Hurricane Harvey rained and blew disaster across major portions of Texas, killing upwards of 70 people and knocking thousands of working Texans out of their homes. The ferocity of the storm was more than matched by the working people of North America and friends of labor, whose bravery, generosity and solidarity saved lives and commenced recovery even as Harvey raged.
Harvey killed approximately 70 people, a number that could have been far worse if not for the heroic activities of First Responders, infrastructure workers and volunteers in community after community. In property damage, geographical reach and displacement of people from their homes, Harvey is without peer in Texas. The estimated cost of damage has ranged as high as $190 billion (http://bit.ly/2xqtlNl), depending on who is counting. Simply as a weather phenomenon, Harvey set all kinds of records for the Lone Star State (http://wxch.nl/2x3i9VV). The AFL-CIO reports approximately 360,000 union and Working America members and household members have been affected by Harvey.
Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick reported Harvey was the equivalent of at least three major disasters occurring at once: the direct hit in the Corpus Christi region, resulting in substantial wind damage; flooding in dozens of communities bordered by the Coastal Bend, Central Texas and the entire Gulf Coast region; and unprecedented flooding in Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur and environs. Patrick said any one of those areas of damage would have merited a full labor response.
Even before Harvey made landfall in Rockport on Aug. 25, the Texas AFL-CIO and affiliates began to mobilize in their roles as conveners and planners of the transition to local programs that would be needed to help working people.
Those roles became more manageable thanks to an early commitment of support from the national AFL-CIO, including the release of highly skilled staff to help out on the ground.
At a meeting and call-in for the Texas AFL-CIO Executive Board and key international representatives, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler personally delivered a $100,000 donation to the Texas Workers Relief Fund, a charity overseen by the Texas AFL-CIO for disaster assistance. While in Austin, Shuler committed the AFL-CIO over the longer term to help raise $5 million in cash aid, invest $500 million over five years in affordable housing in areas affected by Harvey, and invest in job-creating commercial real estate and infrastructure.
The AFL-CIO’s help in making a national appeal for donations provided record capacity for the relief fund, offering an opportunity for significant solidarity with displaced working people even as the needs in our communities far outweigh the fund’s resources.
The Texas Workers Relief Fund has funded emergency help to the Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and Central Labor Councils affected by the storm. Plans for individualized help to displaced working people are proceeding through an application process. CLCs are gauging need in their communities and making recommendations on use of the fund.
The spread of the storm might have overwhelmed the Texas AFL-CIO’s resources if not for the amazing mobilization and on-the-ground work of the ALF and Central Labor Councils. The Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, Coastal Bend CLC and Sabine Area CLC have all worked around-the-clock to deliver emergency food, water and supplies to union members.
That work has been supplemented by deliveries of water and other pressing needs from around Texas and around the nation. The San Antonio Central Labor Council helped arrange for the release of two full-time United Way labor liaisons for the entire month of September to help in the affected areas.
We established a long running list of supporters to the Texas Workers Relief Fund which can be found at www.texasaflcio.org/supporters. Names will be added as they come in daily/weekly.
Top Performing Social Media Posts of the Past Few Weeks:
Teamsters from Kansas City, MO roll supplies into Corpus Christi
Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation Hosts a Clean Up Weekend
Texas AFL-CIO Staff Heads to Beaumont/Port Arthur Area
The AFL-CIO passed along some of the general categories of work performed locally:
Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation – Designated local union coordinators, offered trainings and presentations regarding available resources, set up phone banks to assess needs of members, organized volunteer cleanup days to help members prepare homes for repairs and established ongoing volunteer schedule, overseeing tele-conference to connect members with resources available to storm victims, created four staging areas in union halls for donation and distribution of supplies, bought gas and food cards for affiliates with immediate needs. With help from the AFL-CIO, the ALF also upgrade its web site (https://www.gcaflcio.org/) to provide accessible updates on Harvey relief and recovery.
Coastal Bend Central Labor Council – Used phone tree process to check in with union members and identify needs, coordinated with Victoria CLC to provide help in that region, set up staging area for donations and distribution of supplies within CLC office and organized volunteer relief runs to help members and retirees.
Sabine Area Central Labor Council – Organized distribution center at Steelworker halls to receive and give out supplies to members in need; served 1,000 meals to members weekend of Sept. 9 and did this volunteer work even as refineries and other worksites were requiring overtime work to return to operations after storm.
*This temporary blog will serve as a meeting place for the extraordinary union response to Hurricane Harvey, a response that is expanding solidarity every single day.