Helping Those in Need Is a ‘Labor of Love’ for Union Members in North Georgia

From the AFL CIO Blog:

Helping Those in Need Is a ‘Labor of Love’ for Union Members in North Georgia

by Aaron Gallant

April 23, 2020

https://aflcio.org/2020/4/23/helping-those-need-labor-love-union-members-north-georgia

Wearing face masks and gloves and sharing a determination to help their brothers and sisters in need, dozens of members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council sorted and bagged emergency food to hand out to union families on Saturday, April 18. The “Labor of Love” food drive was a member-to-member relief effort in collaboration with the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Georgia State AFL-CIO, in partnership with Margie’s House mobile food pantry and the city of Fairburn, Georgia, to help 300 union families who are now struggling to put food on their tables. It was one of a series of volunteer events that the labor council has coordinated to support union members and the wider community during the pandemic.

In March, as classrooms were closing and fear of the coronavirus was increasing, members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council volunteered their time to help AFSCME school support workers in the Atlanta public schools prepare breakfast and lunch for students forced to learn from home. “Union members have been coming out. We’re trying to not only help our members, but also help the community,” said Sandra Williams (RWDSU), the labor council’s executive director. Union members were also on hand in conjunction with Atlanta Jobs with Justice, to deliver lunch to faculty, residents and students of the Morehouse School of Medicine working at Grady Hospital earlier this month.

In other ways, the labor federation is working to assist those who now find themselves without a job or are experiencing financial hardship because of this crisis. Many members attended a Zoom town hall hosted by state Sen. Zahra Karinshak that included a panel on unemployment insurance with James Williams (IBEW), president of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, and Denise Beckwith, the unemployment division director of the Georgia State Department of Labor. The council also has worked with Jobs with Justice and many other community partners to provide community support. “We hope that members see our support, look at it with pride and they know they can rely on their union to come through for them,” Sandra Williams said. “People are very thankful, but they’re also fearful for their health.”

With some businesses allowed to reopen in the coming days, James Williams expressed concerns that Gov. Brian Kemp is putting money ahead of people’s safety and health. “Georgia is likely to run out of unemployment funds in the next few months, and this is a way to keep contractors employed,” he explained. If these workers are forced out of work a second time a few weeks from now, their unemployment claims are likely to be denied.

“Last year, we celebrated the 100-year anniversary of my local, Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 613, and we’ll be around for another hundred years,” James Williams said, looking toward a bright future for the labor movement in the north Georgia region. With volunteering events planned every other week for as long as they are needed, the members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council will be there to lift up their union family and their community."

Fifty-five years ago, in a speech to the convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out with characteristic moral clarity the essential role of unions in American life. “The labor movement,” he explained, “was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress … [When] the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Civilization began to grow in the economic life of man, and a decent life with a sense of security and dignity became a reality rather than a distant dream.”

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