Union working people are first responders …



To the working families who are putting their lives back together in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, please know the union movement has your back.


Union working people are first responders on the job and in their communities for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma relief



Go to the profile of Liz Shuler

Liz Shuler - Secretary-Treasurer of AFL-CIO

We are all better when we join together for fairness on the job!


Last week, I traveled to Austin, Texas, to speak with Texas labor leaders about how the union movement can work together locally and nationally to respond to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. From the moment the storm hit, union members were on the ground acting as first responders — not just because it was their job as a medical professional or law enforcement or electric utility worker, but because union members are deeply embedded in their communities. Whether it is at work or in their neighborhoods, solidarity and collective action are values that our members practice in all aspects of their lives.

I saw union members in action firsthand during a visit to an evacuee center in Austin. As uprooted families from impacted areas huddled around cots with their few remaining belongings, union members were volunteering to provide safety and compassion to the survivors. When I walked through the rows of cots, I noticed a woman sitting with a group of young children and reading to them. Her name was Marisela, and she was a retired member of Education Austin, a union for teachers and school workers in the Austin Independent School District. With her skills as a bilingual educator, Marisela was volunteering in the center, teaching a class to Spanish and English language learners. And like so many great teachers, Marisela was going above and beyond the call of duty. She shared with me that because many of the kids in her temporary classroom had Honduran roots, she had started making Honduran food at home to share with them. Such a simple, thoughtful gesture that I’m sure went a long way toward bringing a sense of home and comfort for the children she taught.

I also had the chance to visit with Tonya Nixon, a deputy constable and member of AFSCME Local 1624, who was working a shift as security for the evacuee center. Tonya also was dedicated to helping the relief effort during her time off. She and her co-workers organized among themselves to collect toiletries, clothes and other essentials that they could donate to the evacuee centers. Even though their job was solely to secure the area for the survivors, they had the empathy to think about the evacuees’ needs beyond just a safe place to sleep. She explained her dedication to helping the impacted families by simply saying, “I feel we have the obligation to serve, not only in the capacity of my job, but as a union member I should give back and be there for our communities. We work for the people and we are the people, so we should support the people.”

Just like Marisela, Tonya and every Texas union member I talked to in Austin, the broader union movement is making a serious commitment to the relief, recovery and rebuilding of all communities impacted by the catastrophic destruction of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We will be doing everything we can to aid in the immediate effort, but we also are in this for the long haul. To that end, the national union movement is pledging to raise $5 million in cash aid for displaced families. Beyond that, we will be dedicating our resources through the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust and the AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust to invest $500 million toward rebuilding affordable housing in areas affected by Harvey and to leverage $150 million in commercial real estate development to create good, union jobs. It is vital that working people are not taken advantage of during this time of instability. As the impacted areas recover and the rebuilding starts, we will be a strong voice advocating that contractors treat their workers fairly and that we provide training and apprenticeship opportunities in the building trades for displaced workers so that they benefit from jobs created by the reconstruction effort. While working people rebuild their communities, they can rebuild their lives as well.

It was inspiring to see the endurance and resilience of Hurricane Harvey survivors and the tremendous support union members are providing to people who need help. I suspect we will see the same in the wake of Irma. To the working families who are putting their lives back together in the aftermath of this unprecedented storm, please know that the union movement has your back. We have been here and we will continue to be here until everyone who had their life uprooted is back on their feet. Working people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and across the country are at our best when we look after each other.



September 8, 2017