History and Mission

State legislative action first designated funding for a university-based Labor Center in 1950 as part of what was then called the Bureau of Labor and Management (later renamed the Center for Labor and Management in 1965) within the State University of Iowa’s College of Commerce. The Bureau’s intended function was “to increase knowledge and understanding in the area of labor and industrial relations” in the state of Iowa.

Creation of the Bureau was a response in part to a 1949 speech by Iowa Governor William Beardsley, who had called for establishing an “organization to train labor and management and to study human engineering.”  As part of its original mandate, the Bureau established Labor Center education programs for union members in order to “foster greater understanding of their communities and unions, and thereby contribute to the greater effectiveness of workers in meeting their responsibilities as citizens and trade unionists.” Upon its inception in 1951, the Bureau identified the following three broad functions for the Labor Center:

  • On-campus conferences which would bring together union practioners with university faculty and other experts.
  • Applied research relevant to the needs of union constituents.
  • Off-campus service and extension classes taken to community members around the state.

More than fifty years later, the Labor Center has retained these core functions and continues to fulfill the original goals envisioned for it by state leaders. When the Center for Labor and Management restructured in 1980, the Labor Center became part of the External Programs division of the College of Business, then later a unit of the Division of Continuing Education and, since 2016, a unit of the College of Law.

Today, the Labor Center remains dedicated to The University of Iowa’s mission of making research and education broadly accessible and engaging Iowans across the state by:

In fulfilling these missions, the Labor Center's core functions continue to include:

  • delivering non-credit classes and short courses both on and off campus on subjects important to Iowa workers and unions,
  • disseminating information and conducting applied research on labor issues,
  • acting as a point of contact between Iowa labor unions, worker organizations, and University faculty, research facilities, and credit programming opportunities,
  • developing innovative curricular materials and methods for delivering adult education, and
  • providing unique labor-related research and teaching opportunities to students.

In addition to carrying out the Center's core labor education mission, Labor Center educators often serve as adjunct faculty or guest lecturers on labor and workplace issues in University of Iowa graduate and undergraduate credit courses, and as resources for faculty and students conducting research on labor issues. Over the years the Labor Center has partnered with a range of University departments, coordinated numerous grant-funded research and public engagement projects, and frequently facilitated relevant contacts for UI faculty, staff, and students whose research or outreach requires access to specific workplaces, industries, or unions.

The Labor Center also provides unique educational and career opportunities to graduate students from diverse academic backgrounds.  Drawing directly on their Labor Center experiences, dozens of former Labor Center graduate assistants have gone on to successful careers in labor education, labor organizing, labor law, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.