"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to: navigation, search
Organizing information. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding


  With all this army of men, I have never had 
  a strike or labor dispute. I have given them 
  to understand that I will pay them all the wages 
  the business will warrant and I will pay them 
  regularly, but that I shall insist on running my 
  own business and any attempt to dictate a wage scale 
  will not be tolerated. Any time I cannot run my 
  business without interference, I'll chose up the shop 
  and go home. (1)
        Augustin A. COOPER 1910

The rise of the organized labor movement in Dubuque began with the rise of industrialization in the 1850s. The DUBUQUE TYPOGRAPHICAL UNION NO. 22 was started in January 1855. (2) There was a big strike on the newspapers late in March, 1863; half sheets were issued. In the end the union which demanded better wages was forced to give up the fight. (3) A meeting of all the "mechanics and laborers" of the city was called for July 28, 1864 at the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE for "the purpose of forming an association to protect themselves against the infringements of capital against labor." (4) Proprietors of livery stables in Dubuque followed this example by September, 1864 by establishing uniform prices. (5)

In November 1865 teamsters at several lumberyards struck successfully to raise their daily pay from $4.00 to $5.00. The Dubuque Herald's article commented that important to the success was the demand for lumber and the limited number of teamsters available. (6)

A wave of organized labor strikes struck Dubuque soon after the CIVIL WAR. An editorial in the Dubuque Daily Herald of January 1866 commented:

       Strikes--Strikes are the order of 
       the day. The shoemakers struck and 
       didn't get it, the boatmen have struck 
       and ain't got it yet, and now the fever 
       has broken out among the firemen who will 
       not run with the "masheen" any longer or 
       let "Skysey take the butt" unless each 
       company is allowed $300 per annum. Their 
       present salary, $100, would not pay for
       shoe blacking after running through a mud 
       puddle. The boys are determined and mean "biz" 
       this time and unless the council grants their 
       prayer every man will have to play on his own 
       fire. (7)

There was sympathy for the working man who found himself unwilling to continue working for poor pay--even if the "working man" happened to be black. (8)

   Commendable Sympathy--We are informed that 
   the whole crews that lately left the service 
   of the Packet company were soliciting subscriptions 
   yesterday, to aid the black crews who are without 
   money consequent upon their refusal to work as per 
   contract. The company owes each man $37.80, not one 
   cent of which will be paid unless they resume work
   and continue until the season of navigation closes. 
   In passing a crowd of the black crews yesterday, one 
   of them was humming in melancholy tone the popular 
             All the work is dark and dreary
             Everywhere I roam,
             On darkies how my heart grows weary
             Far from the old folks at home.

Sympathy did not necessarily last. Workers on other boats began striking for higher wages at the end of July 1866 and harvest season was approaching. An editorial in the Dubuque Herald remarked at the companies would have little problem filling their crews since there were many men looking for work along the Mississippi. (9) The company instead chose, by the end of the month, to go back to Cincinnati for additional black crew members and hired 206 as strikebreakers. (10)

The journeymen shoemakers of Dubuque went on strike on September 12, 1866. Calling on all the management, they presented their wage demands of increases ranging from twenty to twenty-five percent. When management refused to accept the demands, the factories closed. (11) The strike was short. Blaming "treachery of a few of the men who promised to stand firm yet kept pegging away at the old prices," the end of the strike and a return to the old wages was announced on September 16, 1866. (12) In September the firemen went out on strike unless the council paid $300 annually to each company. This was an increase from $100 which the Dubuque Daily Herald commented would not pay for shoe blacking after running through a mud puddle. (13) Carpenters and joiners began their own strike in October 1866 demanding $3.50 per day. (14)

Riverboat employees in 1873 saw their wages cut from $45-$55 to $35.00 by packet companies complaining of dull business. When the Red Wing reached shore in May, thirteen of the boat's employees left, but the boat continued on without them. (15)

An early union, the KNIGHTS OF LABOR, was founded in 1869 in Philadelphia. By 1888 the Knights had 30,000 members in Iowa. (16) Its rallying cry, "An injury to one is the concern of all," appealed to workers without regard to skill, race, or gender. (17) The organization began Dubuque's first mass labor movement by encouraging the unskilled, women, black and recent European immigrants as members. (18)

Sometimes, it appeared to newspaper editorial writers, that strikers missed some of the uncompensated benefits offered by their jobs. In March 1874 gravel train workers struck unsuccessfully for wages better than the $1.25 they received per day. The Dubuque Herald reported the news and then added..."viewing the country for several times a day; that privilege made up for the extra twenty-five cents. Some men are hard to please." (19)

In May, 1877 sixty workers on a gravel train employed by KNAPP, STOUT AND COMPANY struck for higher pay of at least $1.25. One worker stated that potatoes were $1.50 a bushel and flour was from $10 to $11 per barrel. Another claimed that lager had risen $1.00 preventing him from one of the pleasures of life. "Street scavengers" were paid $1.25 a day by the city. (20)

On July 16, 1877 those working for the Northwestern Railroad had their pay cut leading to talk of strikes. Reporters from the Dubuque Herald found railroad workers here very aware of the strikes, but not willing to join them. Rumors of meetings in Dubuque were unfounded. On July 25th the railroad had returned the workers to their previous pay. What concerned the Herald was the presence in Dubuque of a "force of detectives intended to cast a stigma on the employees of different railroads." These men "paid by railroad companies to set a back fire under any guise, whatever, is uncalled for, unjustifiable, undignified, in the extreme..." (21) If people had the idea, however, that the Herald was supporting strikers, they needed to read the editorial of July 27, 1877 which stated"

                 When the next payday comes, what will the
                 strikers do for their short pay? Strike
                 again, probably. If labor is to rule capital,
                 then capital will seek investment on loans
                 instead of manufactories.

Faraway strikes, however, continued to fuel thoughts of them in Dubuque. The following article appeared in the Dubuque Herald: (22)

                 It was rumored on the street on Saturday
                 that the hands at Day's Mill would strike
                 for higher wages, but after the ring leader
                 got a good-sized flea put in his ear which
                 caused him to stare idleness and starvation
                 in the face, he concluded that discretion
                 was the better part of valor, and concluded
                 to go along about his business just as though
                 there had been no strike at Pittsburgh.
The frustration of labor was shown in a letter written from Dubuque in June 1878.
         Dear Sister:
  Your letter was received quite a 
  long time ago.  I did not intend 
  to wait so long before answering 
  it but I guess I have about. About 
  the only news I can think of to write 
  you today is that we have met a 
  reduction of wages from 30 to 25 
  cents per thousand (?), which will 
  make a difference of between two to 
  three dollars per week. We had 
  notification of it one week ago, and 
  it took effect yesterday. As soon as 
  we had been notified, a meeting of 
  the Union was called, and we had a 
  stormy session. The first vote was 
  taken it was ordered to strike and 
  drive the Union men out of the Times 
  office; but finally as the Herald 
  boys reflected to have to submit to 
  the same or quit work another vote 
  was taken and it was decided to let 
  the men in each office do as they 
  chose. Then the boys got to wrangling 
  and finally voted to disband the Union 
  and return the charter as it was of no 
  benefit to us to keep up an organization 
  when we could not keep us the prices. 
  All the men have gone to work again, 
  not knowing as they could do any better. 
  The business has kept going down for the 
  last five years, until it has got to be 
  not much better than a common laboring 
  man as regards prices. If I knew of 
  anything else to do I would quit it. We 
  are going to look for a new boarding place 
  this afternoon and try to reduce our 
  expenses in that way a little. Well 
  Rickey is waiting for me now for that 
  purpose, and we are going to bid the 
  Old Tremont good-bye and think we will 
   try a private house, so I must close.
                              Hiram (23)

On January 13, 1880 ice cutters working for FISCHER, WHEELER AND COMPANY struck for an additional twenty-five cents per day. "The firm procured a new gang and now are cutting ice as usual." (24) A rumor that the "sewing girls" of Dubuque were about to strike over low wages resulted in the following unusual remark in the Dubuque Herald:" These girls should be well paid for their labor, that the temptation of the libertine may be frustrated." (25)

In October 1880 all the tailors in the largest manufacturing companies in Dubuque announced a strike for higher pay. (26) By October 9th, seven major employers had agreed to the increase. (27) On October 16, 1880 the Dubuque Herald announced that all the tailors were back to work.

Dubuque was the largest manufacturing city in Iowa during the 1880s. A profile of the city's working-class population in the mid-1880s indicates that a typical worker was employed ten hours daily with wage rates determined by age, job, and sex. Women and children, involved in low-paying factory, retail and service occupations, earned the least. Wages earned by women average one-third to one-half those of men. Boys received less than women and girls made less than boys. Common male occupations included blacksmiths, carpenters, machinists, railway workers, and teamsters. Unskilled male workers earned from $1.00 to $1.50 daily as compared to bricklayers who earned from $3.75 to $4.00. Common laborers rented homes while between one-third and one-half of the tradesmen owned their own homes. (28)

Prior to 1885, trade unions in Dubuque existed among printers, cigar makers, locomotive firemen and engineers, tailors and bricklayers. Membership varied from twenty to forty. These groups protected their independence, decided work rules and wage scales, avoided politics, and held regular meetings. (29)

The lowest paying jobs belonged to women and children who worked in service and retail jobs. Men earned one-third more than women. Women received more than boys who earned more than girls. AFRICAN AMERICANS were left with work as cooks, servants or porters. Close supervision in the workplace meant little rest time, but many opportunities to be injured or die. Bad ventilation, explosions, fires, and unsafe machinery were common. Faced with such working conditions, workers attempted to band together.

Attempts to organize and bargain for wages and working conditions required courage. Opposition to organized labor came from company management that resisted even recognizing union spokespersons. Union organizers were dismissed. Lockouts and strikebreakers were employed; labor organizers often found public officials tending to side with management.

One of the first major breakthroughs in labor organizing in Dubuque came in the 1880s when the Knights of Labor organized building tradesmen and women garment workers at the H. B. GLOVER COMPANY and railroad workers on the Chicago and Northwestern. "Wildcat strikes," not sanctioned by the union occurred. At 3:00 p.m. on June 24, 1890, one hundred seamstresses at H. B. Glover walked off the job over the introduction of a new piece of machinery and ended up without employment. (30)

In 1887 efforts of Dubuque manufacturers to lobby the Iowa Legislature to block passage of Iowa's first factory inspection acts led the Knights to organize a political party. The Labor Reform Party successfully elected Dubuque's first "labor" MAYOR, captured control of the city council and carried all other citywide offices. The January 1, 1887 of the Industrial Leader encouraged readers to follow independent political action. In February, a full slate of labor candidates was assembled for the municipal election. The Labor Reform Party declared the intention:

               to have laws made and executed in the interest
               of justice, of morality, and of productive labor;
               so that the workers, who produce all the wealth,
               may not sink into deeper poverty, while the idle
               drones, who produce none, revel in increased
               opulence. (31)

Party planks addressed extravagance in the budget, inequitable taxes, rising debt, the contract labor system of performing street work, and monopolistic practices of 'corrupt rings and political tricksters.' (32)

The results of the election were surprising. The Republican and Democratic strategy of portraying themselves as better for the general public failed. The entire Knights of Labor ticket were elected. Christian Anton VOELKER was elected mayor and John STAFFORD became the city recorder. (33)

The new council took controversial positions. In May the entire police force was discharged amid charges that it had been used to harass workers. Half of the new force was former officers and the other half all Knights. The subcontracting of labor was street work was abolished and replaced with day labor and the council gave a 40% increase in the daily wage for city work from $1.25 to $1.75 which was higher than wages paid to private sector labor. (34) The council also rejected the offer of the county supervisors to have county jail prisoners to city work. The council responded by claiming the use of such labor depressed wages, offered unfair competition, and was nothing other than involuntary servitude. (35)

When the Knights swept into office, Dubuque's total indebtedness exceeded $800,000--the highest of any city in Iowa. Working on their pledge to begin a more equitable system of taxation, the council instituted a 20% increase in city tax assessments. As a result, the indebtedness dropped about 15% allowing community projects that had been stopped to pay for debt service. (36)

During the time the Knights held public office, the goods and services produced in the city increased 20%; the local transportation system improved with two new railway lines, a new ferry company, a high bridge across the MISSISSIPPI RIVER; and a new fire alarm system was installed. (37)

Despite the achievements, political power for the Knights was soon ended. The local press and the Board of Trade attacked the new political party which was split by potential offers to join with one of the two major political parties. Within the Knights, arguments developed between those who believed in getting elected and those who felt lobbying was more effective. (38)

The fall election of 1887 brought Democrats back into power while the labor vote declined by 45%. In 1888 the Knights did not offer a separate ticket of candidates. The Citizen's Party of half Republicans and half Democrats won nearly all the city offices and most of the council seats. The Knights were never again to play an important role in local politics and they left independent politics in 1890. (39)

On April 8, 1891 a wildcat strike of sixty-five laborers unloading gravel as fill for the new depot of the Burlington Northern Railroad occurred. They were receiving $1.25 per day and wanted $1.50 claiming it was not right that at the end of the day they could not afford a bushel of potatoes costing $1.30. (40) It was noted in the Dubuque Daily Herald on May 7, 1891 that "their places would be filled as rapidly as possible. A similar response was reported on May 20th when four men hired to pack crackers at the ALBEE BAKERY demanded an increase in their pay. Plumbers went on strike in May 1891 over hours of work, an issue raised before the city council by the KNIGHTS OF LABOR. Members of the DUBUQUE TYPOGRAPHICAL UNION NO. 22 attempted to unionize workers at the Daily Ledger in May, 1891, but failed. The shop was then declared "unfair" and union workers were barred from working. Their places were filled with females from Chicago. On May 9th the rest of the printers walked out and made application to join the union. Both strikes were supported by the CIGARMAKERS' LOCAL NO. 88. (41)

The unexpected death of John Stafford, weakened patronage of the cooperatives, and election defeats all conspired to further weaken the Knights locally. In one of its last efforts, the Knights led the efforts in forming the DUBUQUE TRADES AND LABOR CONGRESS, a citywide labor organization in July 1888. (42)

In March 1891 the Trades and Labor Congress composed of representatives of all labor unions in the city voted to investigate the awarding of the contract to ALBERT NEY. It appeared that nearly all the money for labor was going to people from other cities. (43) The plumbers returned to work around May 11, 1891 with the understanding that all new work would be based on a nine-hour day--a reduction from the previous ten hours. (44) In September the barbers in Dubuque went out on strike after the owner of the shop in the JULIEN HOTEL reduced the wages of his employees one dollar per week. (45) Following a reduction of their wages, the employees of the RIDER-WALLIS DRY GOODS COMPANY went out on strike at the end of October. (46)

In 1892 construction of the new IRVING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL was blocked when brick makers refused to deliver brick unless it would be laid by members of the bricklayers' union. The members of the bricklayers' union had refused to accept contracts with the carpenters' union so work was halted. The school board reportedly was willing to go outside of Iowa for materials and workmen to get the project done. (47) Union solidarity was not yet in practice. The following day the Dubuque Herald announced that the carpenters had decided to form a stock company to manufacture their own brick with the aid of imported brick makers.

On October 21, 1894 a meeting of the Trades and Labor Congress was held with the purpose of assisting the building trades to organize a trade council. A temporary committee was established led by a member of the bricklayers' union with two members of the carpenters' union serving a vice-president and secretary. (48) Political officials were now involving themselves in union affairs. In November, Mayor Olinger wrote to the president of the CHICAGO, MILWAUKEE, AND ST. PAUL RAILROAD concerning the reasons for the layoff of local workers. In reply, the company president assured the mayor that the reduction in force was due solely to loss of business. (49)

In 1899 organized labor may have been used by Iowa Senator Albert Baird Cummins to defeat Charles Thomas HANCOCK for the Iowa Senate. Hancock was running for Iowa state senator as a Republican not committed to the campaign of Cummins who needed Republican committed to him to receive the nomination. Cummins was expected to win the race until late in the campaign when the Des Moines Trades and Labor Assembly issued an address "To the Laboring People of Dubuque." This paper urged Cummins defeat because, it charged, he was a candidate of those who wished to "discredit and debauch labor." Hancock lost by a small margin. (50)

At the turn of the 20th century, Dubuque had the highest rate of union membership in Iowa with an estimated two-thirds of the city's workforce belonging to organized labor. (51) While this was true, economic forces were aligning to weaken the local economy. Local businesses were gradually driven out of business by larger companies. By 1910 the steamboat companies were out of business and the lumber industry had moved from the Mississippi Valley to northern Minnesota and the Pacific Northwest. (52)

Union organizing efforts from 1890 to 1910 focused on the building trades. Painters, iron workers, bricklayers, carpenters, sheet metal workers, and plumbers organized independent locals for each trade. Together these locals formed the Building Trades Council. The Teamsters became one of Iowa's strongest unions through help they received from the building trades.

A strike of motormen and coachmen against the UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY during the summer of 1903 lasted for seven weeks. It resulted in the formation of a local CITIZENS' ALLIANCE and the Iowa governor, his state labor commissioner, the president of the state labor federation, and a battalion of national guard troops coming to the city. (53) The belief that non-union strike breakers were brought to the city was supported when it was revealed they had all left Dubuque and were headed to Richmond, Virginia where a similar strike was in progress. (54)

By 1910 the estimated fifty unions operating in Dubuque made the city Iowa's labor movement stronghold. The local unions gained additional strength when they joined to form the Dubuque Trades and Labor Congress. The largest unions were those of the coopers, retail clerks, cigar makers, brewery workers, machinists, iron molders, and street railway employees. Despite several organizing campaigns, mill workers at the sash, door and blind factories of FARLEY AND LOETSCHER MANUFACTURING COMPANY and Carr, Ryder, and Adams remained unorganized until the mid-1930s.

Representatives of the needle industries in Dubuque met at the Chamber of Commerce in February, 1910 under the direction of H. B. Horton, chief cost counsel of the International Garment Manufacturers' Association. Attending representatives included employees of DUBUQUE TANNING AND ROBE COMPANY, H. B. GLOVER COMPANY, EDE'S ROBE TANNING COMPANY, Jones Brothers, and RIDER-WALLIS DRY GOODS COMPANY. The goal was to establish a cost council whose duty was to study the cost and accounting methods in the needle industry with the purpose of making costs among the manufacturers uniform. (55)

Through WORLD WAR I, the role of organized labor in the business climate of Dubuque was controversial. Powerful unions were charged with obtaining wages too high for Dubuque manufacturers to compete economically with other major Iowa employers or to attract new industry. The HARMONY MOVEMENT, according to labor leaders, sought to weaken efforts to unionize companies. Labor advocates charged that some local businessmen conspired to keep new industries out of Dubuque to maintain a large pool of potential labor.

Hard times for organized labor came during the 1920s. Nationwide, union membership declined from over 5 million to a little over 3.5 million. (56) The" open shop" concept in which there was no recognition of organized labor was, it was claimed, renamed the "American Plan" to hide its anti-union nature. The machinists at KLAUER MANUFACTURING COMPANY and A.Y.MCDONALD MANUFACTURING COMPANY lost strikes. In 1922 an unsuccessful strike for higher pay lasted three months at the MILWAUKEE RAILROAD SHOPS in an attempt to raise the top rate to eighty cents. In 1924 representatives of six shop crafts, known as System Federation 76, of the Milwaukee line met in Dubuque to take positions on issues affecting the labor force. John Utzig of Dubuque was the federation president. (57)

Belt Buckle. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Assorted union pins associated with John Deere. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Garfield St. Photo in 2011

Often unable to compete nationally, local business leaders' reactions to organized labor led to layoffs and a reduction in the workforce. Estimates have been made that between 1927 and 1934, over thirty firms closed down or left Dubuque. This resulted in the loss of 2,200 manufacturing jobs. Replacing these were thirteen new businesses employing only three hundred workers. (58)

Photo courtesy: Paul Lembke
The GREAT DEPRESSION led to the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States and the start of the New Deal. Of all of these programs, the one which affected organized labor the most was the National Recovery Administration, called by its initials, the N. R. A. This agency allowed businessmen to fix prices and allocate production quotas through codes of competition. Included in the law was the famous section, Section 7(a), which provided that every code of fair competition must provide employees the right to form and join unions of their own choosing in order to bargain collectively with their employers. Section 7(a) served as a spark for the labor movement. Immediately, workers across the nation again began to form unions. (59)

Despite these manufacturing companies operating with far fewer employees, the DUBUQUE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE wrote of the city's economy in 1930:

                 A striking thing about these (local industries)
                 is that they keep right on producing quality
                 products with seldom or never a shutdown. (60)

This attitude created cynicism among the unemployed. Rumors circulated that the Chamber had kept the auto industry and other employers who paid good wages out of the city. There was the idea that business leaders were keeping wages low for their own profit. The fact that wages in Dubuque were on a par with those paid in the South was used by officials as a way of attracting new business. Only seven percent of the nation's labor force was unionized, and efforts to organize locally had met with little success. (61)

In 1933 the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen organized at the DUBUQUE PACKING COMPANY. Bell Telephone workers were organized later in the decade by the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO). A bitter strike against ROSHEK'S DEPARTMENT STORE led to renewed strength in the Teamster's Union. The Upholsters campaigned to organize FLEXSTEEL INDUSTRIES, INC. and the farm equipment workers. In 1948 the United Auto Workers were successful at the JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS.

The first clash between organizers of the Congress of Industrial Organization and the American Federation of Labor occurred in October, 1937. Both unions made to town to organize workers of the H. B. GLOVER COMPANY, GALENA GLOVE AND MITTEN COMPANY, and the William R. Kolck Company. (62)

Reflecting the involvement of the federal government in labor issues, representatives of the conciliation service of the U.S. Department of Labor and officials of the AFL met in 1942 to resolve differences when several hundred workers belonging to the Battery Workers Union Local No. 22516 at the GENERAL DRY BATTERIES plant in Dubuque walked out. (63)

As industries grew, labor unions were faced with a highly mobile group of workers who were increasingly non-residents. In 1964 the Dubuque Industrial Bureau did its first commuter survey. In that year the number of nonresidents in Dubuque's manufacturing industry was 2,900 or about 25% of the workers. In 1979 that number had risen to 6,725 of 38%. Layoffs and rising gas prices led in 1982 to there being 3,833 commuters. (64)

In 1967 the strike of the UAW against Deere and Company left one-quarter of the employees at the Dubuque plant receiving federal food stamps. (65)

Through the late 1970s, manufacturing dominated the Dubuque economy. This changed rapidly. Affected by the national economic recession, between 1979 and 1982 John Deere reduced its work force from an estimated 8,700 to 5,300. The Dubuque Packing Company laid off 1,450 employees out of a total 2,700. In early 1982 when Deere temporarily shut down the Dubuque plant, the city's unemployment rose as high as 23%. Most of the jobs lost were in high paying manufacturing companies with unions. New jobs were generally in small scale and private chain stores that higher non-union employees and paid minimum wages. (66)

While manufacturing companies were reducing their primarily male work force, female workers entered the work place in significant numbers. Often taking seasonal jobs in the service sector, these employees received low wages with little of no benefits. Employment was non-union and part-time. (67)

Cities like Dubuque with a few major employers were more affected by national economic conditions. The prosperity of the period from 1960-1980 increased Dubuque's population, while the recession of the 1980s led by some estimates to a loss of more than 10% of the population. (68)

Those fortunate enough to keep their jobs had to settle for reduced wages and benefits. Adjusting for inflation, workers in 1988 employed in production took home $5,448 less than they earned in 1981. Clerical workers took home $4,018 less and service employees lost $2,385. (69)

In 1979 the union members at the John Deere Dubuque Works were the last to agree to a new contract between the company and union. A twenty-two day strike ended with protest after the United Auto Workers informed the members that the Dubuque strike was illegal and unauthorized. Union members had rejected the contract by a vote of 3,239 to 506 one day before a district judge issued an injunction against continued picketing. (70)

On July 1, 1975 collective bargaining was approved in Iowa for public school employees. Teachers in the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT voted to have the DUBUQUE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, a representative of the National Education Association, represent them and the first negotiated agreement with the District was written.

Image courtesy: Mike Day. Kendall C. Day family collection

In 1982 a nearly nine week strike at FLEXSTEEL INDUSTRIES, INC. affected 450 local employees. (71)

The faculty of the University of Dubuque gained a unique status in the 1970s by being the first in a private institution of higher education west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER to request collective bargaining. The "Contractual Agreement Between the Faculty Association of the College of Liberal Arts of the University of Dubuque" was signed on June 4, 1974. Articles of the agreement included: recognition, board rights, association rights, student rights and freedom, academic freedom, faculty rights and responsibilities, working conditions, academic ranks, personnel policies, promotion, tenure, dismissals, termination and resignations, personnel files, grievance and arbitration, and salary and fringe benefits. Appendixes included the joint statement on rights and freedoms of students and the salary schedule. This agreement remained in effect until August 31, 1975. (72)

In December 1983 the question of whether the faculty would retain collective bargaining rights went before a hearing of the National Labor Relations Board. The hearing resulted from a petition University of Dubuque administrators filed in November with the NLRB regional office in Peoria, Illinois. The non-union administrators asked the board to determine whether university faculty fell under a Supreme Court ruling that banned faculty at a private college from bargaining collectively (1980 Yeshiva decision). The Supreme Court had ruled that faculty at Yeshiva University, a private four-year college in New York were managerial employees that therefore not subject to the NLRB. University of Dubuque administrators argued that faculty exercised excessive managerial rights. The faculty at the time was bargaining as the Faculty Association of the College of Liberal Arts, an affiliate of the National Education Association and the Iowa State Education Association. (73) The action of the administration was seen as "union-busting" and picketing was carried out by members of the college faculty and teachers of the DUBUQUE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, also an affiliate of the Iowa State Education Association. (74) The National Labor Relations Board eventually ruled against the faculty which lost its collective bargaining rights. (75)

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Recent years have witnessed fewer strikes and increased labor-management cooperation as the threat to American jobs is seen from foreign competition. Cooperation between labor and management led to the development of the DUBUQUE AREA LABOR-MANAGEMENT COUNCIL. Leadership of organized labor through these changing times has been provided by such leaders as Hugh D. CLARK, John GROGAN and Mel MAAS.

A glaring exception to the labor-company cooperation was the history of the Dubuque Packing Company and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 150-A. In 1980 "the Pack" was the second largest employer in the economy of Dubuque, one of nine cities nationwide in which the company had plants. (76) Workers "on the line" earned an average of $25,000 in annual wages plus an additional $11,000 in fringe benefits according to company estimates. This included an average of five weeks of vacation per year.

Letterhead: Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Years of service pin.
The recession of the late 1970s hit Dubuque. In 1981 the company claimed that it had lost $25 million since 1979. (77) Of the 115 men working in the beef kill, the youngest had 21 years of seniority resulting in a large number of benefits the company had to pay. The company wanted the production standard increased from 115.8 head of cattle per hour increased to 160. Union officials noted that with incentive pay, the workers were already slaughtering more than 115.8 but not 160. Union officials acknowledged that the company could build a one-story facility increasing efficiency over the five-story Dubuque plant where carcasses had to be moved from floor to floor. They also agreed that the company would probably gain from property tax concessions from any community near a new plant and that younger workers would cost less.

Blaming a changing market, high wages, and inefficient equipment, the company asked for wage and benefit concessions and closed parts of the Dubuque plant promising only to "maintain a presence" in Dubuque. The hog kill was closed in 1981 with a loss of 1,400 jobs when the company relocated the operations to Rochelle, Illinois. (See NLRB ruling below.)

In April 1982, officials of Dubuque Packing Company announced they would close the Dubuque plant on October 16th. This action had the potential of creating unemployment for 1,200 workers and possibly raising Dubuque's unemployment rate to 17.3 percent.

On May 12, 1982 United Food and Commercial Workers Local 150-A members voted to reject the company's latest 11-point benefit and concessions package. Mel MAAS stated the workers "had enough and decided the company was going to close the plant regardless." The concessions would have included a drop of base wages from $9.00 to $8.00, a loss of a week in vacation time, a limit on yearly vacations to three weeks, and an increase in worker payment of their medical insurance. (78)

Workers were angered by the closing. As early as 1974, Dubuque Pack had purchased new packing plants like one in Mankato it had leased since 1972. (79) Expansion in Mankato had included a new warehouse, installation of a rendering system and growth in the stockyards. (80) Union members in Dubuque considered such activities as threats used by the company to force wage concessions.

In the fall of 1982, the President and Chairman of Dubuque Packing Company Charles E. Stoltz sold the packing plant and its fleur-de-lis trademark for $30.5 million to a group which included Robert Henry WAHLERT. The packing plant resumed operations as FDL FOODS INC. The sale resulted in approximately five hundred employees being forced to accept lower wages or early retirement. Workers now made $6.00 an hour instead of the $14.00 they had made previously with an incentive program. (81)

In 1984 a district court ruled that the company had to pay full retirement benefits to eligible employees. When the company was sold, officials indicated that they wanted to take away some of the employees health, medical, and insurance benefits. The court ruled that the company should comply with an arbitrator's decision in 1983 and pay the fees of the attorney representing the union.

In 1985 the headquarters was moved to Omaha, Nebraska to be more centrally located to its other plants, which were processing primarily beef at that time. The company again flourished and was later sold in a leverage buyout to BeefAmerica, a firm controlled by Eli Jacobs. Its gelatin operations were sold to the French company Sanofi. BeefAmerica went out of business in 1998 following a recall and a strike.

America's unions received an important announcement on June 14, 1991 as a result of company actions taken at the packing company. The National Labor Relations Board, in a unanimous ruling, found that the Dubuque Packing Company had violated federal labor law by refusing to negotiate with union workers over the movement of the hog kill operations from Dubuque to Rochelle, Illinois. (82)

The U. S. Court of Appeals said that the case posed "hard questions--some of the most polarizing questions in contemporary labor law." It then referred the case back to the NLRB for clarification of the bargaining obligation issue. The ruling placed the burden of proof on the employers as to why they should be free of bargaining with their unions when they choose to relocate. (83)

Dave Baker, president of General Drivers and Helpers Union Local 421 said in January 1991 that he was contacted by employees of the DUBUQUE CASINO BELLE in November of 1991. Iowa's riverboat gambling law then required that employees had to be paid 25% more than the federal minimum wage. Iowa's minimum wage increased forty cents in January, 1992 but the federal minimum had remained the same. (84)

In what many called a bitter strike, employees of A.Y.MCDONALD MANUFACTURING COMPANY staged a nine-week walkout before a contract settlement was reached. Members of Local 1238 of the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers and Local 263 of the International Molders and Allied Workers Union approved the terms by "a close vote" (85)

Employees at AREA RESIDENTIAL CARE, INC. voted in July, 1992 to be represented by Teamsters Local 421 for collective bargaining. Two votes had to be taken. Professional employees including social workers, registered nurses, and recreation coordinators had a separate ballot. Gary L. WARNER, executive director of ARC, admitted that the financial picture for human services agencies was very concerning to staff because of the "financial picture at the state and county level." (86)

About half of the JULIEN CARE FACILITY staff went on strike in early August, 1993 over finances, seniority and the change in a couple of positions. Members of Teamsters Local 421, the staff included dietary, maintenance, laundry and housekeeping workers and nurses' aides. (87) A boycott by unions of the Clarion Hotel was in its second year in 1993. The issue was the use of non-union labor, although the developers said local labor was used. (88)

In 1993 about thirty percent of the work force in Dubuque was still unionized. This was above the national average of sixteen percent. (89)

Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 704 protested the use of non-local workers on WALMART construction site. Company officials, however, replied that 62% of the total contracting work was being done by local labor with 14 of the 25 subcontracts going to Dubuque companies and seven others awarded to Iowa companies. Roussel Masonry, Inc. of Dubuque was quoted as saying Walmart had "gone out of their way to ask us for a price." (90)

In 1997 the national strike of the Teamsters Union against the United Parcel Service (UPS) was seen as positive for labor in Dubuque. In contrast to the failed strike by air traffic controllers nationally, the UPS incident increased the number of full time employees from part-time, increased pay, reduced sub-contracting, and kept pension plans under union management. Dave Baker, president of Teamsters Local 421 in Dubuque, remarked that, "the message is that workers want to be treated with dignity." (91)

Security employees at the DUBUQUE GREYHOUND PARK AND CASINO joined the United Steelworkers of America Local 1861-U. In 1997 the racing association board ratified a three-year contract involving wages, benefits, and non-economic issues including seniority. (92)

History for Deere and Company was made in 1997 with the signing of a six-year contract between the company and the United Autoworkers International. The previous negotiations had continued past the deadline and it took another five months before an agreement could be reached. (93)

A vote on union affiliation at EAGLE WINDOW AND DOOR set for April 24, 1998 was cancelled by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Works. The local workforce was "not fully prepared to organize." The reason given was the high turnover rate in the four years since the last vote at the Dubuque plant. The last election on June 24, 1994 had resulted in a vote of 165-129 in favor of organizing. Another 49 ballots were contested and later changed the outcome. By withdrawing its petition for a second election, the union ended its four-year campaign to organize the workers. (94) In 2009 company employees again declined union representation by a vote of 249-130. (95)

On April 13, 2010 the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced it had assumed responsibility for the underfunded pension plan covering nearly 1,300 former employees and retirees of the defunct Dubuque Packing Co. (96)

The PBGC stepped in because the Dubuque Packing Co. Supplemental Pension Plan faced abandonment as its board of administration prepared to disband. The board had remained as plan administrator after Dubuque Packing liquidated and dissolved in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It was announced that retirees would continue to receive their monthly benefit payments without interruption, and other workers would receive their pensions when they were eligible to retire. (97)

The pension plan was 36 percent funded, with about $1.9 million in assets and nearly $5.2 million in benefit liabilities, according to PBGC estimates. The agency expected to cover the $3.3 million shortfall, and would take over the assets and use insurance funds to pay guaranteed benefits earned under the plan, which ended on March 31, 2010. The PBGC became trustee of the plan on April 8, 2010. (98)

The PBGC sent trusteeship notification letters to all plan participants. Under federal pension law, the maximum guaranteed pension at age 65 for participants in plans that terminated in 2010 was $54,000 per year. The maximum guaranteed amount was lower for those who retired earlier or elected survivor benefits. The PBGC expected that pension payments to retirees and beneficiaries under the Dubuque Packing plan will not be reduced by guarantee limits. (99)

In 2012 the DUBUQUE WORKERS' ACADEMY was offered by the University of Iowa, Dubuque Federation of Labor and the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

The harsh realities of politics were felt by public workers in Iowa including teachers, nurses and correctional workers in 2017. The Republican-controlled legislature and Governor Branstad, who had supported salary increases for educators in previous years, eliminated most collective bargaining rights and passed legislation restricting compensation for on-the job injuries. (100) Threatening wages included the decline in union membership from 158,000 Iowans in 2010 to 129,000 in 2016. Other factors included automation and the use of robotics. (101)




1. Friedman, Larry and Fischer, Katherine. A. A. Cooper: Reinventing the Wheel, River City Press, 2016, p. 131

2. Close, J. W., "Labor Movement in Dubuque and Its Organization," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 19, 1905, p. 59

3. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-16-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

4. "Labor vs. Capital," Dubuque Democratic Herald, July 27, 1864, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18640727&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "Uniform Scale of Prices," Dubuque Democratic Herald, September 21, 1864, p 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18640921&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Struck and Got It," Dubuque Herald, November 14, 1865, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18651114&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "Strikes," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 28, 1866, p. 3. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18660928&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "Commendable Sympathy," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 28, 1866, p. 3. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18660928&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "Struck for Wages, Dubuque Herald, July 24, 1866, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18660724&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. "Negro Crews Coming," Dubuque Herald, July 31, 1866, p. 4. Online:

11. "On A Strike," Dubuque Herald, September 13, 1866, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18660913&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

12. "Shoemakers Strike Ended," Dubuque Herald, September 16, 1866, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18660916&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. "Strikes," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 28, 1866, p. 3

14. "Another Strike," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 4, 1866, p. 4

15. "Struck for Wages," Dubuque Herald, May 4, 1873, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18730504&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

16. "Labor Unions in Iowa."

17. "Iowa's Role in Labor History," Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, Online: http://www.carpentersunion.org/about/iowas-role-labor-history

18. Scharnau, Ralph. "A Work in Progress," Telegraph Herald, Tri-State Work Force, August 31, 2017, p. 10

19. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, March 11, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740311&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

20. "The Labor Problem," Dubuque Herald, May 15, 1877, p. 4

21. "The Strikers," Dubuque Herald, July 26, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770726&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

22. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, July 29, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770729&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

23. Letter. e-Bay. November 4, 2015

24. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 14, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18800114&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

25. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 15, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18800115&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

26. "Tailors' Strike," Dubuque Herald, October 7, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18801007&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

27. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, October 9, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18801009&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

28. Scharnau, Ralph. "Workers and Politics--The Knights of Labor in Dubuque, Iowa 1885-1890, Annals of Iowa. Des Moines: State Historical Society of Iowa, Volume 48, Number 7 (Winter of 1987), p. 355

29. Ibid., p. 356

30. "Jumped Their Jobs," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 24, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900624&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

31. Scharnau. p. 365

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid., p. 368

34. Scharnau., p. 369

35. Ibid. p. 370

36. Ibid. p. 373

37. Ibid. p. 374

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid. p. 375

40. "Strike on a Gravel Train," Dubuque Daily Herald, April 9, 1891, 4

41. Scharnau. p. 376

42. "A Strike of Type Stickers," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 10, 1891, p. 8. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910510&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

43. "Fighting Scab Labor," Dubuque Daily Herald, March 24, 1891, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910324&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

44. "Plumbers Go Back," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 12, 1891, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18910512&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

45. "Barbers on a Strike," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 29, 1891, p. 4

46. "Gritty Girls," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 4, 1891, p. 4

47. "The Bricklayers Cinch," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 3, 1892, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920903&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

48. "A New Enterprise," Dubuque Daily Herald, October 23, 1894, p. 4

49. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 22, 1894, p. 4

50. "Did Cummins Beat Hancock?" The Herald, November 14, 1899, p. 4. Online: http://p8080-

51. Chaichian, Mohammad A. White Racism on the Western Urban Frontier-Dynamics of Race and Class in Dubuque Iowa (1800-2000), Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, Inc. 2006, p. 187

52. Ibid.

53. "Echoes from Dubuque Newspapers," Clinton Mirror, July 4, 1903. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2281&dat=19030704&id=caIoAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CAYGAAAAIBAJ&pg=6042,1191791&hl=en

54. Chaichian, p. 188

55. "Needle Industries Plan Cost Board," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, February 25, 2921, p. 9

56. "Milwaukee Road Changes Over to Electric Power in Big Shops at Dubuque," The Milwaukee Journal, July 18, 1916. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19160718&id=QaxRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FiEEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6055,3416556&hl=en

57. Chaichian, p. 189

58. "Iowa's Role in Labor..."

59. "Story of the Strike," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, March 24, 1933, p. 14

60. "Turning Points," Telegraph Herald, September 25, 1983, p. 29

61. Ibid.

62. "CIO Organizer at Work Here," Telegraph-Herald, October 6, 1937, p. 7

63. Chaichian, p. 193

64. "Turning Points," Telegraph Herald, September 25, 1983, p. 32

65. "Chronology," Telegraph Herald, December 31, 1967, p. 19

66. Ibid., p 194

67. Ibid.

68. Ibid., p. 195

69. "Dubuque, Iowa." The Milwaukee Journal, October 29, 1942, Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19421029&id=0O0ZAAAAIBAJ&sjid=5CIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2779,5754495&hl=en

70. "Deere Employees Return," The Daily Reporter, October 13, 1979. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1926&dat=19791013&id=H1srAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dNkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2065,1543324&hl=en

71. ERIC-Contractual Agreement Between the Faculty Association of the College of Liberal Arts of the University of Dubuque and the University of Dubuque. Dubuque Univ., IA. Online: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED104194

72. "Flexsteel Company Timeline," Telegraph Herald, May 13, 2017, p. 6A

73. Goessl, Joan. "UD Faculty May Lose Collective Bargaining," Telegraph Herald, December 15, 1983, p. 3A

74. Lyon, Randolph. President of the Dubuque Education Association from 1982-1986

75. Interview with Ralph Scharnau, January, 2015

76. Chaichian, p. 192

77. Ibid.

78. "Dubuque Pack to Close," The Daily Reporter, May 12, 1982. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1907&dat=19820512&id=oWMrAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pdkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2983,2256088&hl=en

79. "Dubuque Announces Purchase of Mankato Packing Plant," Jewell County Record, May 30, 1974. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1393&dat=19740530&id=aF1lAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8JMNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3290,3501346&hl=en

80. Ibid.

81. Chaichian, p. 193

82. "Union Wins on Plant Moves," The Tuscaloosa News, June 16, 1991, Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1817&dat=19910616&id=vDgdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=06UEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5893,3892826&hl=en

83. Ibid.

84. "Union Meets Boat Workers," The Daily Reporter, January 30, 1992, Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1907&dat=19920130&id=bl4rAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4dkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3699,2547628&hl=en

85. Japsen, Bruce. "Unions End A.Y. Strike," Telegraph Herald, August 8, 1991, p. 1

86. Bergstrom, Kathy. "ARC Employees Vote for Union," Telegraph Herald, July 2, 1992, P. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920702&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

87. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Julien Care Workers Walk Picket Line," Telegraph Herald, August 18, 1993, p. 3A

88. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Unions to Step Up Boycott of Clarion," Telegraph Herald, September 23, p. 2

89. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Labor Historian: Dubuque Unions Not Dead, Just Regrouping," Telegraph Herald, January 14, 1993, p. 3A

90. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Workers Protest at Wal-Mart Site," Telegraph Herald, July 18, 1993, p. 3A.

91. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Local Labor Officials: Outlook Good," Telegraph Herald, September 1, 1997, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970901&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

92. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Racing Association Ratifies Union Contract," Telegraph Herald, September 24, 1997, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970924&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

93. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Proposed Deere Pact Covers Six Years," Telegraph Herald, October 2, 1997, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19971002&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

94. Wilkinson, Jennifer. "Union Kills Election at Eagle Window," Telegraph Herald, April 23, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980423&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

95. "Chronology," Telegraph Herald'Italic text, January 1, 2010, p. 45

96. "PBGC Assumes Pension Plan of Dubuque Packing Co.," Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation," Online: http://www.pbgc.gov/news/press/releases/pr10-28.html

97. Ibid.

98. Ibid.

99. Ibid.

100. Montgomery, Jeff. "A Changing Landscape," Tri-State Workforce published by the Telegraph Herald, August 31, 2017, p. 44

101. Ibid.