Anyone who says the union movement is all about politics, or only cares about its own members — to put it mildly — doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The same spirit that motivates union members to stick up for co-workers or get involved in political campaigns also inspires direct service and charity in the community. Union members volunteer their labor, raise money for outside charities, and contribute to union-run aid efforts. Below we profile some examples of union efforts in Oregon — but you’ll find others everywhere there’s a union hall. In voluntarism and charitable giving, union members are on the job.
Labor’s Community Services Agency
If charity starts at home, Labor’s Community Service Agency (LCSA) is where it starts in the local house of labor. With funding from many local unions and in partnership with the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, LCSA is above all about helping working families in need. In its Helping Hands temporary hardship assistance program, out-of-work union members referred by their unions can get help paying rent or utility bills, and information about resources. Last year, 201 households were helped by the program. LCSA also works with dislocated workers to make sure they get all the benefits they’re entitled to, and it coordinates an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the families of out-of-work union members. Together with the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, LCSA runs the annual “Presents from Partners” Toy Drive and holiday party for children of unemployed workers — both union and nonunion. Last year kids got four toys each through Presents from Partners, plus lunch and a picture with Santa Claus, who was able to take time out of his busy schedule to attend the event.
Big money for children’s charities
Each year, the week after Labor Day, Portland-area union leaders together with vendors, employers and trade associations that they have relationships with turn out for the B.U.L.L. Session. The B.U.L.L. Session — which stands for Business Union, and Labor Leaders — has raised $4.6 million ($315,000 this year) for children’s charities since it started 22 years ago. Day one is an auction, and Day two is a golf tournament. With up to 470 participants, it’s the largest one-day golf event in Oregon, says organizer Ed Ellis. The beneficiaries are nine children’s charities, including four local children’s hospitals, groups like Special Olympics and March of Dimes, and lesser-known groups like Gales Creek Camp Foundation, which helps children with diabetes.
Guide dogs for the blind
Guide Dogs of America — which provides guide dogs free of charge to the blind — was founded in 1948 by the International Association of Machinists. The group trains the dogs and provides room and board at its campus in Sylmar, California, for the 28 days it takes to instruct recipients in their use. Its work is supported by Machinist locals all over the country, with motorcycle poker runs, charity golf tournaments, auto shows and other fundraisers. In Portland, a Salmon Fishing Derby begun two years ago has raised $24,000 thus far.
State-of-the-art care for burn victims
The Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Hospital is a place high voltage electric linemen never want to have to use. But International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 125 wants state-of-the-art care to be there when burn victims need it. The Local has raised close to a million dollars for the center in the last 15 years. This year, Local 125 contributed $13,240, raised in a series of annual events: a golf and softball tournament, a lineman’s rodeo, and a casino night.
Fulfilling wishes for needy kids
For 15 years, Operating Engineers Local 701 has run its “Cheer-A-Child” campaign — donating toys and clothes to Albertina Kerr Centers, a Portland charity that helps children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental health problems. Every year, Albertina kids and adults in foster care and group homes submit holiday wish lists. Local 701 takes 150 of the wishes and gets busy — buying and delivering toys, blankets, household goods, movie tickets, and books.
Door-to-door food drive
Every second Saturday in May, the largest one-day food drive in the country takes place. In National Association of Letter Carriers “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive, union letter carriers drop off bags at households and then return to pick up millions of pounds of non-perishable donated food as they make their appointed rounds. This year, members of Portland-based National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82 brought in over 277 tons of food. The food is sorted by union volunteers at postal stations and taken to food banks for distribution to those in need. Nationwide, 1,417 local NALC branches are involved in the drive, which has brought in nearly 1.2 billion pounds of food since it began in 1993.
Labor Bowl for Muscular dystrophy
Muscular dystrophy is a hereditary condition marked by progressive weakening and wasting of the muscles. For the last 23 years, Portland-area union members have raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through the Muscular Dystrophy Labor Bowl, an annual bowling fundraiser, raising $339,025 in that time. The money buys wheelchairs and braces for children, and funds research and summer camps.
Lighting up the community
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48 union and the Oregon-Columbia Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) are frequent partners in volunteer efforts. Every year for the last 25 years, they’ve lit up the Grotto in its annual Christmas Festival of Lights. Local 48 has also funded and installed scoreboards, at $30,000 each, for Reynolds High School’s baseball field, Gresham High and Centennial High football fields, Parkrose High’s swimming facility, and Sam Barlow High’s basketball court. This year, they donated $17,370 worth of lighting installation & electrical work to install LED lights along the words “Gateway to the Gorge” at the top of the Centennial Arch at the entrance of downtown Troutdale. And members of IBEW Local 48 employed at West Side Electric replaced old fluorescent lighting fixtures at Parrott Creek Ranch, a residential program in Oregon City for troubled teen boys.
Unions for Kids
Since 2002, all-volunteer Unions for Kids has donated $326,000 to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland through an annual motorcycle raffle, poker run and chili cook-off. Recently the event has expanded to a Texas hold’em poker tournament and “Date Night” with live music.
Those are just a few. There are so many more examples. Local unions sponsor sports teams, and award college scholarships to members of the public as well as union members, their children and grandchildren. Unions step forward with donations and volunteer labor for historic monuments and memorials, including in recent years: a memorial to Oregon workers killed on the job, restoration of the only still-working World War Two PT boat, and a Chehalis, Washington, monument to girls killed in an industrial fire in 1911.
- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 raises money for leukemia research and college scholarships for members and their families through an annual golf tournament in June organized by the nonprofit HOPE Foundation.
- Since 2010, IBEW Local 280 in Tangent, Oregon, has collected donations in its annual Spirit of Giving Sheltered Animal Drive to purchase “Kong” dog toys, rawhide bones, blankets, food, detergent, bleach, and grooming supplies for dogs and cats at the Linn County and Lane County animal shelters. And for years, members of the local have volunteered to light up the Christmas tree at the State Capitol in Salem.
- Members of several trades unions have been involved in Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that builds homes for wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Union members also can be found volunteering at Rebuilding Together (formerly Christmas in April) and Habitat for Humanity.
- Teamsters Joint Council No. 37 has held a fundraiser for the National Kidney Foundation annually since 1970 — the longest running benefit for the Foundation west of the Mississippi. For one night each year, Joe Edgar Hall in Northeast Portland is turned into a dance hall with live music, food, and beverages. The event raises over $10,000 each year, In 2008, $17,000 was collected.
- For the past several years union members have volunteered to teach youngsters how to fish at the annual Klineline Kids’ Fishing Derby in Vancouver, Wash. They also contribute generously with cash donations used to buy fishing poles and prizes for the kids.
- Affiliated unions of the Marion, Polk, Yamhill Counties Central Labor Council have sponsored a holiday party for kids in the community for 72 years. The event includes live music, a movie, goody bags for all, and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus.
- Throughout the year Oregon AFSCME Council 75 and AFSCME Local 328 members employed at Oregon Health & Science University give generously through their time and money to the Oregon Food Bank. More often than not, union members have fun and build camaraderie while they’re helping out the community. For the labor movement, the season of giving never stops.