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CWA Road Workers in Iowa Demand Their Cheeseburger, To Go!

A report from Corey Davis, President, CWA Local 7103:

With winter fading and spring on the way in many parts of the country, it might be easy to forget the workers who clear snow from roads. They go out in freezing temperatures, often long after the sun has set and long before the sun rises. Their job is to clear a path. It’s a thankless and often dangerous job. But that path allows teachers to reach their schools, business owners to reach their shops, and emergency personnel to respond with lifesaving speed. It’s easy to overlook the contribution these workers make to the functioning of our towns and cities. It’s easy … but it would definitely be a mistake.

In Woodbury County, Iowa, these workers are members of my local, CWA Local 7103. Here in Iowa, like many places in our country, public workers have been under attack. In 2017, our departing governor gave public employers the right to strike anything they wanted from our contracts and banned us from negotiating over anything other than base wages. In a hamfisted attempt to destroy public sector unions, the new rules also barred paycheck dues deduction. I’m proud to say that our local has remained CWA Strong despite these challenges.

Even so, in 2019, under threat of redlining every other right we’d fought for, our bargaining team accepted a 4-year contract and wage increases that would barely keep up with inflation.

Then came Covid-19. Our workers were affected just like millions of others across the country. We were reminded of the importance of family and work-life balance. Being a road worker used to be a job you could support a family on. Now, many of our folks had to work second and even third jobs to make ends meet. We looked around. John Deer was striking. Auto workers were striking. Teachers were striking. We knew it was now or never—we’d fight back or we’d be underpaid and overworked for the rest of our lives. We saw more workers filing into our union meetings, voicing their frustrations and sharing personal stories of how they could barely keep their heads above water financially.

Something had to be done.

We began mobilizing, making calls to our elected officials. Making noise. The County Board said they couldn’t reopen negotiations with us. It was a done deal, love it or leave. We decided it was time to escalate.

Union members made phone calls to local reporters to explain the situation. Before long, we had our points of view broadcasting over the nightly news. We packed the Woodbury County Courthouse for the Board of Supervisors meeting. Standing room only. Our members spoke, three minutes at a time, long into the night. We made sure we weren’t just being listened to, that we were being heard.

The following evening, a board member called me offering to give our workers an $835 bonus. I said that we appreciated the offer but we would need at least $1,000. He argued that the bonus would go out to all of the union members in the county, not just CWA, so that extra $165 would cost them almost $5,000. I reminded him that the county budget alone was over several million. I said, “To you and me $5,000 is a lot of money, but out of several million it’s a damn cheeseburger! I need you to go find us our cheeseburger!” He called back a few hours later with the good news. He’d managed (surprise, surprise) to find our cheeseburger and everyone would be receiving a $1,000 bonus.”

When we fight, we win!

But our fight wasn’t over.

When our negotiations came up this year, we knew that we had to have a plan. Last year, I was honored to be elected to the National Bargaining Team for the AT&T Mobility Orange Contract. I can’t tell you how much I learned from Pat Telesco and the rest of my brothers and sisters in those negotiations. Also over the years with our Staff Representative Bonnie Winther here in Iowa, who never ceases to amaze me. We had to go in more engaged and prepared than ever!

We had many membership meetings and late nights strategizing, prioritizing, and working through possible scenarios. I did another interview on the news. I said, “It doesn’t make sense to thank us for being the front line clearing the roads during blizzards with snow drifts taller than your car, then treat us like strangers when it comes to our pay! We can’t fill our gas tanks or our families' fridges with thank yous!”

When we finally got to the table, all of those long nights paid off. The lawyer came at us out of the gates saying they’d give us a 2% raise each year and they’d strip the contract. We addressed the board members in the room instead, “You were elected by the people of this county to make it the best it can be. We understand that you are using our tax dollars to hire this attorney to assist in these negotiations. Your lawyer was not elected, these decisions are yours!”

The bargaining team shared personal stories and examples of how these changes would actually benefit both parties. After two long days, we came to an agreement that the members unanimously voted to ratify! We not only kept the contract intact, but expanded on several sections that have needed it for decades. As far as wages, instead of just focusing on our general wage increases, we made strides in our progressive steps and added a new higher paying job title. Some workers would be receiving more than 11% over the next three years—much better than 2% and a naked contract.

After they stripped our rights, we were pushed down. Then we stood up and fought back. And when we fight, WE WIN!

We not only stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. There’s power in numbers, not just the number of people showing up to meetings today, but all those who’ve come in the past, too.

We won with knowledge, ingenuity and, most importantly, solidarity.

Stand tall. Stand strong. Stand with your union and you can win.