Hurricane Relief Efforts: Agents Report from Texas and Puerto Rico

We all witnessed the tragic devastation of three massive hurricanes over the past two months as they hit Texas and the Gulf Coast, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Our brothers and sisters in those areas are still suffering the brutal effects of winds and floods, and will continue to feel those effects for months. CWA President Chris Shelton has urged members and locals to contribute to both the Hurricane Harvey Solidarity Fund and the District 3 Disaster Relief Fund for victims of Irma and Maria. Both efforts are still funneling money directly to our members in affected areas.

We’ve seen an outpouring of help in the form of money, goods, and volunteers, including more than 300 union volunteers organized by airline unions, the AFL-CIO, and United Airlines, who assisted with relief in Puerto Rico. Please read the stories our members shared below, and continue to support the District 6 and District 3 relief efforts in any way you can.

AA Houston Harvey Relief

American Agents stand united for relief and recovery in Houston.

 

"More Love Than Water" in Houston

Gina Lenahan, a 26-year American Airlines veteran based in Houston, didn’t come from a union family. “I was never a union person. Now I want to volunteer to be on board for anything the union needs.” Gina, a Premium Customer Service representative, recently went through steward training, and as a result says she feels more connected to her fellow workers than ever before, especially after the warmth and messages of solidarity that poured into Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

Houston Harvey ReliefGina saw the devastation first hand, and she also saw incredible generosity and sacrifice across the board, from American Airlines management to every airport employee. “A lot of workers spent days or weeks in a hotel near the airport because of the flooding and power outages,” says Gina. “Some people had kids who were stuck on the other side of town, with no electricity, so their parents had to just get on the phone and try to tell them how to survive until they could get there. I’m lucky. I live just 10 minutes from the airport, and we had a generator. But so many people lost everything, including one of our agents whose house flooded in five minutes.”

Soon after Harvey blew out of town, supplies arrived at HOU on 757s sent from Dallas, and Gina couldn’t believe her eyes. “We cried. It was unbelievable. We got formula for the babies, diapers, water, food, and clothing. When we were unloading those planes, everybody was finally smiling and in a good mood. One of our coworkers said, ‘We have more love than water now,’ and that’s true. Strangers just pitched in when they knew we needed help. I went online to order some new uniforms for some of our ladies who had lost theirs in the floods, and somehow, without anyone asking them to, the Sales and Marketing group from AA paid the bill. It’s just incredible how everyone from CWA and American worked behind the scenes to help us get through this. I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Things are still rough for most people in Houston, including many airline employees, as they try to rebuild, but they’re surviving one day at a time.

And what about Gina’s friend who lost everything in five minutes? “She’s still in a hotel with her husband and brother, who is handicapped, and FEMA is helping them. And now she’s out there rescuing animals who lost their homes in the flood.” Gina smiled and added, “See, we really do have more love than water here.”

Searching for Hope in Puerto Rico

CWA Local 3140 and TWU Local 501, which represents the ramp workers at San Juan airport, are fighting for their lives. Georgina Felix and Heyda Delgado from 3140 are working hand-in-hand with TWU leaders to coordinate the movement of essential supplies from Miami to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The schedule of flights in and out of San Juan is limited, but the Locals have been working with doctors to make sure medical supplies and other essentials are getting through. As of mid-October, Jorge Rodriguez, Staff Representative from District 3, is sending funds to CWA members in Puerto Rico—both AT&T Mobility and airline agents.

All Departments Working Together at SJU

All departments at SJU worked together to make sure food, water, and other supplies got distributed to those in need.

“While the SJU agents are working hard to keep the supplies coming in and keep the airport open, they aren’t able to wait in line for life-saving essentials for their families, like water and gasoline for generators,” Georgina explains. “So CWA and TWU are getting food and water and money for them to help them survive. American Airlines is going to match all the money we’re raising at a big event in Miami, which we really appreciate.”

Georgina reports that in the second week of October, a crew of TWU and CWA workers found the last American Airlines agent who was missing in Puerto Rico. “She was taking care of her mother, who is blind and deaf and lives a couple of hours outside San Juan. It was amazing when they found her. The workers gave her a generator and then pulled money out of their pockets so she could stay there with her mother. She just can’t go back to work yet.”

We asked Georgina to talk about how the hurricane has affected her and those who’ve been trying to rescue people and start to rebuild. “What you don’t see on tv,” she says, “is that the farm country is completely destroyed. A lot of people have no money and no homes left, but in other circumstances they would have been okay because they had gardens and cattle and water tanks. But now all of it is gone. There’s really nothing, not even the plantains. They don’t know what to do. My friend Heyda went out into the countryside and saw the horror of how it really looks—things no one sees on tv, and she came back crying and devastated. She needed to talk to a counselor to deal with it, and that’s what so many people need now—they’re being hit with depression and need crisis counselors to keep going.”

A few days after we first spoke with Georgina, she and Heyda and a crew of about a dozen people from CWA and TWU flew from Miami to Puerto Rico to feed the homeless in the streets of San Juan. A restaurant donated its kitchen, and the union team cooked more than 200 hot meals—the first hot food many people had eaten in weeks—and distributed them.

CWA and TWU volunteers at the donated kitchen

Ready to distribute meals in Puerto Rico, L to R: Elmo Rodriguez (Veterans Affairs), Hector Pagan (TWU 501 SJU), Heyda Delgado (CWA 3140 SJU/FLA Area Rep), Jose o Marrero (TWU 501 SJU Steward), Georgina Feliz (CWA 3140 VP), Manuel Nater (TWU 501 SJU Section Chair), Jose Alvarez (TWU 501 SJU)

 

“It was so rewarding,” says Georgina. “I felt humbled when I saw that we had given them a little hope by giving them food.” Heyda says that she too has hope now. “I think it’s going to get better. We saw people who were so tired, but they were grateful, and happy to have food and water for their kids. We definitely will be going back again.”