May 2010

Organizing Wire
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Iowa Utility Workers Go IBEW

Economic uncertainty and arbitrary cuts to hard-earned benefits are driving many utility workers in Iowa to seek the security that comes with a labor contract and a union shop.

Amaizing Energy

Last fall, more than 20 workers at the Amaizing Energy ethanol plant in the western part of the state voted overwhelmingly in favor of representation by Cedar Rapids Local 204, making it one of the few unionized ethanol plants in the country, said Eleventh District Organizer Brian Heins.

The campaign started when one of the workers at the plant complained to his uncle, who is a union member, about management's decision to cut their benefits.

"The uncle told his nephew, ‘It sounds like you need a union, and if you are going to go union, you should go IBEW,'" Heins said.

The workers—whose jobs range from inside electricians to water testers—began meeting on their own. After deciding to seek union representation, they contacted the IBEW.

The local is currently negotiating the unit's first contract.

Dispatchers ‘Ready to Roll'

In early March, a group of nearly 30 dispatchers for Alliant Energy in Cedar Rapids voted to join Local 204, which already represents more than 800 workers at the utility.

Heins says job security and fairness were the workers' top priorities. "They weren't looking for more money," he said. "They were looking for something in writing that would protect their jobs from arbitrary decisions by management."

The workers had already gathered enough signed cards to file for an election by the time they held their first meeting with Heins. "They were ready to roll the moment I met them," he said. "It was one of the fastest campaigns I've ever seen."

Prairie Victory

Less than a month later, linemen at Prairie Energy Co-Op in Clarion voted 14-3 to go IBEW.

"They were one of the most solid groups I've talked to," said Local 204 Business Manager David George, who credits Eleventh District Vice President Curtis Henke and the Membership Development Department for their work in making these victories possible.

Employees at the utility were upset over management's decision to cut its 401(k) matching contribution. George says that even though utilities are holding up much better than other industries in this shaky economy, many employers are using the downturn as an excuse to cut benefits for their employees.

"I told them that with a union, they could have had it in writing," George said. "Management couldn't just take it away without bargaining with you first."