STORY: Teaming with the Teamsters for Emergency Relief

Written by Betsy Morse and Jeramie Williams

Sandy Relief

LONG BEACH, NY, December 7, 2012 – Weekends on the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief effort call for an extra push – food and water to stock, comfort and clean-up kits to load, and trucks of all shapes and sizes to drive from the warehouses to the Red Cross staging sites.

Someone’s got to do it, even if it causes a little trouble at home.

“Some of our guys get only one day off, and their wives already had jobs lined up for them,” said Rich Caldwell, a Teamster from Milford, PA and one of the dozens of Teamsters helping out on the Red Cross Sandy mission. “My wife said go on, get out of here!”

Hurricane Sandy has fomented a unique partnership between the Tri-State Teamsters and the American Red Cross combing the union’s logistics expertise with the agency’s resources. Teamsters, a group of unionized drivers living and working across the region, prepositioned goods, operated the forklifts, and drove 16-foot box trucks loaded with urgently needed supplies from the New Jersey warehouse to the far-reaching areas devastated by the worst hurricane to hit New York in years.

Out in the field, they also helped identify stricken communities that hadn’t been served, such as an emergency shelter in Long Beach, Long Island and a distribution site on Brooklyn Cyclones’ parking lot in Coney Island. During a massive mid-November push, 160 trucks went from the Red Cross warehouse to dozens of staging sites, including these.

In Coney Island, hundreds of residents lined up to get the much needed supplies. “We lost power, but we have a generator and we could throw wood on the fire,” said Caldwell, who commutes into New York regularly for his job driving trucks with Coca-Cola. “These people can’t do that.”

In another Teamster effort, a public official called to inform the Red Cross that the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach, Rockaways needed help. The neighborhood in which it was located was also without power or heat, and the people lacked a hot meal and safe drinking water.

“People poured out of the recreation center when we drove up with water,” said Joseph Vitta of Teamsters Local 812. Vitta was part of the Teamsters coalition to load ready and waiting ERVs dispatched to stop door-to-door to bring goods directly to people.

“The Red Cross has an amazing capacity and has been responsive,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “We have the members in place that can get it to the locals. We’re heading in the right direction. The partnership is working well.”

Laura Hevesi of the Red Cross praised the Teamsters with whom she worked. “Some came out night after night, making the long drive from Jersey City to staging points in far-flung places, ensuring everything people needed would be available the next day.”

The Teamsters also brought order to the Red Cross warehouse, said Steve Pond, Red Cross liaison to labor unions that are working with the Red Cross on its largest humanitarian relief operation in five years. “The Teamsters have been instrumental in helping us deliver to those in need,” he said.

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