The University of Iowa

Harvesting Dignity in Midwestern Fields and Factories: Nov. 13

November 4th, 2010

In the wake of several highly publicized instances of labor violations in the Midwest, an upcoming conference at the University of Iowa will bring together labor leaders, immigrant rights advocates, community service providers and educators to discuss gaps between immigrant workers’ fundamental legal rights and the realities many workers face in Midwestern workplaces.

The one-day conference, titled “Harvesting Dignity in Midwestern Fields and Factories: Understanding and Defending Immigrant Workers’ Rights on the Job,” will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, in the International Programs’ Commons, Room 1117 University Capitol Centre (UCC) on the UI campus.

The event is free, but participants must register for the conference and lunch by e-mailing Joan Nashelsky at no later than Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Ana Avendaño, an internationally renowned expert on immigration and labor issues, will start the day with a keynote address at 9:15 a.m. titled, “Globalization, Immigration and Defense of Workers’ Rights.” A long-time labor rights advocate and attorney, Avendaño has offered expertise on the issue of global migration before the International Labor Organization and the UN General Assembly. She is currently director of immigration and community action and assistant to the president at the AFL-CIO.

Representatives from a variety of organizations concerned with immigrant rights and employment laws will join together for a panel discussion from 11 a.m. to noon titled “Postville and Beyond: Recent Experiences in Midwestern Workplaces.” Panelists will discuss recent Midwestern examples of alleged labor abuses, including worker responses to labor rights violations in Postville, Iowa, recent wage theft complaints in Des Moines, efforts of meatpacking workers to improve workplace safety, and the effects of recent immigration audits on thousands of workers in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Other sessions will offer overviews of U.S. labor and immigration laws and discuss strategies to ensure all workers in Midwestern communities have the ability to enforce these standards. The program will be highly interactive, both with time after each session for questions and several sessions with structured small group activities.

“This conference will bring together a variety of communities concerned with the protection and promotion of the human and civil rights of immigrants, and the enforcement of labor and immigration laws,” said Amy Weismann, deputy director of the UI Center for Human Rights (UICHR). “We hope it will provide an opportunity for individuals to both learn about the rights of all workers and current enforcement practices, as well as for individuals to discuss their experiences with one another and share their diverse perspectives.”

The UI Labor Center, the UICHR, the Iowa Federation of Labor and the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (Civil Rights Division) of the U.S. Department of Justice are sponsoring the conference.

For more information, contact Robin Clark-Bennett at or 319-335-4144, or visit