HISTORY: The Omaha Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO


Excerpted historical document:

“Labor’s ability and willingness to provide aid to injured workers and their families are rooted in the very beginnings of organized labor. Only after World War II have workers experienced the security of workmen’s compensation and medical insurance. Families in the past could not collect insurance or Social Security benefits after the death of a wage earner. Moreover, the cause of death and injury frequently were as a result of unsafe working conditions.

In the early days of guilds and unions, workers collected money to help families of dead or disabled workers and would look out for their welfare. Later, unions organized blood drives, training and recreational activities for members and their families.

Organizer of the Community Chest, the fore-runner of the Unite Way, saw the strength of these programs and sought out unions for leadership. Since the Community Chest developed programs to benefit union families, the Omaha Federation of Labor agreed to support the program with the stipulation that the staff include union representatives. Union support has grown and joined with the United Way in a similar manner.

Union leaders work annually to organize and carry out fund-raising drives and union support is an important strength for the many services available to the people of greater Omaha.

Labor Community Projects

1. 1977 - Current: SeptemberFest: A Salute to Labor:

Visit Septemberfest website

Largest inner-city festival within a 200-mile radius, this event continues to provide low-cost entertainment and activities for families who often may not be able to afford a vacation out of town, and also educates observers of the annual, two-hour Labor Day Parade of the many families of labor who give so much to our community in terms of not only volunteer efforts, and fund-raising, but also who are highly skilled through 4- and 5-years of apprenticeship training to ensure the safety and quality of the work that goes into the construction of everything from hospital medical gas lines to pipes delivering safe, clean water to our faucets; services from rescuing Fire Fighters to education of our children.


  • 1979 Trailblazer Award;
  • 1980 Sower Award for stage performance of “A Night of History and Music;”
  • 1981 Top 100 Events in North America – American Bus Association;
  • 1996 Top 50 Old West Rail Events –Old West Trail Explorer; and
  • 2010 Outstanding Festival award, Downtown Omaha, Inc.

2. 1978: Creighton Fountain and Piazza:

“First community project undertaken by the collective of union members in Omaha…with the commitment and capability of making significant contributions to the community.”

  • $150,000 value: donated cement, bricks, plumbing, equipment;
  • 300+ skilled labor volunteers.

“Every one of us on the Creighton side were astounded at the enthusiasm these (labor) men showed.”— Rev. Carl Reinert, former Creighton president.

3. 12-11-78: Senior Citizens Christmas Party:

Sponsored by Laborers 1140 and Labor Unions, brothers and sisters paid $10.00 per person for the party held 12-22-78, with MAT busses providing transportation for elderly people; a luncheon at Angie’s Restaurant, and an individually-wrapped gift. Entertainment was provided by children and a visit by Santa Claus.

“The goals of this program is to reach out to the elderly in Omaha, and show them that labor does care.”

4. 1981: Carrier Alert Program

“There’s not enough we can do for the older person or for the handicapped”—former President Dave Kampan, Branch 5, National Association of Letter Carriers Union. Allowing elderly and handicapped people to register at their post office or social service agency and receive a sticker for their mail boxes to alert mail carriers that they live alone. If the letter carrier notices accumulation of mail or unusual circumstances in their home, help is called. Four years later, 80% of the nation’s cities put this innovative program started by labor in Omaha. Letter Carriers remain on the lookout for missing children. “Who sees more people than the letter carrier?”—Kampan asked.

5. 1982: Job Assistance Program: CETA (Comprehensive Education and Training Act):

Initiated in March, 1982 during high unemployment, labor led the way to develop a program helping unemployed workers, including 60% of non-union workers seeking assistance. CETA later administered the program to include underemployed workers, and soon into the Job Training Partnership Act under the jurisdiction of the State AFL-CIO. After nine months of 1985, more than 4,000 workers found full-time work, with a starting pay of $7.50/hour or more. The “Forty Forward” and “Job Club” were organized for job-hunting strategies and information on the job market

6. 1983: The Midlands Assistance Program:

The Midlands Assistance Program, co-sponsored by the federation and instituted in 1983, expanded previous contract agreements to become a free-standing agency. Its counselors evaluate referred workers of participating employers for problems relating to substance abuse, financial difficulties and a variety of family problems. Clients are referred to the most appropriate professional if counseling is recommended. Many families in the Omaha area are entitled to this service.

7. December, 1983: St. Vincent De Paul Family Shelter: FIRST FAMILY SHELTER, OMAHA

Labor & American Red Cross worked together to find a suitable building, make renovations, supply blankets, cots, and supplies to provide shelter for people in sub-zero temperatures and with high unemployment rates presenting “exceptional hardships for the city’s homeless families.” Labor remodeled a shelter to include 18 bedrooms; contractors donated materials; “40 homeless men and women were made warm and comfortable with blankets, cots and other necessities donated by the Red Cross.” Labor’s plan included $150,000 donated in materials and labor; members contributed 1,840 hours of volunteer work.”

“Organized labor is the one and only reason you see today an 18-bedroom facility that looks mighty nice, instead of a nine-bedroom, barely adequate facility.” --Dewey Bredemeyer, former president of St. Vincent de Paul Society…


  • April, 1985: President’s Volunteer Action Award – President Ronald Reagan

8. Nebraska Food Bank Network: FIRST FOOD BANK in OMAHA

Labor leadership proposed organization of a food bank due to labor’s “concern for the needs of the underprivileged in Omaha and Nebraska.”

  • 1.5 million pounds of government surplus and donated food annually;
  • 125 service groups, agencies including food pantries, soup kitchens, supplemental food programs, shelters for victims of domestic violence and group homes treating chemical dependency in western Iowa and Nebraska….

Labor leaders, working with other civic leaders, submitted a grant for $55,000 to the Peter Kiewit Foundation to purchase a former grocery store gutted by fire years earlier. Larry Wewel, chairman of the board of directors, estimated the value of donated labor: at between $25,000 and $30,000.” When the “agency outgrew the original facility in 1985, Terry Moore, Omaha Federation president, led a capital fund drive to raise $750,000 to renovate a former car dealership at 18th and Webster streets, providing more than 38,000 square feet of floor space.” Another grant was requested and received from the Peter Kiewit Foundation resulting in labor volunteers again helping with renovations.

“Union members are always helpful and willing to pitch in and help. We believe organized labor is the key facet of community support, without which we would not be at our current level of growth.”—Gene Hanlon, former Food Bank Director;

9. 1980-1990 - Consumer Credit Counseling Service:

Financial Stability: Labor has historically addressed this need by proposing a plan for a counseling service to Omaha business leaders. Federation leadership saw a need to help workers solve financial problems, while helping Omaha businesses stay. Due to lack of cash reserve, several earlier attempts to provide a similar service in Omaha failed. Due to the cooperative effort between The United Way of the Midlands, the Chamber of Commerce, area banks and organized labor, the necessary funds were raised. The Consumer Credit Counseling Service expanded with branch offices in Lincoln. “Labor leaders continue to serve on the board of directors.” Counselors emphasize consumer education and provide speakers in schools and for community groups to learn about personal financial money management;

10. 1985: Art in the Workplace:

Labor organized performances by the Omaha Symphony, and exhibits of paintings and sculptures at A T & T Technologies, and Omaha Works. Funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities with assistance from the Joslyn Art Museum. “The arts strengthen a society and enable us to see things in more depth – it can help us grow and find more happiness in life”—Terry Moore

11. Search and Rescue Station – NP Dodge Park

12. 1992: Potter House:

Historic labor volunteer project converting Gold Coast home into a residential facility for families of children treated with transplants at Nebraska University Medical Center:

  • 500 labor volunteers;
  • $320,000 value;
  • 20 families could be accommodated at the renovated mansion.


  • 1,000 POINTS OF LIGHT Award – President George Bush

13. 2003: Labor Monument, Lewis & Clark Landing Park:

Internationally Recognized Image utilized to measure the Flood of 2011; 2nd largest worker’s monument in the United States;

14. 2000 – CURRENT: The Salvation Army:

Labor continues to be a strong supporter of The Salvation Army and its humanitarian programs.

The Salvation Army Tree of Lights Campaign:

  • 2012: $47,995.83 – Labor’s cash and in-kind contribution;
  • 3 Recognition Awards presented to Labor by Kay Kriss Weinstein.
  • $510,029 – 13 years of in-kind work and materials to erect and dismantle the iron “Tree of Lights” by Iron Workers Local 21 and Operating Engineers;

15. 09-11-2009: Fire Fighters Monument:

Memorial to 55 fire fighters who lost their lives so that others may live. The names of the brave men answering the call of help are displayed beside this monument;

  • Labor volunteers donated; completed all the brickwork



The AFL-CIO exists to represent people who work. The mission of the AFL-CIO is expressed in our Constitution: The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of the working people of America. Learn more...