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Workplace Safety Groups Head To Houston To Train Reconstruction Workers

After Harvey, Immigrant and Labor Rights Groups Team Up to Provide Ongoing Health and Safety Training for Reconstruction Workers 

Harvey Flood and Damage by Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) FLIKR CC

Fe y Justicia Worker Center, National COSH, Chemical Workers Union and National Day Laborer Organizing Network deliver “Train-the-Trainers” sessions and prepare Reconstruction Works campaign to support recovery workers facing severe toxic health and safety hazards in the workplace 

HOUSTON, TX:  With recovery efforts underway from the devastating effect of Hurricane Harvey – and new storm damage now confronting Puerto Rico, Florida and the Caribbean – health and safety trainers as well as workers and immigrant rights advocates from local and national safety groups will be in Houston this week to train workers and community members on safe clean up procedures and their rights to a safe workplace.

Ongoing efforts are currently underway to expand and build upon past “Reconstruction Works” campaigns that have played a critical role in supporting reconstruction workers after Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Rita and other disasters.

During previous cleanup efforts recovery workers exposed to flood waters suffered skin infections, lesions, asthma attacks, allergic reactions and other conditions. Workers are also exposed to the risk of lead poisoning and asbestos exposure when working in damaged or collapsed buildings.

This week, experienced health and safety trainers from National COSH and other COSH affiliates from around the country will join local advocates from the Houston-based COSH affiliate Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center to provide “Train-the-Trainer” classes for workers and advocates, who will in turn provide awareness training in workplaces and communities throughout Houston.

“The response from COSH groups and our allies to the emergency on the Gulf Coast has been amazing,” said National COSH co-executive director Jessica Martinez, who is joining the “Train-the-Trainer” session in Houston. “Groups are sending people, sharing information and resources and helping to raise funds so that recovery workers can stay safe while rebuilding their communities.”

“Most Houston neighborhoods were somehow impacted, so workers and neighbors are cleaning up a wide range of water and wind damage that can get people seriously hurt,” said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, executive director of Faith and Justice Worker Center (Centro de Trabajadores Fe y Justicia), the premier worker center in the Houston area coordinating local efforts.

“Day laborers, construction workers, utility workers, domestic workers, as well as neighbors and volunteers, are already going into flooded and damaged buildings, where they will encounter mold, sewage, and air and water that may have been contaminated with toxic pollutants,” said Acuña Arreaza. “Our goal is to equip them with the tools and information they need to reduce the risk of getting sick, injured or killed while taking on these difficult assignments.”

“Gulf Coast communities face a massive, urgent rebuilding job, as will Florida, Puerto Rico and Caribbean islands,” said Frank Cyphers, President of the Akron, Ohio-based International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC). The ICWUC, a council of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is assisting the worker and community training effort in Houston, with support from federal grants from the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS).

“This is no time to cut corners on worker safety,” said Cyphers. “We need to build on lessons learned during recovery from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and other disasters: Workers must know their rights – and know how to assess and prevent potential hazards.”

BACKGROUND: The three-day, bilingual “Train-the-Trainer” sessions, in English and Spanish, begins today, September 13th at the Dominican Sisters of Houston campus. The curriculum will develop trainers to teach safety awareness, workplace safety rights, and information about mold, sewage, airborne and waterborne contaminants, and other hazards associated with disaster recovery.

In addition to upcoming training sessions, National COSH has partnered with NYCOSH to provide a series of fact sheets on safe clean up procedures. The fact sheets describe known hazards experienced during previous recovery efforts, including asphyxiation, building collapse, electrocution, explosion, mold, sewage, toxic contaminants and other conditions.

As recovery efforts continue in the coming weeks and months, Fe y Justicia Worker Center will operate a hotline for affected workers and provide ongoing safety awareness training at worksites and community centers.  A donation page at youcaring.com gives concerned citizens a way to support safe and sustainable recovery efforts.


Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center, based in Houston, campaigns for justice and dignity for day laborers, domestic workers and other vulnerable workers.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org

The International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC), based in Akron, Ohio, represents workers in the chemical industry and other occupations in the U.S. The ICWUC has six worker health and safety federal grants and collaborates with 10 other union partners, including National COSH, to conduct a range of worker safety and health programs and develop rank and file worker trainers.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network works to improve the lives of day laborers in the United States. NDLON works to unify and strengthen its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize and organize day laborers.

Working on Labor Day to Recover from Harvey

Watching helplessly as flood waters rose was not an option for Brandon Parker. This Texas refinery worker and member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union has a jacked-up Suburban and a friend with a boat. There was no way he was going to let family members, neighbors or strangers drown.

Like Brandon, many union members couldn’t sit still through the storm. One drove her high-riding pickup truck two hours to find baby formula for co-workers rescued from their roof with a newborn. Another used his pickup truck to rescue people whose cars got caught in fast-moving water.

These are among the many workers across Texas and across the United States whose sense of community drove them to respond to the crisis created by Hurricane Harvey.

Brandon’s most harrowing rescues occurred on Sunday, Aug. 27, when he joined the citizens armada, the flotilla of boats owned by civilians who drafted themselves to serve as first responders when the catastrophic size of the emergency overwhelmed professionals.

The crew on Brandon’s boat was all union. His longtime friend, Kenneth Yates, a member of Plumbers Local Union 68 in Houston, owned the Bay Stealth craft. Yates’ stepfather, Robert Young, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers, joined them on the expedition through engulfed Dickinson, Texas.

A home in Dickinson, Texas, on Aug. 27 as seen from Brandon Parker’s rescue boat.

The crew on Brandon’s boat was all union. His longtime friend, Kenneth Yates, a member of Plumbers Local Union 68 in Houston, owned the Bay Stealth craft. Yates’ stepfather, Robert Young, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers, joined them on the expedition through engulfed Dickinson, Texas.

They launched the boat into deep water on Interstate 45. Bands of storm clouds pelted them with rain, paused, then resumed. The flood water was about six feet deep, not quite over the front door of most homes they passed. The current was strong, making it hard to maneuver the boat.

Kenneth Yates and Robert Young on Yates’ Bay Stealth boat in Dickinson, Texas, on Aug. 27 as they set out to rescue people.

At one point, Brandon saw – just two inches below the water’s surface – an iron fence topped by arrow-shaped finials. He quickly shoved the boat away with an oar, preventing the metal points from puncturing the hull and sinking the craft. They were lucky. They saw rescue boats that were flipped over and one wrapped around a light pole. Ultimately, though, both the hull and propeller of Kenneth Yates’ boat were damaged from striking unseen underwater objects.

They picked up nine people. One family came from a second-story deck. They climbed down the deck’s steps and got into the boat. Another group was on the second story of an apartment building and descended its exterior staircase to the boat.

This was before evacuation was ordered, and Brandon was frightened for the people who chose to remain in their homes. He said he urged everyone he saw to leave while they could but many refused. “Because all the professional resources were being used, it might be hours before they could be rescued in an emergency,” Brandon told me last week.

When it got dark, Brandon, Kenneth and Robert went home. They didn’t have lights on the boat, so it wasn’t safe to continue.

Brandon wasn’t done though. That night, a family in his neighborhood needed to get out of their house after water had risen four feet inside. It was a young boy, a friend of Brandon’s 11-year-old son, and the boy’s uncle. Brandon drove as close as he could to the house, then got a guy in a boat to go in and bring them out to where the car was.

Brandon’s neighborhood in League City, Texas, on Aug. 29.

That is how Brandon started rescuing people – with his car, which would end up with damage to the steering system, differentials and wheel bearings from driving in high water. He first put his car into service Saturday night, Aug. 26. He was headed home from his brother-in-law’s house where he’d watched boxer Floyd Mayweather defeat Conor McGregor. Rain was pouring down and lightning flashing. He saw people walking along the swamped road, drenched.

Some had lost their cars in the rising water. Some had parked, afraid to drive further. Brandon picked up about a dozen in his high-riding, 1990 Suburban and drove them to their homes, most to the neighborhood where his brother-in-law lived.

By Sunday, Aug. 27, the roof of Brandon’s house in League City, Texas, was leaking, and he and his wife and three children had taken in flooded out in-laws. Still, he told his wife that he wanted to go out and help people. “She wasn’t too happy, but she understood that I needed to do that,” Brandon recounted. “I have been in situations where people have helped me. Why wouldn’t I go and help other people?”

That morning, he drove to a neighborhood in hard-hit Dickinson, where nearly every house was flooded. He found hurricane refugees walking through deep water carrying plastic garbage bags of belongings over their heads. This is dangerous because people can step in the wrong place and suddenly slip under water. That’s because there were deep ditches on both sides of the road and floods push manhole covers off.

He piled people into his Suburban and drove them to a bar that was still on dry ground. Other volunteers ferried them to shelters from there.

The 1990 Suburban Brandon Parker used to rescue people.

On Monday, Aug. 28, Brandon drove his truck through high water to get to a donation center in Galveston. He picked up cases of water, food, toiletries and other supplies. He distributed them in his neighborhood because many elderly residents had refused to leave their homes. “I went door to door giving out water and food. A lot of people turned me down. They said they didn’t want to take what others needed.”

The supplies were crucial because even when people with high vehicles like Brandon could get out, they found stores closed and gas stations out of fuel. Brandon continued checking on his neighbors and handing out provisions through Wednesday, when water started receding and he had to go to work at the LyondellBasell refinery in Houston.

Like Brandon, Felicia Weir of Santa Fe, Texas, is a USW refinery worker with a high-riding truck. Even after her home flooded, she drove for hours on Wednesday, backing up constantly to circumvent flood-closed roads, to get baby formula and clothes for a couple who had been plucked from their rooftop with an infant granddaughter and two other young grand kids.

Felicia Weir of Santa Fe, Texas, with supplies to distribute from her union hall.

Marcos Velez, a USW staff member from Pasadena, Texas, drove his pickup truck through flood waters to rescue a refinery worker whose car was inundated by three feet of fast moving water in Baytown, Texas, as he tried to drive to his job before dawn. Then Velez turned around and, despite blinding rain, rescued another dozen people whose cars were bobbing in the fast-rising water in that same neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Texas AFL-CIO set up a charitable organization, the Texas Workers Relief Fund to aid working families, and local unions from across the country began donating. The National Nurses United Registered Nurse Response Network, an organization of volunteer unionized nurses, deployed its first unit to Houston on Thursday. Three Texas USW local unions handed out food and water to first responders and the public.

These efforts won’t stop when the rain does. This Labor Day, workers from across the country will be volunteering. They’ll be helping victims of Hurricane Harvey recover. And they’ll continue donating their services for months.

AFL-CIO Makes A $500 Million Dollar Investment To Help Communities Hit By Hurricane Harvey

AFL-CIO Announces $5 Million in Cash Aid and $500 Million in Long-Term Investment to Help Communities Devastated by Hurricane Harvey

(Houston, TX) – AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler traveled to Houston to announce a significant investment by the labor movement to support Hurricane Harvey’s victims and to help rebuild areas destroyed by the historic storm. Specifically, she committed to raising $5 million in cash aid, and to marshalling labor’s investment and member benefits programs.

“This catastrophe has taken valuable lives. It has destroyed homes, leaving working people with nothing, but it will not take away our solidarity, or our strength and determination to stand together and get back on our feet,” said Shuler in Houston, addressing affected residents. “We are all in this together. Electricians, nurses, teachers and construction workers are on the front lines risking their lives to save lives. Working people here in Texas are at our best when we look after each other.”

While in Houston, Shuler also donated $100,000 from the national AFL-CIO to the Texas AFL-CIO’s Texas Workers Relief Fund.

Shuler added that the labor movement has a long-term commitment to help rebuild Houston and support working people affected by the storm.

“The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust is putting together a program for investing $500 million over five years in affordable housing in the areas affected by Harvey,” she said. “We will be working together with the city of Houston, the Houston Housing Authority and community leaders to ensure these investments address both repair and new construction, in both owner-occupied housing and rental housing.”

A team from the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust will be traveling to the area next week to begin the planning work, Shuler said.

In addition, the AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust, a bank collective trust that provides risk-adjusted returns for union pension plans through investment in commercial real estate, and Ullico, a labor movement-affiliated financial service company, are working with the AFL-CIO on job-creating commercial real estate and infrastructure investment.

“Working people and our unions all across America are giving—our cash donations, our investment capital and our solidarity,” she concluded.

National Nurses United To The Rescue

RN Response Network Deploys Nurse Volunteers to Houston to Help Provide Medical Assistance Post-Hurricane Harvey

RNs to Provide Care as Well as Plan For Ongoing Nurse Deployments

National Nurses United (NNU)’s Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), a national network of volunteer nurses, will deploy its first delegation of RN volunteers to Houston, beginning Thursday, August 31, to work with locals on providing medical assistance in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, NNU announced today.

“As nurses, we felt immediately and strongly compelled to assist local communities in their process of healing and recovery from Hurricane Harvey,” said RN Response Network director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “This is just the beginning of our assistance, and RNRN will be working with local officials to send ongoing teams of volunteer nurses to areas impacted by the hurricane, in the months to come, given that the initial aftermath of a super storm like this is followed by continuing health challenges.

“RNRN has deployed volunteer nurses post-hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Typhoon Haiyan, as well as in other disaster relief and humanitarian assistance missions around the world, and we know from experience that long past the time when news cameras disappear, disaster-stricken communities still need care. Our nurses will be there to help.”

Registered nurse volunteers on the initial RNRN Hurricane Harvey relief deployment will be providing medical assistance at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, where around 9,000 people are seeking shelter from the storm. Over 1,000 registered nurses from 49 states and Puerto Rico have also answered RNRN’s call for Hurricane Harvey volunteers—and await possible future assignments.

“Being a nurse, you’ve sworn to care for people,” said RNRN volunteer Robert Enriquez, of El Paso Texas, a Cardio Vascular Intensive Care Unit RN, as well as an Emergency Medical Technician, paramedic and firefighter. “If people [impacted by the hurricane] need help, I feel like it’s my duty to help as much as I can.”

For Enriquez, the impact has even touched his own family, as a cousin in Houston “lost everything; everything is underwater.”

“One of the things I wanted to do with my license, when I got it about eight years ago, was to do volunteer work and to use my license to help people who really needed help,” said RN Erik Hoagland, an Intensive Care Unit nurse from Oakland, California, who will be deploying to Houston with RNRN. “I’m really proud to be part of National Nurses United.  It’s great that RNRN exists and that there’s an interest in taking care of the larger community.”

National Nurses United represents around 800 Texas registered nurses in communities hit by the storm. To that end, RNRN volunteers will also have the very personal experience of knowing that while they are deploying to provide assistance on the ground, they will be standing in solidarity with their local colleagues, who have been impacted both at work and at home.

“We nurses all just pulled together and got the job done,” said NNU member Valerie Gray, RN, a labor and delivery nurse from Houston who spent 97 hours at her hospital, in the aftermath of Harvey, working 12 hours then sleeping 12 hours. “I’m very proud of our team.”

“My mother lives in Port Aransas, and … everything is destroyed there. My mother’s house and my sister’s business are trashed,” said NNU member Kim Smith, RN, of Corpus Christie, who says local nurses are simply pulling together—despite struggles in their personal lives— to “do the most good for the most people you can; you’ve just got to go to work and keep going.”

Both local and RNRN volunteer nurses say they are concerned not just about immediate negative health impacts, as people face lack of food, shelter, water, power and basic sanitation, and lack of access to necessary medications—but also ongoing concerns ahead, with the potential for infectious diseases and injuries and illnesses in the cleanup effort.

“We understand that local people and first responders are still focused on the search and rescue process, and our nurses are going to be working in a way that will not add to the burden,” said Castillo. “We also understand that recovering will take time, and we want to assure local communities that our nurses will be here to help, today, tomorrow and in the months to come.”

“As the hurricane raged through Houston, my first thought was signing up to volunteer. I feel I have an ethical obligation to help any way I can in times of need,” said volunteer RN Amy Bowen, a flight nurse from Kansas City, Missouri, who will be adding the Houston deployment to her six previous deployments with RNRN.

“As a critical care registered nurse with prior disaster experience I understand the dire situation the people of Texas are facing, and I am compelled to offer any assistance that I can. With the support of National Nurses United, I know nurse volunteers make an impact.”


RNRN volunteer nurses have cared for thousands of patients during disaster relief and humanitarian assistance deployments that include the South Asian tsunami (2004); Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005); the Haiti earthquake (2010); Hurricane Sandy (2012); Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda (2013) and the Continuing Promise 2010 and 2015 humanitarian missions with the Department of Defense. RNRN volunteers have also provided first aid and basic response services to hundreds of community events across the country, as well as rotating teams who assisted the water protectors in Standing Rock in 2016. 

RNRN is powered by NNU, the largest organization of registered nurses in the U.S.

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