This is the second installment of AFL-CIO National Media Manager Carolyn Bobb’s documentation of Hurricane Michael relief efforts in the Florida Panhandle. Read the first piece here.
Disaster relief is a long-term commitment that can become more difficult once immediate needs are met. For the Florida AFL-CIO, which is leading Hurricane Michael relief efforts, the work of rebuilding now begins.
“We cannot forget our members. A lot of basic needs have been met and now we’re focusing on getting people back to some sense of normalcy in their lives, which includes getting members back to work,” said Teamsters National Disaster Relief Coordinator Roy Gillespie.
This next stage of recovery, known as Phase 2, is about stabilization, and it focuses on targeted union member outreach. Many people have had a chance to assess the damage to their homes, and now they’re able to begin the cleanup process. That’s where the Florida AFL-CIO team comes in, delivering key supplies like trash bags, bleach and sponges, along with clothes, diapers, laundry detergent and personal items.
The Florida AFL-CIO serves as a command and control center, fielding a constant stream of calls, texts and emails to figure out how to get the thousands of supplies to those most in need. The team also is able to help a key community partner. After receiving notice that a local Red Cross facility had poor lighting, they called Miller Electric Co. out of Jacksonville to assist. Within a few days, the lighting was fixed. This can-do attitude is a constant during this labor-led relief effort.
“Our hearts go out to all of our sisters and brothers and their families during this difficult time,” said Mike Williams, president of the Florida AFL-CIO. “We are going through all the requests for help and getting supplies out to the most impacted communities. Because of all the great volunteers, we’ve been able to coordinate Phase 2 supply distribution in hard-hit areas such as Panama City, Blountstown, Marianna and Wewahitchka.”
We see firsthand the dual lives many union members are living when we make our first Phase 2 delivery to Panama City 15 days after the hurricane hit. Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 624 member Greg Cramer finishes a shift at a nearby mill and then opens up the union hall so we can unload two trucks. He is part worker, part volunteer. It is a blessing to have a place to store and distribute these supplies because the rain is relentless for several hours.
The Phase 2 coordination is led by Executive Assistant Helen Parker of the state federation. Helen is a seasoned disaster relief coordinator, having worked on efforts after Hurricane Irma in 2017 and most recently in North Carolina, still recovering from its own hurricane. Husband and wife team Fred with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Carol Croon with BESPA—who evacuated and came back to some pretty major house damage—are pros at organizing the supplies and sorting through clothing that has been donated.
The first distribution is a success, and at other sites over the weekend, some 100 families are able to pick up items that will help them get started on the long road to recovery. The Florida AFL-CIO will be there every step of the way. Anyone wanting to make donations may continue to do so through the Florida Workers Relief Fund.