December 2012 Issue
November 19, 2012

Sandy destroys; unions rebuild

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, center, works alongside NYSUT local leaders and staff to bring supplies and much-needed aid to the storm-ravaged community of Long Beach on Long Island.

Countless downstate New York communities are far from recovered after being pounded first by Superstorm Sandy, and then by a powerful nor'easter that blanketed the region with several inches of snow and freezing temperatures.

Two United Federation of Teachers members were killed in the superstorm; several others lost one or more family members. More than 500 members have lost their homes. Other families are still struggling to repair their heavily damaged homes. Many communities spent weeks without power, heat or water.

Schools closed for days on end. All told, the devastation is estimated at $30 billion, and it will take months for the region to fully recover.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, himself a Long Island resident, is inspired by the resilience of those struggling to rebuild in the storm's wake. He traveled, as part of a relief truck convoy, from NYSUT headquarters to Long Island community centers in Massapequa, Island Park and Lindenhurst, and helped deliver clothing, blankets, diapers, cleaning supplies and other necessities in the storm's aftermath.

"The contrast between the two different regions of the island is very stark," said Iannuzzi. "The middle and north of the island has mostly wind damage and downed power lines. The south is a very different scene — boats in the middle of yards, stores and businesses that are unlikely to reopen for months, if at all, and homes destroyed." Yet, in the face of devastation, the spirit of generosity among residents surged. "There is a clear recognition among those who only lost power and trees, of how blessed they are compared to their neighbors on the south shore," said Iannuzzi. "They are willing to do everything in their power to support those who have lost."

Superstorm Sandy underscores the tremendous support and good will NYSUT members share with their communities.

"As I join others in the relief efforts here on Long Island, I know that NYSUT, through our tremendous statewide membership, will be there for our sisters and brothers," he said.

"Our efforts will continue until they are as close to normal as possible."

The offices of Vice President Kathleen Donahue and Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler are coordinating all NYSUT relief efforts for those affected by Superstorm Sandy, staging donations and loading trucks bound for dropoff centers. The fund is expediting the handling of claims.

"The need is great and we plan on doing our best to help our members and the communities that have been so devastated by Superstorm Sandy," Donahue said.

NYSUT field offices, from Buffalo to the North Country to the Mid-Hudson area, are serving as relief command centers, helping locals organize donation drives for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund and the American Red Cross, hosting blood drives and facilitating the collection and transport of donated goods.

NYSUT staffers are also extending a helping hand. During its annual union day, the Professional Staff Association, which represents NYSUT's professional staff, contributed a $2,000 check to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, and raised more than $5,000 for the fund through raffles.

NYSUT staff members have also raised more than $10,000 through dress-down events and collected necessities such as water, diapers and canned foods for delivery to devastated regions.

Union help also is coming from NYSUT's national affiliates. The American Federation of Teachers is coordinating donations from locals nationwide and organizing days of service to provide member-to-member assistance. The National Education Association is providing grants to nonprofits in impacted areas.

Locals go above and beyond

Members are working hard statewide to help communities recover.

Here's a sampling of how locals are pitching in: n More than 70 volunteers from the Schoharie Teachers Association, led by Martin Messner, along with members from as far away as Glens Falls, traveled by bus to Staten Island to help with recovery efforts.

It was a little more than a year ago that UFT members traveled to Schoharie to help that community recover from severe flooding due to Tropical Storm Irene.

  • School-related professionals attending a leaders' conference in Cooperstown collected and donated supplies for delivery to Long Beach and Lindenhurst on Long Island.
  • Members of the Teachers Association of Lindenhurst, led by Rose Russo and John Mansfield, helped establish Camp Bulldog in the wake of the storm. Named in honor of the school mascot, the relief station distributes food, clothing and other necessities, and provides information to residents in need.

The local also conducted a door-to-door community walk to assess resident needs and provide relief, information and assistance.

  • Binghamton TA members, under the leadership of Candace Stroud, sent Target gift cards to Nassau County locals hardest hit by the storm. After going through a school closing last year due to Tropical Storm Irene, the group found that gift cards were helpful in getting classrooms restarted.
  • The Carmel TA, led by Lisa Jackson, donated seven vanloads of clothes, outerwear, baby supplies, cleaning supplies, food, water and other necessities to communities in the Rockaways, Breezy Point and Long Island. The group also made a monetary donation to the Red Cross, traveled to Breezy Point and Far Rockaway with 60 trays of hot food and launched a student fundraising campaign.
  • In Washingtonville, where many homes lost power, Washingtonville TA members held a pasta dinner at an area elementary school for impacted community residents. The local, led by Pat Ryan, is also working with community agencies to help provide residents with necessities.
  • The United College Employees of FIT, led by Roberta Elins, is offering interest-free loans to members impacted by Superstorm Sandy. The group is also working with FIT to host a Red Cross Blood Drive and coordinating a holiday toy drive for children living in hard-hit communities.
  • Members of the Edgemont TA, led by Kathleen Fox, hosted late afternoon after-school sessions in the school library to help students without power at home. The sessions provided a warm place to study, finish homework and access the Internet. The group also hosted a bake sale with proceeds donated to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund.
  • Members of locals representing Massapequa paraprofessionals, secretaries and teachers are working with community groups to identify displaced families and raise money to help the community.

Members of NYSUT's largest local, the United Federation of Teachers, led by President Michael Mulgrew, are going above and beyond to help the thousands of sisters and brothers in New York City who were impacted in the storm. Recovery initiatives include:

  • Volunteers helped with cleanup, distributed food and knocked on doors to assess the needs of residents during Days of Action at Coney Island; Midland Beach, Staten Island; and Far Rockaway, Queens.
  • Thousands of UFT members spent days and nights in 76 hurricane shelters, most in city public schools, helping however they could. They set up cots, delivered supplies, organized children's activities and treated ill and fragile evacuees.
  • UFTers helped organize a Kids' Fun Day at Coney Island, featuring face painting, magicians and balloon artists to help children cope with stress. Coney Island was among the areas hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy.
  • Members of the UFT and union members from Philadelphia and Baltimore stuffed 30,000 backpacks with school supplies for impacted students.
  • Countless UFT members spent Election Day volunteering, helping with storm cleanup, and distributing supplies. "Once again, our members stepped up when they were needed to help families and communities in need," Mulgrew said.

With a nor'easter fast approaching just a few days after Superstorm Sandy hit, UFT members, all teachers at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, clear a boardwalk and storm drains of sand piled two feet high.

Andrea Curran, a Teachers Association of Lindenhurst retiree, and her daughter, Caitlin Curran, an in-service member of TAL who teaches at Harding Elementary, help coordinate efforts at Camp Bulldog, a relief center that provides hot meals and basic supplies for residents of the storm-ravaged community on Long Island. Andrea Curran serves as the lead coordinator at the camp.