Working for Missourians

For more than 40 years, the Labor Education Program has worked with the United Steelworkers to develop and deliver a comprehensive leadership institute. At the 2009 institute, 170 local union leaders from four states participated in a variety of classes designed to enhance their knowledge of strategic challenges and to improve their technical representation skills.

Labor Education Program

Source: MU Extension Annual Report, FY 2009

During FY 2009, America experienced one of the most severe economic crises since the Great Depression. Combined with rapid changes in the labor market, the recession dramatically expanded challenges facing industries’ leadership. Across Missouri, the MU Extension Labor Education Program reached out to leaders and members of organized labor by providing resources to help them overcome challenges in the workplace.

Since 1963, the program has worked with employee organizations across Missouri and beyond to ensure that workers and their leaders develop the skills necessary to serve as contributing members in their organizations, as effective representatives in the workplace, and as informed and active participants in their communities.

In FY 2009, the faculty conducted 44 programs with total participation of 1,252 people, including joint efforts within the construction industry to incorporate classes on organizational history and strategy into the program’s apprenticeship curriculum. Throughout the year, classes were developed for apprentices in the sheet metal, plumbing, pipe fitter and sprinkler fitter crafts. These classes were taught in St. Louis and eight Missouri counties.

Traditional skills of leadership and representation remain important to union officers and other leaders, but today, labor education programming must adapt to two distinct trends. The first challenge is to reflect the unique challenges presented by the economic crisis. For example, traditional collective bargaining strategies and practices must be adjusted to reflect a joint employer-employee goal of mutual survival in severe economic times. Just as important is the need for unions to understand the strategic implications of permanent changes in the employment relationship. Global economic trends, the erosion of basic benefits and increasing levels of employment insecurity are challenges that affect long-term union strategy.

Activities in MU Extension’s Labor Education Program reflect these challenges, with greater emphasis on strategically analyzing industries in which Missouri workers are employed. Courses address issues relating to greater work force diversity, expanded understanding of how global economic trends affect local employment conditions, and the increasing challenges to maintain essential elements of economic security. In FY 2009, members of 17 different national labor organizations participated in program courses to upgrade their representation skills.

Major programs in FY 2009 included the 11th annual Romeo Corbeil/Gilles Beauregard Summer Youth Camp, bringing together 20 young people from across the country to engage in an intensive living and learning experience, during which participants learn about the labor movement and issues confronting workers at home and internationally. The camp is sponsored by the Office and Professional Employees International Union, with considerable financial and other support from a variety of Missouri unions.

Labor Education Program staff also cooperated with other MU offices, including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the Asian Affairs Center and the Center for Sustainable Energy, to develop and deliver content relevant to their missions.

MU Labor Education Web site