Local 12 Scrambles To Locate Storm-Battered Members In Crisis
November 5, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
Continuing power outages and a dearth of gasoline is hampering Local 12’s efforts to help its 500 members residing in Hurricane Sandy-ravaged areas stretching from New Jersey to Westchester this week.
The Heat and Frost Insulators have pooled their resources and are attempting to aid their members any way they can – from providing needed food stuffs, to extending clean up crews to clear flood debris and remove downed trees. But the leadership, coordinating relief efforts from the union hall located at 25-19 43rd Avenue in Long Island City, isn’t even sure where help is most urgently needed – and that has left them very concerned.
“We haven’t had a lot of contact,” Aracich told LaborPreess. “A lot of them don’t have cell phones, and we have limited service because switching stations are electrically powered.”
As an alternative, Local 12 officers have been reaching out to contractors to see if their people have reported for work.
“If they reported for work, then it’s easier to get a hold of them,” Aracich said. “There are some guys that will go to work even though they are without power and without heat. They’ll still go to work because there’s nothing they can do at home, and the kids have to go back to school.”
Many at the Local 12 union hall who escaped Sandy’s worst flooding, nevertheless fear that those they’ve yet to locate, have lost everything.
“Water came in and went out – and took everything with it,” Aracich said.
Fortunately, Local 12’s LIC union hall was not flooded during last week’s monster storm. It is now being used as a storage site for donated dry goods, and union officers have been assigned different geographic regions in an effort to help better coordinate relief drives.
The HQ’s central location will be advantageous in dispatching aid to wherever Local 12 members reside. All the union needs now, are cell phones that work well enough to communicate with members, and readily available gasoline to reach them – both of which remain problematic a week after the tri-state area’s worst-ever environmental disaster struck.
For the most part, Sandy pounded people, including Local 12 members, living in well-defined low-lying areas, but that’s still hundreds of miles to try and cover without stranding rescue vehicles that won’t have enough gasoline left in the tank to make it back to LIC.
“Essentially, it would be a one-way trip,” Aracich said.
Prior to the hurricane, Local 12 he never anticipated being thrust into the kind of relief effort that Sandy now demands.
“No, not at all,” Aracich said. “Generally, the international takes care of this stuff. But because of the size of this disaster they asked me to go ahead and do the same.”
Eventually, the need for post-Sandy remediation, replacing ventilation and the like, will mean good-paying jobs for Local 12’s heat and frost insulators. But the severity of Sandy also recalls the devastation of Katrina seven years ago.
“We don’t want to face the same calamity,” Aracich said. “Katrina got no response. It’s a shame that they didn’t rebuild the city immediately. It took years and years and it’s still not completely the way it was.”
Both the International and its local affiliate are now devoting resources from their respective disaster relief funds to try and get stricken members back on track – wherever they may be.
“We will continue to have members helping members,” Aracich said. “If a tree falls in your yard, it’s going to stay there for a couple of days until we make sure everybody else is stable, which means they have electricity and heat in their homes, and enough food. After that, over a couple of weekends, we’ll get everybody together to cut up fallen trees and generally help clean up.”
Local 12 is anticipating big changes with pending new legislation that would immediately increase the demand for the kind of heavy mechanical insulation its members handle. A modern LIC HQ is on the drawing boards, as well, but room is already being made for disaster preparedness.
“We have to make sure that we can go ahead and fend for ourselves,” Avacich said. “And what we should do is be prepared. So, if we get a new building, let’s say we allocate a space for dry goods: powered milk, soup, Coleman stoves and lanterns that run on battery power. Even if you spend $500 on batteries and you don’t use them, that $500 was still used for preparedness. Because if you don’t have them when you need them, you’ll wish that you had $2,000 to spend on those same batteries.”