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SIOUX CITY | Monday's Labor Day picnic featured everything that's come to be expected at the annual Sioux City event.

The delicious aroma of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs drifting through Riverside Park. Fun and games for the children.

And for the adults, a heaping helping of political talk from union and Democratic leaders urging their constituents to fight for rights they said the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature and governor's office took away from them this spring.

"I am not willing to go down without a fight. They came after us, and we are ready to strike now," said Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, which represents thousands of education professionals in the state.

One after another, speakers at the Western Iowa Labor Federation-sponsored picnic blasted bills passed this spring by the Legislature and signed by former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, now the U.S. ambassador to China, as an attack on labor and working Iowans.

Chief among the complaints was legislation that stripped most public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights and a law prohibiting counties from raising the minimum wage above Iowa's $7.25 per hour rate. The latter law rolled back minimum wage increases that five counties had passed.

"They've made you worth less as a human being all because you're a worker and not one of their corporate donors," said state Rep. Chris Hall, a Sioux City Democrat who said his seventh year in the House was his most challenging and frustrating.

Workers must not back down from that challenge, Hall said, and need to go to the polls beginning with this fall's school board and city council elections and vote for labor-friendly candidates.

"This isn't just about policy. It's about the future of our state and what we want it to look like," Hall said.

Working families across the nation are being threatened by a Republican agenda that is making it harder to ensure a brighter future for the next generation, said featured speaker U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat representing California's 15th District. Americans and Iowans deserve a guarantee of health care, the right to affordable community college education and the ability of labor unions to bargain with employers for better wages and benefits.

"Making more means allowing employees to make more. We have to allow our workers to collectively bargain their wages," said Swalwell, who was born in Sac City, Iowa, and lived in Algona, Iowa, until age 5.

Not surprisingly, each speaker's stabs at Republicans and calls to stand up for workers' rights drew loud applause and cheers. Western Iowa Labor Federation president Ernie Colt said that since the November election and this spring's Iowa legislative session, he's seen union members getting fired up for upcoming elections.

"We're getting more people motivated to take action," Colt said.


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