Unions Lend Helping Hand to Midwest Flood Victims
Filed Under: US | Posted: 07/09/2008 at 2:23PM
Comments | Region: Iowa | United States
By James Parks for AFL-CIO NOW
As last month’s devastating floods in the Midwest crept toward Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Dean Shannon, secretary of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7101, came home to find a Weather Channel van parked in front of his house.
“Dean, this can’t be a good sign,” Joie Welsh, the local president who had driven Shannon home, says she told him. Shannon and his wife managed to pack and move a few things but not nearly what they’d hoped to save by the time emergency workers knocked on their door and gave them 20 minutes to evacuate. The Shannons lost their home and everything left in it in the ensuing flood.
As the Shannons and other residents in seven states from Wisconsin to Missouri—many of them union members—begin to recover after the record flooding, the nation’s unions are lending a hand to help get things back to normal.
The AFL-CIO has established a toll-free disaster hotline at 1-877-235-2469 to connect union members with disaster relief services offered by their unions and the state and federal governments.
Union Privilege, which provides consumer benefits to union members and retirees, is offering assistance for union members affected by the floods who hold the Union Plus credit card. The Union Plus Credit Card Disaster Relief Fund is available to help cardholders facing financial hardship due to the floods. Union cardholders are eligible to apply for Disaster Relief Fund grants of $500. The money does not have to be repaid. To apply for a Disaster Relief Fund grant, cardholders can call the Union Plus Credit Card Disaster Relief Fund at 1-877-761-5028.
In 2005, the Disaster Relief Fund provided $400,000 to 800 union members on the Gulf Coast impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
The extent of the flood damage is horrific. Heavy rains caused several major rivers, including the Mississippi, to flood their banks. Iowa was particularly hard hit. Gov. Chet Culver declared 83 of the state’s 99 counties “disaster areas,” and agricultural damage is estimated to be at least $1 billion in that state alone. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates more than 11 million people around the Midwest were affected by these natural disasters.
On the ground, union members already are making a difference in the recovery. Members such as Sarah Olson, the AFL-CIO Community Services Network liaison for the Hawkeye Labor Council in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Olson, a member of the Office and Professional Employees and a new mother of just a few weeks, organized some 322 volunteers to work last weekend to help clean up 70 homes. She is working now to find hazmat masks the volunteers need to be able to clean up the toxic mud, which inundated many area homes.
Members of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 405 in Cedar Rapids have trained more than 125 electricians on ways to re-energize equipment damaged by the flood. Bill Meyers, a longtime Local 405 member, used an electricians’ manual published after the 1937 Great Miami River Flood in Ohio to train members on how to dry out flood-damaged electrical equipment.IBEW Local 1362 in Cedar Rapids plans to donate $5,000 to affected families, says Jerry Vuichard, business manager:
A lot of our members lived along the river. Throughout the flooded areas you see the roads crowded with stuff people have saved from their homes
In Iowa, Indiana and other parts of the Midwest, local CWA officers and staff are still compiling lists of affected members and distributing information to victims about aid available through the CWA Disaster Relief Fund.
Bonnie Winther, president of CWA Local 7170 in Waterloo, Iowa, says:
I think they’re [affected union members] just still reeling from it all. There’s just so much damage. You can’t imagine what these people are going through.
CWA members in Indianapolis also were victims of dual disasters—a May 30 tornado and the June floods. CWA Local 4900 President Pam Siefers said she’s heard of at least nine people displaced by water and two whose apartments were damaged by the tornado.
Workers’ jobs are affected as well. In Iowa, nine Alliant Energy substations are underwater. IBEW Local 204 represents employees at the Iowa utility.
A Rockwell Collins manufacturing plant in the Iowa City suburb of Coralville, represented by IBEW Local 1634, was forced to shut down for two days due to staffing shortages. The company is offering three weeks of paid leave for employees whose homes were destroyed.
Many of the Midwest’s plants and factories took on a lot of water, and there are no assurances that they will reopen, says Iowa Federation of Labor President Ken Sagar.
Can you imagine, you’ve just lost your house, and now the corporate offices decide they’re not going to go back in and rebuild?
Several unions have set up relief funds for members affected by the floods. This is not an exhaustive list. If you are a member of a union not on this list and you need help recovering from the flood, please call the AFL-CIO hotline at 1-877-235-2469.
* CWA members who have suffered losses in the Midwest storms, California fires or other disasters are urged to contact their locals for information about and help applying for aid from the CWA Disaster Relief Fund.
* The Machinists (IAM) union is appealing for donations to help their members who survived the floods. Many of them lost homes, cars, belongings—everything but the clothes on their backs. To donate to the IAM Relief Fund, send a check to the IAM Disaster Relief Fund in care of the Community Services Department, 9000 Machinists Place, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772.
* The Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers (GMP) have issued an appeal for donations to help GMP members affected by the storm. To donate to the GMP flood relief fund, mail a check payable to GMP Local Union #459 Relief Fund to GMP International Union, 608 E. Baltimore Pike, P.O. Box 607, Media, PA 19063.