Iowa City labor leaders hold public hearing on future of UI Labor Center

After its proposed shutdown because of budget cuts earlier this year, a group of UI students and faculty, as well as community members, expressed their support for the UI Labor Center.


Charles Peckman

Community members gathered at Old Brick on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 for a public hearing on the University of Iowa Labor Center. In a second round of midyear budget cuts, the UI chose to close the center in an effort to compensate for state funding cuts.

Christopher Borro, News Reporter

Local labor leaders held a public hearing at the Old Brick on Monday evening to address community concerns about the planned closing of the University of Iowa Labor Center.

The center was one of seven that the UI announced earlier this year that it would close because of the state’s midyear funding cuts. The Labor Center opened in 1951 and provides research and noncredit programs to labor organizations and workers.

This event was the last of seven statewide meetings undertaken by proponents of the Labor Center to advocate for its continued existence. More than 100 people attended.

Panelists at the hearing included retiring Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville; Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty; and Iowa City City Councilor Mazahir Salih.

The hearing’s organizers, many of whom were union members and labor leaders, had their reasons for supporting the center’s remaining open. One of the people who spoke was Greg Hearns, the president of the Iowa City Federation of Labor, a coalition of 22 local labor unions.

“I’m an actual product of the Labor Center … we’re all connected to labor in some way,” he said. “We’ve all taken their classes and courses. I don’t think a lot of us would be where we are without the Labor Center.”

Labor Center staff members also attended and later expressed their thoughts about the center’s impending closing.

Speakers read from speeches detailing success stories about the center and talked about ways it helped them academically.

More than a dozen speakers presented their case for why the center should not be closed. They described their interactions with the Labor Center, including receiving resources from, and taking classes at, the center.

“What we heard tonight on campus and all over the state is that people are opposed to the closing and really value the education, research, and scholarship that the Labor Center has provided over the last 70 years,” Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer said.

“Without the Labor Center staff coming to our department to teach, we actually don’t tend to have labor history offered as a subject class,” UI graduate student Ashley Dorn said.

Dorn took a class taught by Labor Center staff members who helped her get into contact with scholars to further her education. She said one particular Labor Center resource that helped her was the Iowa Labor History Oral Project, a collection of stories from Iowan workers across a variety of occupations.

Many of the speakers had connections to the UI, including a professor of law, a professor of history, and a professor of English. Numerous UI students and alumni also spoke, as well as local community organizers and union members.

After the speakers, the six panelists provided short closing remarks.

“Since the announcement by the university about the closure, hundreds of Iowans have come forward to say they think this decision should be reconsidered,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said. “The value that the Labor Center has provided to Iowa’s workers and Iowa businesses is at stake here.”