TRAGEDY OFTEN REVEALS our inner natures. We either give up, or we struggle to survive. We either withdraw into ourselves, or we reach out to help those around us. Hurricane Katrina has revealed the heroic natures of many of our Boilermaker members.
Even before electrical power had been restored to their homes, Boilermakers were volunteering to do whatever they could to bring relief supplies to those in areas where food and water were not available. They were opening their homes to refugees. They were donating money, blankets, clothing, and other essentials to those who had lost everything in one of the biggest natural disasters of this decade.
As I learned of the extent of the damage, I took actions within my power.
I allocated money to start a relief fund to purchase emergency supplies and deliver them to the areas of greatest need. I dispatched IVPs Sam May and Othal Smith to the area to coordinate relief efforts. They were in Slidell, La., when our first relief truck arrived, and because no one else was available at the time, they unloaded it themselves.
I also directed IVP May to create a database and begin collecting information so we could account for every member in the area hit hardest by the hurricane. We are still collecting information. It is important to us to know that every one of our members is accounted for and to provide them what assistance we can.
And I temporarily suspended per capita dues for members hit by the hurricane so they can devote all their resources to taking care of their families.
“Traveling angels of mercy”
ALL OF THE ACTIONS I took were necessary, and they helped. But it was the outpouring of voluntary support from our members that made the Boilermakers’ relief efforts work.
Events unfolded so rapidly that our front page story and my remarks here barely scratch the surface. But it is clear that for several days, Boilermaker volunteers were a vital part of relief efforts along the Gulf Coast. While state and federal officials were arguing about who was responsible for the widespread failure of the region’s disaster response, Boilermaker volunteers were busy delivering relief supplies.
Power was still out in Local 112’s hall when AIP Dennis King attended a meeting there and asked for volunteers to help him load trucks and drive relief supplies to Boilermaker families throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The response he got was inspiring. Through his connections with Northrop-Grumman, which employs our members in Pascagoula, Miss., and Bridge City, La., King was able to get work permits that allowed him into the hurricane-damaged area.
Over the next 10 days, Boilermaker volunteers loaded and drove as many as 18 trucks a day to 20 different locations, often working 12-hour days.
We were able to get places others could not, and when FEMA officials saw that we had baby supplies, food, and bleach on our trucks, they asked us to take some to Pass Christian. There, National Guardsmen worked side-byside with our members to unload some of the first trucks allowed into that area.
Soon calls were coming from states all over the region as people with relief supplies learned that Boilermaker volunteers were delivering where others could not. Our volunteers went wherever they were asked to go, wherever the need was greatest. They not only loaded, unloaded, and drove the trucks, but many used their own personal vehicle to haul goods.
One woman who benefited from their selfless work called them “traveling angels of mercy.”
That is a fitting description.
Our relief fund spent $55,000 purchasing and delivering supplies. Boilermakers also delivered supplies for the Red Cross and United Way, after Local 112 members Bubba and Hugh Turner heard that the United Way couldn’t get permits to enter the area. Many other individuals and groups donated supplies that Boilermakers delivered.
I cannot possibly name everyone who deserves recognition, but AIP Dennis King and District 5 BM John Simoneaux deserve credit for their onthe- ground coordination of relief efforts. Local 112 BM Curtis Brooks was also crucial to the effort, always able to deliver what was needed — whether relief supplies or volunteers.
And the dozens of individual volunteers who lent their vehicles, their time, and their bodies must be recognized. Without workers, no work gets done.
The Boilermakers relief fund
AN IMPORTANT THING to remember is that all of these actions have been voluntary responses to an emergency.
The Boilermakers union is not a relief agency. We negotiate contracts and enforce them so that our members are treated fairly where they work. We do not plan what to do in case of natural disaster, and we do not have a large reserve fund for emergencies.
But the very nature of unionism is that members help each other. An injury to one is an injury to all — whether the injury comes from a multinational corporation or a category 4 hurricane. When one of us is injured, we do what we can to help.
Many Boilermakers were hurt by the hurricane. Our members’ response shows that the true spirit of unionism is thriving in our union. Boilermakers in the region donated their time, and Boilermakers throughout the country have donated money to help.
As of this writing, nearly $200,000 has been donated to the Boilermakers Disaster Relief Fund. I will ask the Executive Council to contribute another $100,000 from our union defense fund.
Although our early relief efforts included everyone, now that the crisis is over, our relief fund will focus on helping Boilermaker members and their families.
Hundreds of our members have suffered enormous losses in this disaster. The federal government will help them rebuild their homes. In the meantime, they need our help.
All lodges in the area have established relief centers. We need money to keep those centers going and to help dislocated members find housing and transportation. I urge all Boilermaker members and local lodges to donate to the Boilermaker Disaster Relief Fund.
Your donations will go to help your union brothers and sisters and their families. Give what you can.