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Recovering After Superstorm Sandy

Recovering After Superstorm Sandy
By Kenneth Quinnell

The recovery from Superstorm Sandy could be one of the most expensive in American history, with estimates climbing toward the $50 billion mark in property damage alone. As Americans all across the country pitch in, most of the work repairing and rebuilding the storm-ravaged areas will be done by talented and hardworking union members. Many of the organizations dealing with Sandy’s devastation emphasize the importance of union workers’ expertise and skill, as well as of sufficient government financial support for rebuilding physical structures and roads and, in many cases, people's lives. Here is what our members have been doing to help with the recovery:

  • Fire Fighters (IAFF) members were key in rescue efforts and fighting the many fires caused by the storm. Nearly one-third of IAFF's members live in Sandy's path, so many first responders who saved lives and property during the storm did so while their own families and homes were in harm's way. They have been in action nonstop, responding to an unprecedented volume of calls for assistance. Jersey City, for instance, reported averaging one emergency call per minute for 24 straight hours on Monday and Tuesday.
  • AFSCME members helped with evacuations and are making sure that sanitation standards are upheld, providing emergency services and inspecting and repairing roads, bridges and tunnels to make sure they are safe. They are cleaning up debris and removing fallen trees, handling the high volume of 9-1-1 calls, serving lunches at shelters and facilitating paperwork quickly and efficiently.
  • Members of the Utility Workers (UWUA) are among the union members fixing power lines—both above and below ground. They are also repairing the steam power system in lower Manhattan. They are putting power lines and poles back up, clearing tree limbs off of power lines and examining water pumping stations to make sure water is clean and safe. UWUA members at Con Edison were locked out just three months ago and, rather than having any lingering resentment, they are showing their devotion to their community, although some of them have lost their own homes. One worker lost a family member who died in the storm.
  • Members of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) also are working as fast as they can to restore power and fix damaged infrastructure, with a top priority of dealing with hazardous situations.
  • National Nurses United (NNU) members helped evacuate sick and injured people, made sure newborn babies and their mothers were safe and helped with the rash of injuries caused by Sandy. The first floor of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Manhattan is under six feet of water. Although the patients were evacuated safely, the nurses who worked there are temporarily without jobs while NNU is trying to find them work elsewhere.
  • Members of the Transport Workers (TWU) were so fast and effective that the majority of New York's subway lines were back on track for limited service by Thursday, and the lines north of 34th Street are all in working order. TWU members are pumping millions of gallons of water out of the subway tunnels and have to walk every inch of the track and inspect the rails, signals and power hook-ups to make sure everything is working and safe. They have to repair damaged elevators and escalators. And transit workers are managing large, chaotic crowds without any training in crowd management.
  • Members of the Letter Carriers (NALC) kept delivering mail until the last possible moment on Monday and resumed service as soon as it was safe to be out on the roads again (in Washington, D.C., they delivered mail to homes Monday and Tuesday as the storm raged). Despite damage and delays, the U.S. Postal Service says people don't have to worry about their absentee ballots not getting in on time.
  • Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) members are working with TWU, the New York Police Department and the transit authority to make the buses run in New York City again. People standing on street corners literally applauded when they saw the first buses coming to pick up passengers.
  • Seafarers (SIU) members are serving as the crew on three ships that will be used to house responders who are working in New York City.
  • Laborers (LIUNA) have played a major role in clearing downed trees in places like Queens, where volunteers from Local 79 and Local 1010 showed up shortly after the storm with good spirits and saws and got to work immediately.
  • Thousands of nurses (AFT) are out in the community in New York making home visits to assist patients who aren't hospitalized.
  • New York Taxi Drivers (NYTWA) have been filling the void left by the problems with the public transit system.

Members of numerous other unions have been or will be dealing with Sandy’s aftermath, including the Railroad Signalmen (BRS), AFGE, Longshoremen (ILA), Ironworkers, Air Line Pilots (ALPA), Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), United Transportation Union (UTU), the United Union of Roofers and Waterproofers, the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

You can help, too, even if you don't live in or near the affected areas. The United Way is directing efforts at raising and dispersing donations to help survivors of the disaster. Click here to make a donation.

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