NEA Big Read Program

The National Endowment for the Arts Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of themes, voices, and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery. This year we are excited to be reading Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. We hope you’ll read along with us, and join us for the community discussions!

Below is a preliminary schedule of activities associated with the 2021 Big Read program of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa (CWJ). All events are virtual. The program is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) administered by Arts Midwest (based in Minneapolis).

Description of Into the Beautiful North

Wednesday, May 5
, 4:00 p.m. Kickoff event; description of the program, information about book distribution, brief talk by Mazahir Salih (director of CWJ), and previews of later presentations (by Chuy Renteria and Miriam Alarcón Avíla)

Register for this event here

Friday May 7, 3:30 presentation by Cristina Ortiz about her research in Columbus Junction, Iowa among Latinx and Burmese immigrants, co-sponsored by Department of Anthropology, University of Iowa

Register for this event here

May 8 – May 21, three week book discussion program for high school students, curriculum
designed by staff of the University of Iowa Youth writing program
Thursday, May 13, 4:00 p.m. – presentation by Janet Weaver, at University of Iowa libraries, about extensive archive including oral histories about Mexican immigration to Iowa , emphasis on work , co-sponsored by University of Iowa Libraries, Department of History, University of Iowa, and LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) of Iowa

Register for this event here

Wednesday, May 26, 7:00 p.m, book discussion of Into the Beautiful North led by staff at
Coralville public library

Thursday. May 27, 7:00 p.m. reading and discussion with Chuy Renteria of his forthcoming
book from University of Iowa Press about Latinx immigrant experiences of himself and others in West Liberty, Iowa, co-sponsored by Prairie Lights bookstore, Iowa City

Register for this event here

Saturday, June 5, 1:00 p.m. – “Immigrant Luchadores,” a presentation and discussion with local photographer Miriam Alarcón Avíla, co-sponsored by Hancher Auditorium

Register for this event here

Thursday, June 10, 7:00 p,m, book discussion of Into the Beautiful North led by staff at North Liberty public library

This event will take place IN PERSON at the North Liberty Community Center patio. Register here for the discussion and a free copy of the book.

Tuesday, June 15, 7:00 p.m. book discussion of Into the Beautiful North led by staff at Iowa City Public library

Register for this event here

Wednesday, June 16, 7:00 p.m. reading and discussion with Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North, co-sponsored by Prairie Lights bookstore, Iowa City

Register for this event here

Saturday, June 19, 11:00 a.m. two-hour writing workshops, led by members of the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program

Please contact to participate or register here

Let’s Pass our Checks to Families in Crisis

They’re here!! The much-anticipated covid relief stimulus checks are inbound and arriving in bank accounts across the country as you read this! For some this relief comes as extra money to invest in their favorite local businesses or a safe outdoor activity with the family. However, for many more, this stimulus check means a payment on overdue rent, paying overdue bills to get their water or lights turned on, or paying to keep a hospital bill from going to collections. 

But many families in crisis in our network will not receive a check. Immigrant workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic. Some “essential workers” continued to be forced into work, doing the most dangerous jobs for the lowest pay, and suffering disproportionate levels of COVID-19 infection. Others whose labor had previously powered the service sector were suddenly thrown out of work and left with no income to pay for rent, utilities, or basic needs. In spite of their contributions to our communities and economy, millions of immigrant workers continue to be excluded from federal and state crisis support.

Once again, we say “NO” to exclusion. Through solidarity and mutual aid, we can ensure that children, parents, and senior citizens are not stranded, alone, and in crisis. Our “My Home to Yours” program distributes relief funding ranging from $400-$600 to local families in crisis – to keep on lights and heat and maintain access to water and food. 

Launched for the first time last spring, the success of this program has been inspiring and breathtaking. Your donations have reached hundreds of families struggling to meet their most basic human needs. When your check arrives, please consider passing along a portion or all of your check to support this program and our friends who are left out and in crisis.

You may DONATE through this link: From My Home to Yours

Or you may make checks payable to Center for Worker Justice with MHTY on the memo line and send them to 1556 S 1st Ave. Suite C Iowa City, IA, 52240

Please help by making your donation and spreading the word. Thank you for all you do. We look forward to seeing you all soon; in the meantime, let’s continue building a more just and united community. 

la Clínica Móvil Gratuita

Este fin de semana, la Clínica Móvil Gratuita de la Universidad de Iowa estará en CWJ el sábado 23 de Enero de 11:00 am a 1:00 pm para brindar servicios básicos de salud. No necesitas seguro médico, ¡todos los servicios son gratuitos! ¡Comparte con amigos y familiares!

From My Home to Yours

Let’s Pass our Checks to Local Families in Crisis !

Just one individual federal stimulus check will provide life-sustaining resources to at least two local families in crisis.

Donate here:

Low-wage and immigrant families in CWJ’s network have given our community so much.  

The workers at the heart of the Center for Worker Justice network play an essential role in Eastern Iowa’s economy. Our work powers local restaurants, hotels and construction. We care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. We clean stores and offices throughout the night.

Working side-by-side with our interfaith and labor allies, we have led efforts to raise the minimum wage for all workers, increase access to affordable housing, host community education programs, and bring new food, ideas, and energy to this place we are proud to call home.

Now, in this global pandemic, many of our families are in crisis – with NO safety net.  

Many immigrant families in our network are not eligible for unemployment or federal stimulus funds. These are families that were working multiple jobs just to survive – whose minimum wages don’t provide enough to save for a rainy day, and who now have no income to pay for rent, utilities, or basic needs.  

That’s why CWJ allies are launching a campaign to pass along our federal stimulus checks to our neighbors who need them most!

Our goal is to pass along payments of $400-$600 per family to local community members in crisis, starting with those who are ineligible for any assistance. CWJ will distribute 100% of these COVID-19 crisis donations directly to local families who need them, with oversight from a committee of leaders.

Filling the Gaps in Public Health

Because none of us is safe unless all of us are safe.

The COVID-19 crisis is an urgent reminder that everyone in our communities is interconnected. The safety and future of every one of us depend on each other, and an injury to one is truly an injury to all. This national emergency exposes the serious gaps in our workplace standards, our health care system, our access to affordable housing, and our food security. NOW, in the midst of this crisis – each sector must implement emergency changes for the safety of our community. On behalf of low-wage workers across our community, the Center for Worker Justice (CWJ) calls on employers, landlords, and government agencies to implement the following emergency standards for the sake of all our grandparents, friends, and loved ones:

We call on LOCAL EMPLOYERS to take emergency action:

  • 14 paid sick days. There is currently unprecedented bi-partisan agreement that employers must implement emergency sick days, so that sick workers in restaurants, nursing homes, childcare facilities, and other workplaces can stay home and avoid infecting others without financial ruin. While legislation is being debated that will provide employers tax credits and other incentives, we call on local employers to voluntarily implement an immediate policy providing 14 fully-paid sick days for workers who are 1) themselves sick or, 2) caring for sick family members or, 3) caring for children whose schools or child care facilities have closed.
  • No attendance-related discipline during the COVID-19 crisis. The low-wage workers we represent rely on our work in order to live. Many do not qualify for unemployment or public assistance. They do not miss work if they can possibly avoid it. But the COVID-19 crisis has created daily disruptions beyond workers’ control and will affect their childcare, schools, and lives in unexpected ways. This week Amazon – not known as a leader in workers’ rights – announced that it will issue no attendance points during the month of March. We call on local employers to honor a moratorium on attendance-related discipline during the COVID-19 crisis.

We call on LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND HOSPITALS to take emergency action:

  • Universal access to COVID-19 testing and related health care. Many low-wage workers in our community lack access to health care, do not qualify for Medicaid or “Obamacare”, and rely on the Free Medical Clinic, county public health programs, and charity programs of local hospitals as their only source of medical attention. People will not get the essential testing and care they need if they fear financial ruin as a result of their care. We call on our local governments and hospitals to provide free, universal COVID-19 testing and related health care and look forward to meeting with leaders of these programs to ensure that they are provided in a way that is culturally responsive and accessible to all.
  • Emergency funding for food banks and basic supplies during the crisis. Those who can afford it have been stockpiling food, toilet paper, and cleaning products – but many families cannot afford this luxury. Many families are facing difficulty finding these supplies in the stores, or at local charitable programs, when they need them. We call on our local governments to provide emergency funding for food banks and essential household supplies during the COVID-19 crisis, and we look forward to meeting with leaders of these programs to ensure they are provided in a way that is culturally responsible and accessible to all.

We call on LANDLORDS of apartments, houses, and modular home communities to take emergency action:

  • Moratorium on evictions for late payments related to financial pressures of the COVID-19 crisis. A national emergency has been declared. These are not normal times. Everyone is affected by the health and economic effects of this crisis – and the most economically vulnerable people will inevitably be hardest hit. It is unconscionable and a threat to public health to throw families out on the street, and into already overcrowded shelters during the COVID-19 crisis. We call on landlords of apartments, houses, and modular home communities to implement a moratorium on evictions for late payments related to the financial pressures of the COVID-19 crisis.

We call on all COMMUNITY MEMBERS to help!

  • YOU can help deliver this message to the employers, landlords, and elected officials and urge them to commit to immediately implement these common-sense emergency measures. As you visit retailers, restaurants, or other workplaces in the community, please ask to speak with the manager and discuss the importance of these policies for the health of our community. Speak with your elected officials about the critical importance of funding for food, essential supplies, and access to testing and health care during this crisis. Let us know what they say!

CWJ will be accepting donations to distribute to the workers who have suffered the COVIS-19 or their workplace is closed or slowdown.  Here is the link:

CWJ had recovered almost $90,000 until today !

Read an article about some of the work that we do on The Gazette Newspaper :

New data shows Iowans filed more than 600 unpaid wage claims, with limited success, in 2019

Franz Dunsworth said he was “hurting for work” when he began his third stint with Jet Services last fall.

The Ainsworth, Iowa, native said he worked about 50 hours before the home improvement company failed to issue paychecks to three co-workers, and later Dunsworth himself.

He said he left the job after several days and excuses received about the non-payments. It wasn’t until later, however, Dunsworth realized Jet Services also had not reported his hours and wages to the state, inhibiting him from claiming unemployment benefits.

Unbeknown to Dunsworth while he was working, the company also was not contributing to his union’s health and welfare fund. Because of that, he said he has not sought therapy or tried to have a child with his girlfriend.

“We just kept working and thought everything was peachy,” he said. “Then, when all the money dried up, it was like, oh yeah, we were getting screwed three different ways.” Here is the link:

Honoring Diane Finnerty

Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa would like to honor and remember our great friend Diane Finnerty, who passed away on December 29. A memorial service to celebrate Diane’s life will be held on Sunday, January 26, 2020, at 1:00 pm at The Park Lodge at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area located on 579 McCollister Blvd, Iowa City, IA 52240. 

Diane’s work with CWJ was just one of the many ways that Diane worked tirelessly for social justice and equitable communities. She advocated against discrimination as Commissioner for the Iowa City Human Rights Commission and served on the statewide planning committee for Strengthening and Valuing Latino Communities. She also worked on the RAICES Project, a multi-year campus/community collaboration to build Latino capacity in rural communities. In addition, Diane’s work in local politics helped to elect the first Sudanese Iowa City Council member, Mazahir Salih. Diane was also committed to creating a more inclusive campus community at the University of Iowa, where she worked for 25 years. 

In lieu of flowers, Diane has designated that donations can be directed to her son Jorgito’s Educational Fund (ugift code R0K-J8D), the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, or to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

Here is the link to donate in Honor Dinne Finnerty to CWJ

Caucus Training

Be an active participant in the Iowa Caucuses. Make your voice heard.

This is what democracy looks like!

How do the caucuses work? What you need to know.

How have the rules changed?

Help shape a platform that represents the concerns of immigrants and low wage workers.

— On immigration

— On wage theft and a minimum wage

— On affordable housing for all

— On workers’ rights

for the Platform Committee,

for leadership in your precinct.

Where: Mill Restaurant

120 East Burlington Street, Iowa City, Iowa

When:  January 21, 6:00-7:30 PM

Make an impact on our community, and have your voice heard at our Non-Partisan Caucus training event!