The Good Fight: Unions Respond to Devastated Communities

By Jacob Bourne

This is part of a series highlighting the efforts of organized labor and featured in Labor 411’s print directories. Click here to order your copy and support Labor 411!

The Westin

California experienced another catastrophic wildfire season in 2018 causing $3.5 billion in damage statewide with some blazes extending late into the year. Many lost their lives or loved ones during these events and thousands lost homes and businesses. As expected, unions stood in solidarity with impacted communities by deploying disaster relief funds.

“The union affiliates have taken up disaster relief efforts individually,” said Rudy Gonzalez, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council. “The real coordination has come from in-dividual unions getting funding to the cities and counties that need aid from these devastating wildfires.”

Gonzalez explained that some of the unions themselves have heavy representation in areas impacted by the disasters. These efforts were particularly impactful during the Camp Fire in Butte County and Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, which both inflicted unprecedented amounts of damage.

A member of Teamsters Local 856, Gonzalez recalls that the Union ramped up its disaster relief funding following Hurricane Katrina so that when the next big one hit, the membership would be able to respond quickly. That momentum helped the Teamsters send over $300,000 to victims of the Camp Fire, which burned over 150,000 acres, killed at least 86 people and destroyed over 18,000 structures, making it the deadliest wildfire in state history. About 2,000 Teamsters live in areas affected by the Camp Fire and over 100 members lost their homes.

The California Labor Federation compiled a list of resources to help communities rebuild following the wildfires. Some of the local union affiliates that have led Northern California funding efforts are IBEW Local 1245, UFCW 8, CDF Firefighters and CAL FIRE Local 2881, The Chico United Teachers Association, Ironworkers Local 118 and HomeCare Providers UDW/AFSCME 3939.

“As climate change related disasters continue to happen, I expect that the California Federation of Labor will take an even more active role in coordinating relief efforts,” Gonzalez said.

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