United Way and the labor movement go way back, a 75-year partnership that’s building stronger communities. And this year, we’ve effectively renewed our vows. To celebrate, we want to take a moment before Labor Day to share a few highlights of our enduring partnership.
Whether it’s being designated as a Model City for Community Services (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), stepping up to tackle the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, helping veterans find jobs in Broward County and Los Angeles or mentoring young people in Erie, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, union members are stepping up across the U.S. to add momentum to United Way’s community impact work.
Our Shared History
We first came together right after World War II, as an innovative way to rebuild our nation, our communities and our people. We looked different back then, but our shared passion for building a better world was evident from the start.
United Way (then Community Chests and Councils) and the AFL-CIO (then the United Nations Relief Committee of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the National Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) Committee for American and Allied War Relief first worked together to create a mechanism for payroll deduction. That resulted in labor representation on Community Chest boards, and evolved into collaborative fundraising and community development.
Marriages that last this long are rare, so it’s only fitting that United Way and the labor movement take a moment to honor our 75 years together. We first came together right after World War II, as an innovative way to rebuild our nation, our communities and our people. We looked different back then, but our shared passion for building a better world was evident from the start.
In Milwaukee, Labor Is A Force Multiplier
As we approach Labor Day, let's reflect on the words of Samuel Gompers, labor union leader and founder of the AFL:
What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.
That's what United Way wants, too. Together with our labor partners across America, we're building stronger bonds and stronger communities. From job training, affordable housing, and free tax prep assistance to more options for healthy eating, physical activity and access to healthcare - United Way and our labor partners want to make life better for all.
Union Members Step Up for Flint
The problem of lead-contaminated water in Flint is a big one, but union members across Michigan and the country have rolled up their sleeves in creative ways to deliver immediate and long-term solutions to struggling families. United Way of Genesee County worked with a wide array of labor partners to get people the help they needed.
You may not think of plumbers and pipefitters as first responders, but that was the case for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. More than 400 union plumbers and pipefitters from across the country galvanized to install new faucets and water filters for community residents. Going door to door in 800 homes, members of the United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (UA) installed free faucets and water filters. Existing water faucets in many homes were so old they couldn’t accommodate the water filters provided by the state. Faucet fixtures were donated by Plumbing Manufacturers International.
Union members also stepped up to donate boiled and bottled water. Some 18 labor organizations, Nestle Waters, UPS Freight and the United Way of Greater Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem, PA coordinated a donation of nearly 1,900 cases of bottled water. And AFL-CIO liaisons from across Michigan delivered a $13,333 check from the proceeds of the 2015 AFSCME Local 25 golf outing – originally targeted to local United Way labor programs – to provide water, baby formula, diapers and toothbrushes.
Helping Veterans in Broward County and Los Angeles
In Ft. Lauderdale, United Way of Broward County’s Labor Liaison, Quettia Isoff, used a mobile marketing effort through MobileCause to generate enthusiasm as well as $20,000 for Mission United. That’s a centralized, coordinated network of supports to help veterans get back to work, by bringing disconnected and uncoordinated veterans services under one streamlined process. As a result, more than 2,000 veterans and their families have gotten help with job training, physical and mental health, free legal assistance, and housing. Last year alone, 90% of homeless veterans got long-term housing.
In Los Angeles, the United for Veterans initiative, a project of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, and Helmets to Hardhats, helps military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them not just a job, but also a life-long career. This spring, the Painters Union held a graduation for veterans who completed their two-week pre-apprentice program, which fast-tracks them into the second stage of the apprenticeship program. Vets also got information on how Post 9-11 veterans could apply for a one-time $500 stipend made possible by a grant from United Way and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Supporting Young People In Erie, Pennsylvania And Atlanta, Georgia
Too many students don’t see the connection between school and work, so labor and United Way are working together in many communities in many different ways to fill that gap.
In Erie, PA local unions, nonprofits and United Way came together for "Back 2 School Free Haircut Day” to help kids in need look their best – and get the supplies they need – for school. It’s now a tradition for Erie families, with parents getting resource and referral information, social service agency help, dental cleaning for their kids and more. This year, 800+ children got free haircuts, book bags, books, pencils, games, bicycles and more.
Many labor partners join with United Way to reach out to young people in need of job advice. In Atlanta, United Way Greater Metro Atlanta and Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council conduct an annual Labor Career Day. Union members talk to elementary schoolers about jobs and careers in labor. They see it as a great opportunity to educate children about potential jobs in labor, and to help kids understand a bit about the history and importance of the labor movement. Union member workers include jobs and careers like electricians, truck drivers, flight attendants, city workers, painters, transportation workers, letter carriers, film industry workers and more.
Our Shared Future
It’s been a great partnership, and the future looks even brighter. Strengthening our labor partnership – especially in community impact, employee engagement and resource development – means that we can do even more together to build strong communities. United Way’s new partnership agreement with AFL-CIO is helping us do just that, and is deepening United Way’s relationship with labor liaisons so we can do even more together to fight for the financial stability, health and education of every person in every community.