Mazahir Salih is stepping down as executive director of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa

Mazahir Salih, executive director of the Center for Worker Justice and former Iowa City mayor pro tem, poses for a portait at her office on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Mazahir Salih announced on Monday that she is stepping down as executive director of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa (CWJ).

“It has been an honor to serve in this role, and it has also taken a toll on me and my family. It’s time for me to step away and focus on family commitments,” Salih said in a written statement. “However, I also consider CWJ as part of my family and I will be working closely with the Board of Directors to hire a new Executive Director and ensure a smooth transition. I will remain active and continue to support our important work.”

Salih, one of CWJ’s founders, has been executive director since 2021, after serving as interim executive director for a year. Salih has had many other roles at the center, starting as a volunteer when it was founded in 2012. Prior to being elected to the Iowa City Council in 2017, Salih has also been CWJ’s vice president and president, as well as a community organizer for the nonprofit.

When Salih announced in June 2021 she was not running for a second term on the city council, she cited the demands of her role as executive director as a key reason.

“As a co-founder of CWJ, I’m proud to devote my full energies to leading the organization in its work to confront workplace abuses, promote dignity in jobs and housing, and create an inclusive community,” Salih said in a written statement announcing her decision. “As much as I knew I had to focus on my new position at CWJ and family demands, I agonized about stepping down from the council because of all of the work there is to do.”

Over the last 10 years, CWJ has worked to assist low-wage workers and immigrant families. It has focused on such issues as wage theft, affordable housing and sponsoring community education programs.

The center’s first big project came to fruition in April 2015, when the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted to create the community ID program, the first of its kind in the Midwest. CWJ, along with other groups including Iowa City’s Human Rights Commission and the Iowa City Federation of Labor, led the campaign for the ID.

The local government-issued photo identification cards, which cost $8 and are valid for four years, can be used to open bank accounts at some participating banks, confirm identity when using credit cards and to interact with schools, city and county municipalities and law enforcement. In addition, over 20 local businesses offer discounts to community ID holders.

More recently, the center has had problems caused by missing tax filing deadlines in 2018, 2019 and 2020. As the Gazette first reported last month, CWJ paid a total of $20,000 to the IRS for the missed deadlines. The center used private donations to pay the penalties.

Nonprofits that miss tax filing deadlines for three years automatically have the nonprofit status suspended by the IRS. Charlie Eastham, a co-founder of CWJ who currently serves in a volunteer capacity, told the Gazette the center’s nonprofit status has been reinstated.

Eastham also told the Daily Iowan that changes are being made to prevent a repeat of the problems, and CWJ is following the appeals process at the IRS in hopes of having the fines rescinded.

“We’re working with professional accounting firms to change the process we’re using for doing our 990 filing requirements,” he said. “As part of that process, we’re going to engage those accounting firms to help us with the penalty appeal process.”

Speaking to Little Village ahead of CWJ’s 10th anniversary in September, Salih said she was proud of the role it built for itself in eastern Iowa.

Iowa City Councilmember Mazahir Salih and Sen. Cory Booker at the Center for Workers Justice, Saturday, Dec 7, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“Most of the immigrants in the area, they believe that this is a safe hub for them, where they can come if they have any issue,” she said. “A lot of work needs to be done in this community, and we are really here and ready to continue the good work that we started.”

In her statement on Monday, Salih said she would remain executive director “in a part-time capacity to ensure continuity until we hire a full-time Executive Director.”

CWJ is currently taking applications for the executive director position. Information about the job and how to apply is available on its site.

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