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Release: Aug. 31, 2000

UI labor expert: Unions still a force in midst of strong national economy

CORALVILLE, Iowa -- As Labor Day 2000 approaches, a University of Iowa labor educator says organized labor will continue to be an influential force in a thriving national economy.

Laurence Clements, director of the UI Labor Center, said union organizing continues at both the state and national level as workers face several issues, such as health and safety on the job, the impact of economic development initiatives, and fair wages in light of favorable corporate earnings.

In 1999, unions were more successful organizing in the traditionally non-union Southern states than in the Northeast, Clements said. They are also making inroads in areas where workers have been under-represented, in the service sector, in health care, including professional workers, and are making a renewed effort in the construction trades, particularly by the Carpenters Union.

"As the labor movement faces the next century, it is adjusting its methods and targets. Despite its critics, it plans to be around for many decades to come," he said.

Unions are also expanding their use of electronic communications especially in coordinating activities on a national and international scale, he added. The United Steel Workers of America in particular have used the World Wide Web in their coordinated activities against major tire companies.

In Iowa, labor's impact will continue to be felt as wage levels remain below those of other states, Clements explained. The improvement in the economy has left Iowa ranked 39th in wages in the country, despite having the lowest official unemployment rate in the nation, he said.

"As Iowa wrestles with lifting its wage rates from the lowest tier of states, the need for a strong union movement in the state has never been greater," he said. "At the Labor Center, our job is to provide the skills to working Iowans to enable them to exercise their collective influence at the bargaining table, in the state legislature and in their communities."

Health and safety on the job, the viability of Iowa economic development programs to achieve an economically improved workforce, and an understanding of Iowa's place in the global economy are all issues on the Labor Center's teaching agenda this academic year.

Clements added that this Labor Day marks a special year for the University of Iowa Labor Center as it celebrates its 50th year of operation. During that time, it has educated thousands of trade unionists about labor law, organizing and public policy issues of concern to working families.

The Labor Center is located on the UI's Oakdale Campus in Coralville. For more information about the Labor Center and its programs, call (319) 335-4144.