastic about doing our part,” Sherer said in an email, saying we are committed to a “joint fundraising appeal.”
It doesn’t appear likely the University will relent. Harreld was quoted in the December Gazette article holding firm on no additional funding.
“If they can find sources of funding, and we are more than willing to help them find sources of funding that are not general-education based, here we go,” Harreld said. “They can stay open. And most of the centers, many of them, have done exactly that.”
“Save the UI Labor Center” offers a website providing access to individuals who wish to assist in lobbying for additional funding. The Labor Center is an irreplaceable resource Iowans must preserve.
by Rick Smith