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Horror not over for US public service workers
Compiled by John Stevenson, SiU Editor September 2001
AFL-CIO home pageThe tragedy on 11 September took a massive toll on UNISON members' counterparts in the USA. Reports at 15 September had 1,000 union members still unaccounted for.

But the horror is not over for emergency services, city, state, government and health workers who toil on in the rescue and clean-up effort.Thousands of members volunteered through their unions and many have been injured and traumatised.

"Public Service workers at the forefront of the effort to deal with the tragedy have themselves become victims. Our thoughts are with them”, said Mike Kirby, UNISONScotland Convenor.

And nowhere is this loss more evident than in the words of Harold A Shaitberger, General President of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).

"At this point we cannot calculate the enormous loss of life. (This) will undoubtedly be the worst day for line-of-duty deaths in the 83 year history of the IAFF”.

Unions in New York and Washington have played a key role in co-ordinating the effort, in supporting each other and in providing aid and comfort for victims and their families.

"We mourn those who perished as they performed their work, whether in rescue efforts, in offices or on airplanes”, said John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO union federation. "Already union members have gone into action to assist the rescue efforts”.

District Council 37, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), represents 56 ‘locals' covering all sectors of New York City employees. It had to close its offices in Barclay Street close to the World Trade Centre, and set up an emergency base.

"Many of our members are overcoming their shock and disbelief to provide heroic, round-the-clock emergency, health care and support services”, said Lee Sanders, DC37 Administrator.

Danny Donohoe, Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) President said, "It is likely that CSEA lost brothers and sisters working in the World Trade Center. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the victims and their families.

"Many CSEA members are already assisting, directly and indirectly, in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy. CSEA is encouraging all of its members to donate blood and volunteer to help in other ways”.

Amidst the horror and anger, Andrew L Stern of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) called for ‘American values' and warned against any backlash attacks on Arab-Americans or ‘other innocent people based on the color of their skin or the country they originally come from'.

"Just as we are a nation of immigrants, we are a union of immigrants, with members from all countries of the Middle East as well as all other continents. This is a time to make an extra effort in our workplaces and in our communities to reach out to each other and show the world that in times of crisis we unite behind our ideals”, he said.

And he lashed extreme right wingers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson ‘who said on television that feminists, civil liberties organizations, Americans who believe in a woman's right to choose about abortion, and gays and lesbians invited the terrorist attacks on this country by making God mad.'

"America cannot fight hatemongers and religious intolerance by becoming hateful and intolerant ourselves. The best way we can honour the victims of the attacks of September 11 is to stand up for the basic values America has always aspired to”, said Mr Stern.

"America cannot fight hatemongers and religious intolerance by becoming hateful and intolerant ourselves"
Andrew L Stern, SEIU

How union members rallied round

Contacts - Links - Relief Funds

 

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How union members rallied round
Within minutes of the tragedy, construction workers contacted Bob Walsh of the Iron Workers Local 40 with offers of help. By the time the National Guard called the union, 1,000 union members were available.

The union set up three teams of recovery workers to be rotated including volunteers from Local 78, experts in asbestos handling.

"As I watch the steelworkers they progress in my mind from admirable to heroic”, wrote Firefighter Dennis Smith, IAFF magazine founder, whose first hand story gives a chilling but human account of the hours after the attack.

SEIU Local 1199NY reported so many health workers volunteering that the Health Department couldn't handle the volume.

The NY State Psycholgical Association sent a disaster response team to help traumatised workers and their families.

The United Federation of Teachers and the NYSPA developed a package to help schoolchildren comprehend the events, stressing the importance of not blaming ethnic groups.

The AFL-CIO co-ordinated efforts between the Red Cross and union disaster relief efforts. Staff helped set up a Compassionate Care Centre.

Teamsters responded to Red Cross appeals to deliver communications equipment from Memphis.

20,000 face masks were gathered from bakeries for the rescue effort by Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers locals 3 and 50.

In Washington, hundreds of union members plan to go door to door for volunteers and contributions to the relief effort.

The New York State AFL-CIO, Fire Fighters, the Westchester/Putnam Counties AFL-CIO Central Labor Body and United Food and Commercial Workers have teamed up to provide truckloads of food from union supermarkets to firefighters participating in the World Trade Center rescue.

The New York City labor council is organizing a clothing drive for emergency service workers.

 

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Links to USA union sites and disaster relief funds

All the main American labour and trade union organisations have national websites and many Locals have their own sites.

Many also have online Disaster Funds that you can contribute to.

American federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) http://www.aflcio.org/home.htm

International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) http://www.iaff.org/

Dennis Smith, Firehouse Magazine Founder, Describes His Worst Nightmare. A first hand story giving a chilling but human account of the rescue effort in the hours after the attack. Find it at http://www.dennissmith.com/nytimes%20sept%2014%202001.htm

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) http://www.afscme.org

District Council 37, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), represents 56 ‘locals' covering all sectors of New York City employees http://www.dc37.net

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199NY http://www.1199seiuonline.org

Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000 http://www.csealocal1000.net/yahoo

 

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