Time to be union proud on Labor Day and in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

Labor Day weekend offers us a chance to reflect on the struggles still ahead for economic equality and justice. Income inequality, lack of access to basics like affordable health care, and an aggressive attempt by the rich and powerful to undermine opportunity by stifling investments in K-12 and higher education are conspiring to make it more difficult for people to lift themselves into the middle class.

The tragedy of Hurricane Harvey lays bare the thin safety net that holds up Texas families from

Texas AFT Members
Texas AFT members help with clean-up in Houston.

having one stroke of bad luck put them in the poorhouse or out on the street. American workers need a collective voice now more than at any time in recent history. During Labor Day weekend we celebrate and recommit ourselves to the struggle to build strong, powerful unions that can bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and a fair piece of the pie for working men and women.

Also this weekend, so many of our fellow Texans are still out of their homes, school districts throughout the region are closed, and many folks are either just discovering the damage done to their lives or beginning the arduous process of cleaning and rebuilding.

The hurricane did serve to highlight some remarkable efforts from our union brothers and sisters and what it means to be part of a union family:

* Hundreds of Texas AFT members have donated to our Disaster Relief Fund, and that effort has been bolstered by strong support from our national union—AFT—which has collected donations from thousands of members across the country.

(You can still donate now, and remember that 100% of the money will go to direct grants of money, grocery cards, and supplies for our impacted members. And if you are an affected member still needing to apply for assistance, you can do so here. Deadline for applications is Friday, Sept. 8.)

It was heartening to read emails from our brothers and sisters in unions throughout the country noting that we are in their thoughts and prayers and that they had donated to the fund—including one local educators union in Seattle that donated $1,000. And teachers from eight other different states contacted us asking if they could adopt a classroom or send supplies to help.

* In times like these, communication with members is crucial. We are proud of our intensive efforts to try to reach every affected member through emails, phone calls and texts. Our local presidents reached out directly when we received emergency pleas for help. And a new texting system was deployed that sent to some 12,000 members information on how to get help.

* Even before the hurricane, AFT had realized the need to help teachers lacking adequate school supplies, and it was nearing the launch of a new program—in partnership with First Book—to provide supplies to classrooms across the country. It became obvious with the storm that this effort needed to focus especially on the Texas coast. We’ll be sending more information on the program and how to get assistance. But the fundraising portion is under way and you can donate here. AFT also will be seeking corporate sponsors, and it seeded the fund with $15,000 that will go to direct grants to our Texas local unions for supplies.

* AFT is sending our Texas local unions 10,000 health and safety clean-up kits to assist members and their families and other community members who will be cleaning up the mess. Included in the AFT kits are respirators, chemical-resistant gloves, hand sanitizer, flashlights, and goggles.

* Our local union members already are volunteering in assistance and clean-up efforts. And it’s important to remember that we’re part of a broader family of unions under the Texas AFL-CIO, which helped coordinate numerous relief efforts, including a day of service to help with clean-up in Houston Saturday. The Texas AFL-CIO also has its own fund to help impacted union members.

In times like these, I’m proud to be a Texas AFT member and part of our union family. That solidarity with those hurt by Hurricane Harvey is something we all should be proud of, and it will serve to make this Labor Day even more meaningful. I’m also confident this solidarity will help us propel the movement fighting for economic justice for working families, and an investment in our kids and our schools.

In Solidarity,

Louis Malfaro
Texas AFT President