We Help Because We Don’t Leave Others Behind
The people suffering in Puerto Rico are facing horrific conditions after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September. What we have heard from reports is that Puerto Rico is devastated. Electricity comes and goes, hospital generators lack fuel necessary to operate, food and water are scarce and roads are impassable. Residents are so desperate for necessities they are drinking water from contaminated sites. Outbreaks of deadly bacterial diseases have been reported and mosquito-borne diseases like Zika are on the rise at the same time as medical supplies are running low. The situation is dire and it could take weeks or even months to restore power to the island. The people suffering in Puerto Rico are our fellow Americans — some of whom are UAW members and their families and they are facing horrific conditions.
Despite the anemic response on behalf of the federal government, UAW members stepped up to help because even though we are not connected by land, the 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico — 10,000 of them being UAW members — are our brothers and sisters and our fellow Americans. More importantly, they are human beings.
This is why UAW members and members of more than 20 unions dropped what they were doing, left their own families and flew to San Juan in October to help Puerto Ricans recover and rebuild. UAW members from Flint, Michigan, were some of the first to jump at the chance to volunteer because they know firsthand what it’s like to need help after the man-made water crisis devastated their city.
Day in, day out, you’ll find UAW repairing homes for senior citizens, collecting food and winter clothes for people in need, organizing blood drives or simply passing the hat down the line for a brother or sister who needs some extra help in their life. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, UAW members are coming together to help rebuild in Texas and Florida while UAW locals around the country sprang into action raising money through gate collections. We’re not doing it for publicity. We’re not looking to be recognized with an award. We do it because serving our communities has always been the heart and soul of this union.
We are accustomed to solidarity at the workplace but solidarity spans beyond that. The UAW is about more than bargaining on behalf of members to get better contracts. The strength of the UAW is built upon service to its members and to the community. This is a core value. It’s what we do, it’s who we are, and it’s enshrined in the UAW Constitution.
How could it be otherwise? The idea of joining together with others to make the world a better place is the bedrock on which we were founded. The UAW has been dedicated to the proposition that we can make progress only as the community makes progress and that we cannot make progress at the expense of the community. We have long been true to the principle that what is good for our communities is good for labor, and for over 80 years UAW members have helped build stronger communities through our generosity, volunteerism and compassion. UAW is an international union representing a diversity of language, culture and ethnicity.
The UAW members who went to Puerto Rico recognize that working women and men have common interests and needs, regardless of where we live or what language we speak. We have refused to operate as a selfish, narrow, economic pressure group, but we have, instead, advocated and worked for policies and programs that would advance the welfare of everyone. By sharing their time, energy and skills, the UAW members who volunteered to go to Puerto Rico represented the 1 million active and retired UAW members around the country who wanted to help. I am proud of them and I want to thank them for stepping up to the challenge. In fact, UAW members expressed sentiments such as this on why they volunteered to go to Puerto Rico:
“We don’t leave each other behind. Union members — we stand together in times like this.”
“I know what it’s like to feel helpless and the people of Puerto Rico have nothing left and I cannot sit here and watch nothing be done.”
“I saw my union brothers and sisters helping us during the Flint water crisis. It’s my turn to help those in need — to pay it forward.
Every local union has a Community Services Committee and the purpose of it is predicated upon the understanding that the problems of our members are inseparably tied together with the problems of the whole community. If being there to assist when an emergency or natural disaster occurs, or just when hard times strike is something you feel strongly about, then join your local union’s Community Services Committee.
At a time when the needs of the people in Puerto Rico are so great, some politicians in Washington pretend Puerto Rico is a foreign country and not a U.S. territory and seem more concerned about giving tax breaks to the rich and gutting health care. Even anti-union groups saw a chance to take another swing at union members by publishing false reports that the Teamsters went on strike in Puerto Rico and refused to deliver supplies. The real story is the hurricane caused so much damage that entire road systems were destroyed and the supplies were unable to get through.
The world would be a better place if the policies of our government reflected the sensibility and selflessness of all those in the labor movement who rise to the occasion to help people in times of need. We, as a country, cannot be a symbol of hope to others unless we shape our policies in the image of positive values rather than in the image of our fears and our hatreds.
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