Jorge Rodriguez, an international representative from Region 5, led a group of UAW volunteers who worked tirelessly in six cities on the island for two weeks:
When we arrived, it had already been two weeks since island residents had been hit with Hurricane Maria, and much of Puerto Rico still had no power or running water. As volunteers, we were warned to expect harsh conditions, but the next two weeks would exceed everyone’s expectations. It would also show to me that union members care and go above and beyond to help those in need.
As one of the first volunteer groups to arrive in Puerto Rico, we witnessed firsthand the ravages of Hurricane Maria. It’s no exaggeration to say that this storm will leave scars on the island for many years to come. The lack of power and water, debris scattered everywhere and the eerie silence from the lack of traffic were just a few omens that we encountered when we landed in San Juan. When we got to our base camp at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, we were welcomed by the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who described the conditions on the island as well as the challenges of how we would deliver resources. It didn’t take long to figure out that the plans the teams had put together on paper were not always going to work, and that the needs were far more basic and urgent than rebuilding homes. Large sections of the country had not even seen a first responder yet.
Quick Facts: Puerto Rico
Capital: San Juan
Population: 3.5 million U.S. citizens
Official Languages: Spanish and English
Land Area: 3,508 square miles
Number of UAW Members: Approximately 10,000
Where They Work: Government, Bacardi Corp.,
Agriculture, Health Care, Credit Union
Number of Locals: 11
Our challenge quickly morphed into a mission to assess and stabilize communities and help them with their most basic needs of food and water. I was the lead on a team and my first challenge was to find reliable transportation that we could use to get to some of the communities in need of aid. Ironically, I was in Puerto Rico just days before Hurricane Maria because my family is from the island. I went there because Hurricane Irma had already battered Puerto Rico and I had lost contact with my family and a dear family member had died. When I learned that a second storm was heading to the island, I feared the worst. When I found out that a mission of union-members was being organized by the AFL-CIO, I volunteered right away.
Being back in Puerto Rico, I used my family connections to reach out to Angel Gonzalez, mayor of Rio Grande, to see if he could assist with a vehicle so we could help in his community. That connection led to immediate success on the ground and the mayor’s support also allowed us to help other municipalities. Each day we would prepare work orders, load our vehicles with supplies and volunteers and head out to the far-flung towns around San Juan. UAW members would then clear streets, repair roofs, open medical clinics and distribute food and water before we would head back before dark.
Donations Still Needed to Help Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is an island of 3.5 million U.S. citizens and still needs our help.
Nearly three months after two devastating hurricanes, Puerto Rico’s recovery has been agonizingly slow. Nearly 400 of our members remain homeless. UAW members in Region 9A have generously donated more than $100,000 to help their brothers and sisters, while the International Executive Board has voted to donate $100,000. UAW Region 9A, which includes Puerto Rico, has set up an online donation campaign at bit.ly/UAWforPR.
The lives and the future of our Puerto Rico members remain in peril. Let’s do all we can to show them that they are not forgotten and that we stand with them.
If you prefer to send a check, you may send it to UAW Region 9A, 111 South Road, Farmington, CT 06032. Payable to UAW Region 9A, and marked “Puerto Rico Relief.”
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