The Labor Education Service traces its roots to 1951, when the University of Minnesota hired Walter Uphoff to conduct non-credit worker education classes through the Industrial Relations Center. Topics included labor history, leadership, the role of the labor in the community and grievance-handling.
Throughout the 1950s, the program was known as the Workers Education Department. Sometime in the early 1960s, after Uphoff left the university and Jack Flagler was hired as director, the name was changed to Labor Education Service.
Also in the 1960s, Martin Duffy began filming union meetings and activities. Eventually, these efforts expanded to production of numerous labor documentaries and training films and a weekly cable TV show, "Minnesota at Work" and later to digital technology training for unions and the creation of the news website, Workday Minnesota. Today, LES is unique among labor education programs in having a large media component.
Over our nearly 60-year history, LES staff members have conducted trainings and provided services in nearly every Minnesota community, serving hundreds of thousands of working people across the state.
Following World War II, when labor and management worked together to aid the Allied war effort, labor education programs were launched in a number of universities around the country. Some were located in business schools, others in extension or other university departments.
At that time, collective bargaining was more widely accepted and both businesses and unions saw the need to educate workers in subjects such as negotiations and arbitration so that the system could function more effectively. Over time, many labor education programs have come under attack and, sadly, some have disappeared.
Through our Labor Studies Skills Courses, LES continues to provide training in "nuts & bolts" topics such as contract negotiations and grievance-handling. Our recently expanded Labor in the Community program engages union members — and the general public — on current issues important to working people.
The Labor Education Service is supported through a legislative appropriation to the University of Minnesota. However, the appropriation only covers a portion of expenses. Since the late 1980s, changes in the funding structure of the University system and continued erosion of government support for higher education has put an increasing burden on LES to remain solvent by charging for services. LES must charge fees for its services to unions and other organizations to achieve a balanced budget each year and continue to operate. LES strives to make fees as affordable as possible.
We love to get your input and ideas. Send us an e-mail or call our main office, 612-624-5020.