Dubuque labor organization selects strong women’s advocate as 1st female president

A longtime local union member and advocate for women in male-dominated trades recently became the first female president of Dubuque Federation of Labor.

Mary Sand was elected by members after being nominated for the position, succeeding Tom Townsend. He is now the president of Great River Area Labor Federation, of which the Dubuque federation is an affiliate.

“It’s a great honor, and I really appreciate the support from people,” Sand said.

Dubuque Federation of Labor is a local council of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, a group of national and international labor unions that promotes the rights of workers.

Sand has been part of a local union since 2003, soon after she moved back to Dubuque. A service technician for Black Hills Energy, she helped found the women’s committee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ 11th District. The district covers Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Missouri.

“There were just no women in a very nontraditional trade for women,” Sand said of starting the committee. “If you went to Chicago, New York, they have women in all these jobs. For women in communities that aren’t real big, it’s really hard to break through in the trade.”

She said she turned down an opportunity to apply for a higher position at work to dedicate her time to the women’s committee.

One of the committee’s goals is to include more women in their group and recruit young people, especially women, into jobs affiliated with IBEW. Sand said her work has included reaching out to female high school students about trades they might not have considered.

“For me, it’s about knowing you can do anything you want,” she said. “My mother always said, ‘You can do anything you want. You can be a ballerina if you want to. You may not be the best, but you can pirouette if you want to.’ I think there’s talented people out there, but we have to let young women know they can get these jobs.”

Townsend said Sand will serve well in the role as president of the Dubuque federation. He noted that in addition to her work with the IBEW’s 11th District, Sand is a frequent Dubuque Area Labor Harvest volunteer.

“She’s active, and when she gets something, she does a good job and takes it by the horns,” he said.

Sand said she hopes to continue her passion for helping others through her new role and continued involvement with the women’s committee.

“I’m very vocal and very passionate about what I believe in,” she said. “I learned early from my parents that the moment you sacrifice your integrity and character, you’re pretty well done, and I’m not afraid to stand for what’s right. I’m a blue-collar, lunchpail-carrying gal, and I like it straight.”