|Tom Prymek 30 year member, Ronnie Prymek 15 years, Jim Prymek 50 year member, Ron Prymek 50 year member, Ken Prymek 52 year member,
Dan Prymek 30 year member and Nick Prymek 3 year member.
At a union meeting, members address each other as “brother” and “sister.” And there are also many related family members in a local union. One of the great achievements any union member can complete is winning their 50 year card. Three Iowa brothers recently completed that rare milestone.
Brothers Ken (Local 309), Ron (Local 177) and Jim (Local 309) Prymek were all awarded their 50 year LiUNA cards this summer in Des Moines.
The three brothers, along with brother Joe, who worked as a Laborer and then became a union Roofer, and their sister Carolyn all grew up on a farm in Washington, Iowa. Their father joined the Carpenters and worked on the Coralville Dam near Iowa City in the 1940s, which brought the family to that town.
Jim recalls that his brother Joe was the first to join the Hod Carriers local in Iowa City, opening the door for the other brothers. Ron remembers working in a gas station in the early 1960s and having a hard time making a living with his young family, until he started construction.
In those days there was no apprenticeship or training; you signed up and were sent to a job. If you could prove yourself, you became a Laborer.
Ron wonders how he survived in the trade, since he accidentally dumped a wheelbarrow load of concrete on a carpenter on his first day out. He said his older brother Ken was an inspiration to him as a Laborer and helped him establish himself.
Ken became a pipeliner, working jobs in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. Jim recalls spending many years on a 90-pound jackhammer and a four year stint on a power plant in Muscatine, Iowa; Ron worked on numerous University of Iowa buildings. Ron recalled his starting pay as $3.275 an hour, “We had no benefits, no health care, no retirement.”
Looking at the trade today, the brothers are all very impressed with the training and safety that apprentices and working members enjoy today. “I wish I could have had some of the training the new people get,” said Ron.
Safety is another change that they all recognize. “I looked up one day and there was no one taking care of me,” said Jim. That pushed him to join the union. On the pipeline, Ken remembers a lot of safety challenges, riding on pipe behind a tractor pulling it. “Sometimes you are standing in water up to your hips on the pipeline. It used to be if you won’t do it they’ll get somebody who can.”
So what makes a good union member? “The union gives us all rights and no one is being told what to do,” said Jim. “Someone is there to back you and you back them up.” Ron noted a member’s obligation: “They pay you good money for eight hours, give them eight hours of hard work.” Ken echoes, “You have to be a good union man who jumps in there and does it right. You have to support your union. I stayed union – I like to do it the union way.”
Across the University of Iowa, in Des Moines and in pipelines and underground systems over multiple states, is the legacy of the Prymek brothers. A strong work ethic and a family bond that became a union bond is carried on today with Ron’s sons and a grandson all carrying a LiUNA card in their wallet. Family bonds run deeper, even deeper when they are union united.