Home > Labor > The Most Hated Man in Dubuque

The Most Hated Man in Dubuque

From The Dubuquer

According to The Dubuque Packing Company & Charles E. Stoltz by Thomas Gifford (1997), Charles “Chuck” Stoltz was “the most unpopular man in Dubuque with the working man—maybe the most unpopular man in the history of Dubuque.” Considering that Stoltz faced death threats, needed personal bodyguards and off-duty police to protect his home and family, and once even narrowly escaped a roadblock meant to ensnare him, it might be more accurate to call Stoltz the most hated man in Dubuque history.

Stoltz became president of the Dubuque Packing Company, one of the largest and most prestigious companies in the city, at a time when the local pork processing operation was losing nearly $10 million per year. Stoltz closed the local hog kill and fired 1,400 workers, and then sold the entire Dubuque plant to his brother-in-law Bob Wahlert in a deal that enabled Wahlert to rename the facility and cut union wages by 40 percent. Stoltz, a “Dubuquer born and bred,” then moved the remaining Dubuque Packing Company to Omaha, Nebraska, where he later sold it to Eastern speculators in a leveraged buyout.

Stoltz got his start at “The Pack” in the 1960s by marrying the daughter of R. C. Wahlert, acting head of the family company and nephew of founder H. W. Wahlert. Frustrated by his outsider status and by resistance to change at the “tired and overconfident” pork processing company, Stoltz found his niche managing DPC’s long-neglected beef operations.

A self-styled “master of the art of the deal,” Stoltz used DPC resources to acquire several beef processing companies and plants located near cattle supplies in states like Nebraska and Kansas. By the late 70s, beef operations boomed as pork operations stagnated, and R. C. Wahlert chose Charles Stoltz over his own son and heir apparent Bob Walhert to become president of Dubuque Packing Company.

Thomas Gifford’s book, The Dubuque Packing Company & Charles E. Stoltz, is an apologia for what happened next. According to the book, Stoltz was forced to close the Dubuque hog kill and sell the Dubuque plant to Bob Wahlert and FDL Foods in order to save the remaining core of the Dubuque Packing Company. From Stoltz’s perspective, intense competition and consolidation within the meatpacking industry made the failure of the Dubuque pork processing plant inevitable. The ultimate demise of Bob Wahlert’s FDL Foods, even after union wages had been slashed, seems to support this argument.

On the other hand, Gifford’s book makes clear that at a time when the overall company was profitable, Stoltz had no qualms about using the acquisition of efficient, modern, and non-union plants to intimidate the union at the older Dubuque facility into making difficult concessions. Gifford even seems to suggest that Stoltz had wanted to rid the Dubuque Packing Company of pork operations all along, and had planned to eventually sell the remaining company at a profit to benefit shareholders.

The book, however, favors Stoltz. The author, Thomas Gifford, was a native Dubuquer, Harvard University graduate, and best-selling novelist. Before he died in 2000, Gifford wrote a weekly column called “Jazzbo of Old Dubuque” for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Despite this, I could not find a review or even a mention in the Telegraph Herald of Gifford’s The Dubuque Packing Company & Charles E. Stoltz. No publisher is cited in the book, either. Copyright, with “all rights reserved,” is listed as being owned by none other than Charles E. Stoltz.

Categories: Labor
  1. D.W. Shaw
    November 26, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    Stoltz did what he had to do. There were a lot of older packing plants in the midwest at that time that were under pressure by the USDA to update. The cost of renovation to an older plant of that size on top of employee demands for higher wages would have been cost prohibitive . At least portions of the plant were already losing millions of dollars. This article pretty much sums up the narrow mindedness of the people in that area at the time. In my opinion the whole demeanor of Dubuque would have supported the efforts of subversive activities at that point in time. I certainly hope that for the sake of its inhabitants, attitudes have changed there since those turbulant times.

    • conatz
      February 27, 2012 at 12:17 AM

      Yeah good times. Workers actually recognized what side of the class war they were on, instead of buying into the rhetoric of rich businessmen who pushed nonsense about it being better for everyone if we made poverty wages.

    • February 27, 2012 at 1:37 PM

      DW… interesting comment. Are you suggesting that Stoltz knew better than the entire City of Dubuque? Is it best that, in the end, all the jobs went to Mexico? Is it a better world today because 1400 primary bread-winners could not support their families? When my dad went back to work for $6 an hour after FDL took over, he had to work 7 days a week, so that our family could live a lower, middle income lifestyle. After Stolz was finished, we qualified for large chunks of greasy cheese distributed by the federal government (though, we did not take it, we grew our own food instead). So, these “subversive acts”, were shameful because why, exactly? My hardworking father has served in three wars and sacrificed everything for his country. Then and now he has watched all the labor rights won by our forefathers swallowed by elite corporate interest.

      Let me ask you this… who is paying you to make these public comments about these issues? No unpaid citizen is on the side of the 1%.

  2. February 24, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Hello – Im writing a story about the strikes that occurred FDL took over the Pack (I think this is the case). My father was part of the local 150, if I recall. Do you have any info you can send me, or photos? Or perhaps, you can send me to someone who has more info?
    Thanks in advance.

    • conatz
      February 27, 2012 at 12:20 AM

      Hello Gretchen,

      I don’t have much material on these events. My recommendation to you would be to try and get access to the Telegraph Herald’s microfilm. That will probably reveal some information, although I imagine its not going to be as worthwhile as accounts from people who actually did the work. I have some information about the Hormel strikes in Austin, some of this strife spread to Dubuque. There’s a couple articles here and there online, and I have some hard copies I still need to type up on the subject.

      • March 2, 2012 at 8:00 PM

        Thanks. If I find any good stuff, ill let you know!

  3. conatz
    March 2, 2012 at 8:53 PM

    Gretchen Mead :

    Thanks. If I find any good stuff, ill let you know!

    Yeah, defintly do!

    Here are some links related to the Pack


    Your questions have motivated me to dig deeper into this. Been kinda neglecting this blog since I left Iowa last year, but The Pack is an important subject for me. I never worked there, as I was too young when it was around, but working with people who used to work there at the same time I was getting interested in union organizing left a big impression on me. Plus, I lived in the area from 1991-2006 so its a huge chunk of my life.

    In other news, I noticed Hormel has a facility in Dubuque now and that there was going to be a union vote there last fall. Any idea how that went?

  4. Andrew
    April 7, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    I’m a librarian at the public library in Dubuque. I stumbled on your blog while looking for something else. Gretchen, we’ve got the TH microfilm here as well as an index to the paper that lists a whole bunch of stories about FDL through the 80s and 90s.
    Juan, according to a story that ran in the TH August 26, 2011, the workers at the Hormel plant voted not to unionize. The paper quotes a pro-union worker who says they would have prevailed if six no votes had switched to yeses. They mention that the workers can petition to vote again, though I see nothing about a second vote.

    • Gretchen Mead
      April 8, 2012 at 10:00 PM

      Thanks Andrew. I hope I get a chance to check some things out, next time I am home.

    • shayne
      December 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      I started at the new Hormel plant while it was being built and have been there since. We have had 2 union votes during that time and both times voted no against the union. The second vote was this year and was about 75% no votes. I don’t see them being in anytime soon, hopefully.

  5. Hope
    May 24, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    Do you know any way I can find a copy of this book? My father and grandfather were employees.

  6. shayne
    December 23, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    @Hope, the book has just been reprinted and can be bought at the River Lights book store on Main street in Dubuque. Just got it and so far is a good book.

  7. Rodney Zapf
    February 4, 2014 at 12:01 AM

    Thanks for the heads up Tommy! As I recall, Shayne was a bartender at the Holiday,downtown Dubuque back in the 50’s.

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