Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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August 24, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos     8/27/13

In this edition:

*A Personal Labor Day Story
*Labor Day
*Labor Day Picnic
*Sutliff Street Dance
*Other Weekend Events
*Did You Know?

*A Personal Labor Day Story
I have had several requests to reprint the following piece, which first appeared in Salvos in 2007. As a side note, Marian Sullivan passed away in 2009. Once again, I dedicate this piece in her memory.

Monday marks Labor Day. Every year, I write the same piece, noting the good that organized labor has done for this country.

This year, I have decided to go a different route. I would like to explain what organized labor has done for me personally. I give you – my family story. This is the story of Tom and Marian (Pint) Sullivan. It is also the story of the American Dream.

Tom Sullivan grew up near the small Iowa town of Elma, one of many children. They were very poor. Tom was forced to go to work very young, and quit school around the 4th grade. He had tremendous familial responsibilities for a ten year old. Like most Americans of the day, he worked on the farm. But the times were very challenging. As he aged, Tom had any number of odd jobs in order to supplement his income; hired man, ditch digger, bouncer, bartender – just about any work would do. A huge man for his day, Tom even entered tough man competitions, wrestling or fighting a passing barnstormer in the hopes of making a buck.

Marian Pint had a big family, too. They might have been even poorer than the Sullivans. Marian always got something for Christmas, but to say the gifts were modest is an understatement. One year she received a doll handmade from cornhusks; another year it was a piece of citrus fruit. After high school, Marian went to work. Marian made a ridiculously low wage; I seem to recall her mentioning making less than a dollar a day. She was working in a general store when she met Tom, who had a second job cutting and delivering ice.

Tom and Marian were married, and tried to begin a life on the farm. Farming during the Depression was simply not working out; Tom and Marian could not afford to buy any land, so rents ate up all their income. When their first child (my father) was born, they had a dirt floor and neither electricity nor running water. Life was hard for the Sullivans, but not any more difficult than it was for tens of millions of Americans of the day.

Finally, they had had enough. A couple hours to the south, Cedar Rapids offered a new beginning. World War II had just begun, and industry was taking off in Cedar Rapids. Anybody who was willing to work, regardless of race or gender, could join a labor union. Tom joined Carpenter’s Local 308; Marian united with many other women in the workforce and joined the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Local at Wilson’s Meatpacking.

The Carpenter’s Union struggled during the Depression. Even afterward, some carpenters felt they had a better chance of getting work being non-union. But Tom knew it was more important to join his peers, and compete on a level playing field. Alone, carpenters could be gouged or cheated. Together, they would be treated fairly.

Soon the War ended, and prosperity arrived. Hard work was paying off. The Sullivans were able to buy a house, a car, and put their kids through Catholic school. They didn’t get a television right away, but because Tom was willing to put an antenna on the roof next door, he got to go to the neighbors to watch pro wrestling.

Despite decades of newfound wealth, not everything was perfect. Years of hard work caused Tom’s body to break down. His last years were spent using a wheelchair. Marian suffered from repetitive motion injuries. The UFCW union was busted at Wilson’s, and Marian’s pension and health insurance never quite lived up to their promises.

So, what is their legacy? Tom and Marian pulled their family from poverty to the middle class. They lived the American Dream. Every one of their grandkids had healthcare coverage. Every one of their grandkids had the opportunity to get a college education. Every one of their grandkids had the kinds of opportunities many Americans have come to expect, but much of the world can only dream about.

So how did Tom & Marian Sullivan pull this off? Yes, they worked hard. But so did most Americans. Tom and Marian made this all happen because they joined the organized labor movement.

They never did anything alone; they did it through solidarity. They were special people, but not unique. There are millions of stories just like theirs, and none of the characters are unique. You did not need to be the best or the brightest; you simply needed to join up and work hard. If you did, the rewards were there.

There have always been the rich and the poor. But a large middle class is a relatively new phenomenon. Organized labor created the middle class, not just in Iowa, but all across this nation. Organized labor gave me the life I enjoy today. That is why my Grandparents were union. That is why my Dad was union. That is why I am union.

Nobody ever does it alone. We all do it together. United we stand, divided we fall. Today, and on Labor Day, I honor my Grandma and Grandpa Sullivan. And I honor their brothers and sisters in the labor movement.

Thank you Grandma & Grandpa. And thank you all. Happy Labor Day!

*Labor Day
         Happy Labor Day next Monday! I love Labor Day. Every Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day we set aside time to recall the folks whose service has given us our freedom. I have long felt we need to treat Labor Day in a similar fashion.

Please take a moment this Labor Day to remember the people who fought (and often died) to give us child labor laws, 40 hour weeks, weekends, overtime, vacations, the minimum wage, sick leave, parental leave, OSHA, employment nondiscrimination, pensions, Social Security, health insurance, and so much more.

Do not be fooled! These benefits were not GIVEN to workers by benevolent corporations! They were earned by workers who sacrificed! It is a shame that so many average Joes have chosen to support our corporate masters versus supporting those whose efforts really benefit the masses.

Unions continue to provide the best protections working people can have. I feel as though I have accomplished some good things as a member of the Board of Supervisors. One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud is starting an employee appreciation lunch every year the week of Labor Day. Johnson County employees deserve much more, but this is one extra opportunity to say thank you.

Trust me – the average person has nothing to fear from unions. We all benefit when folks have safe and healthy workplaces. We all benefit when workers get adequate rest. We all benefit when workers receive good training. We all benefit when folks earn a living wage and have health insurance. Unions help improve the quality of life for all of us.

One example of a way in which unions benefit everyone: much is made of the automobile industry expanding into the southern US. While these are not union plants, workers still have good wages and benefits. Some see this as an indictment of unions. It is precisely the opposite.

Do not think for a minute that these companies pay $22 per hour because they WANT to. They would be much happier to pay $4 per hour. And, when China’s workforce improves in quality to the point that they can do automotive work, the companies will move there.

Understand – big companies exists for one reason, and that is to earn a profit. If the laws allowed slavery, some companies would use it. Because it is cheaper.

So why do they pay $22 in the southern US? Because of the threat of the United Auto Workers (UAW). If the wages or benefits ever sink too low, UAW could unionize those workers. The car companies don’t want that, so they pay the lowest possible acceptable wage.

See? The UAW does not represent the workers at those plants. But they have driven up the wages and benefits for the workers there all the same.

I am proud to be a member of Local 716 of the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the Iowa City Federation of Labor. Happy Labor Day!

*Labor Day Picnic
The Iowa City Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, will host its annual Labor Day picnic on Monday, September 2, starting at noon at Upper City Park, shelter 2. Burgers, brats, veggie options and beverages provided. Please bring a dish to share. Political speeches and a good time guaranteed. Free to all Friends of Labor. For more information call Patrick Hughes, President, Iowa City Federation of Labor, 319-828-4541.

*Sutliff Street Dance
The Sutliff Bridge Authority is holding its 29th Annual Street Dance fundraiser on Sunday, September 1 in beautiful downtown Sutliff.

Gates open at 12:00 noon - $5 donation requested. Music by Between Monsters from 1-5 pm. Food provided by the Johnson County Pork Producers. Limited beverages provided by Baxa’s Sutliff Store and Tavern. No coolers please.

*Other Weekend Events
         Fry Fest Friday night; High School football Friday night; Hawkeye Football Saturday; Regina Fall Fun Festival all weekend long…. There is no shortage of fun events this weekend! Enjoy!

*DID YOU KNOW?  The first observance of Labor Day is believed to have been a parade on September 5, 1882, in New York City, probably organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary. By 1893, more than half the states were observing a "Labor Day" on one day or another, and a bill to establish a federal holiday was passed by Congress in 1894. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill soon afterward, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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