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Roberta Till-Retz papers

Identifier: IWA0802

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Scope and Contents

The Roberta Till-Retz papers date from 1970-2006 and measure 7.75 linear feet. The papers are arranged in seven series: Biographical information, Administrative, High Performance Work Organization (HPWO), Teaching, Contract language, Public sector law, and Plant closings. Note: in folder titles, Roberta Till-Retz's name is abbreviated, "RT-R."

The Biographical information series consists of curriculum vitae, salary letters, articles and speeches about Roberta Till-Retz. It also contains her 1986 publication, "Strengthening Your Local Through Education."

The Administrative series (1980-2002) contains materials related to strategies and initiatives of the Labor Center, and an AFSCME organizing drive. It also contains materials related to Roberta Till-Retz's participation on Governor Vilsack's "21st Century Workforce Council," and her presentation at the Leiutenant Governor's 1988 conference, "Shaping the Workforce for the Year 2000."

The High Performance Work Organizations (HPWO) series (1979-2000) relates to Roberta Till-Retz's research into various workplace redesign initiatives that came to Iowa in the 1990s. These initiatives affected work processes, worker interactions and inevitably, union solidarity. The series includes two booklets by Roberta Till-Retz, "Negotiating New Work Systems," and "Unions and Teams." These booklets became national "best sellers," and the Labor Center produced copies that were sold at the George Meany Center in Maryland and sent to unions all over the country. It also includes teaching materials and correspondence with union leaders.

The Teaching materials series (1980-2006) contains materials Roberta Till-Retz used in her labor education courses. They include presentation notes, overheads, and classroom materials. Some files document activities such as consulting done on an unpaid basis in areas of special expertise, such as employee involvement programs, safety and health committees, FMLA, etc. This series includes an audiotape, AC[1365], of sample hotline messages for union members, produced by the AFL-CIO.

The Contract language series (1974-1999) relates to areas of employee involvement and team concept, which were important in Labor Center teaching in the 1990's. Documents include contracts, union and management manuals, union meeting materials and minutes, articles, and correspondence with union leaders.

The Public sector labor law series (1970-1995) contains notes, articles, and educational materials related to public sector labor law in Iowa. It includes three manuals written by Roberta Till-Retz.

The Plant closings series (1979-1995) relates to manufacturing plant closings in the 1980's. This topic was the basis of a significant amount of Labor Center work. The series consists primarily of articles and research reports. It also contains correspondence between Dubuque Packing and IUOE Local 758.


  • Creation: 1970-2006


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Labor educator and political activist Roberta Till was born in 1940, the great-granddaughter of Mormon pioneers. She grew up in Byron, Wyoming, a town named after her great grandfather, Byron Sessions, and attended high school in southern California. In 1962, she married Jae Carl Retz after graduating from Brigham Young University with a BA in American Literature. She continued her education at Harvard University, earning an MA in the History of American Civilization in 1964. That same year, Roberta Till-Retz and her husband moved to Heidelberg, Germany, where she spent five years teaching history for the University of Maryland to soldiers at US Army bases. During this time their daughter, Justine, was born.

Roberta Till-Retz received a Fulbright-Hays dissertation fellowship to support her research in Vienna, Austria, between 1972 and 1973. In 1976, she received a PhD in Modern European History at the University of Oregon. She was named a field researcher for Alice Cook and Val Lorwin for a German Marshall Fund grant studying women and unions in Europe, after which she decided that her true calling was in labor education, a career that would enable her to "touch the future." She enrolled in the Institute of Industrial and Labor Relations at the University of Oregon, where she received an MS in 1980.

Upon graduating, Roberta Till-Retz was hired as a program coordinator at the University of Iowa Labor Center and moved to Iowa City with her family. She held this position for 26 years, serving the University and the Iowa labor movement as a labor educator. She also conducted research on women in the labor movement, presenting and publishing several papers and articles. Starting in the 1980s, Roberta Till-Retz and her husband were active in the Iowa Democratic Party, campaigning for and at times hosting candidates in their home. They were both inducted into the Johnson County Democrat's Hall of Fame in 2011.

In addition to the Iowa Democratic Party, Roberta Till-Retz was a member and officer of the American Federation of Teachers Local 716, Workers' Education Local 189, the Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession, the Professional Council of the University College Labor Education Association, and the Association for the History of the Labor Movement in Vienna, Austria. After retiring from the University of Iowa Labor Center in 2006, Roberta Till-Retz joined her husband as Co-Communications Director for the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.


7.75 Linear Feet

AC[1365] Cassettes

Language of Materials



Research and educational materials of activist and labor educator Roberta Till-Retz.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 1074) were donated by Roberta Till-Retz in 2006.

June Silliman and Audrey Altman, 2011
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)