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Central Iowa labor unions embrace new poll showing more support for unions nationwide

090522-labor-unions-parade
Katie Peikes
/
IPR
Labor unions gathered in Des Moines for a parade Monday morning, Sept. 5, 2022. A recent poll says 71% of Americans now approve of labor unions, which is the highest in nearly 60 years.

Labor unions in central Iowa gathered Monday morning in Des Moines for a Labor Day parade that began at the state capitol and finished at the state fairgrounds. Some union reps say they’re happy with the support unions are receiving on the heels of a new poll spotlighting higher approval for labor unions.

The poll from analytics firm Gallup reports that 71% of Americans now approve of labor unions. It’s the highest approval in 57 years. Last year, the poll recorded 68% in favor of labor unions. Gallup collected the data Aug. 1 through Aug. 23.

“I think working people are tired of working for slave wages,” said Mike Weckman, the business manager for the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 177, “and [they] need better pay and benefits.”

The Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 177 has 1,500 members in central Iowa. The union represents community school districts, municipalities and construction workers.

090522-mike-weckman-unions
Katie Peikes
/
IPR
Mike Weckman of Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 177, said with inflation, corporations and CEOs are seeing bigger wage increases and bonuses while working people are getting just 1-2% increases. "People are getting tired of it," Weckman said.

The poll also shows more people are aware of what unions can do for workers, said Pat Wells, the business manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 347. Labor unions’ purpose, he said, is to improve and protect workers’ lives and get them fair wages and benefits.

“There’s still exploitation of labor happening today,” Wells said. “Labor unions have a purpose and we’re still serving that purpose today.”

Wells said his local union has increased membership by 1,000 in the last nine years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 93,000 Iowa workers are in unions.

Thousands of union workers at tractor-maker John Deere went on strike last year for about a month after rejecting a collective bargaining proposal. The strike ended after workers approved a new contract with wage hikes and a boost in benefits. In Cedar Rapids, 122 workers have gone on strike for more than a month at the Ingredion grain processing plant in Cedar Rapids.

The Labor Day parade was put on by the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Organizers estimate about 20-30 different unions walked in the parade. Paula Martinez, the president for the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor, said the parade should be a wake-up call to Iowa that working people are the backbone of the state.

“These individuals deserve the honor and respect that they should get today, not only today, but throughout the year,” Martinez said, “for being able to render, repair the roads, take care of the courthouses, take care of the jails, the prisons.”

As of 2017, Iowa Chapter 20 limited public sector employees bargaining rights, such that they can only bargain for base wages. Charlie Wishman, the president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said the law has been “completely decimated.”

“It’s really made it difficult for people who work in public service to be able to even get a raise that keeps up with the cost of inflation,” Wishman said, “or be able to talk about all these other things that happen in their in the workplace.”

Wishman said he’d like to see that changed so public employees have the same bargaining rights as private sector employees, who can negotiate wages and a variety of other conditions.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter