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True Colors

Think “solidarity,” that old union byword, is just an empty phrase these days?

Think again.

Better yet, talk to Tim Morris, executive director of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, and to Liles Taylor, Kentucky State AFL-CIO political coordinator.

They’ll clue you in about scores of union members from coast to coast who have donated about $300,000 to help their Kentucky union brothers and sisters who were among the victims of deadly tornadoes that ravaged western and south central Kentucky on the night of Dec. 10-11.

Scores of union members from coast to coast have donated about $300,000 to help their Kentucky union brothers and sisters who were among the victims of deadly tornadoes that ravaged western and south central Kentucky on the night of Dec. 10-11.

Morris and Taylor volunteered to head the Union Member Disaster Relief program. It's a four-way partnership between the GLCLC, the state AFL-CIO and the Kentucky and Metro United Way. The program provides money for paying bills and for food, clothing and shelter for union families in need.

The relief effort is personal for Morris and for Tim Sanders, a member of Louisville United Auto Workers Local 862. He's also labor liaison to Metro United Way.

Morris grew up in Ohio County. Sanders is a Hart County native.

One of the twisters struck Hartford, the Ohio county seat, as well as nearby Centertown and Olaton and. But the tornado missed Horse Branch, where Morris's mother, brother and sister-in-law live. That tornado or another one roared through Munfordville, the Hart County seat, and also damaged Hardyville, Canmer and Horse Cave, the latter near where Sanders grew up.

Morris turned 37 on Dec. 11. He knew nothing of the massive tornado system dubbed “the Beast” until he saw shocking news reports on TV at home in Louisville. The tornadoes killed 80 Kentuckians and left a 165.7-mile long trail of destruction in their wake. 

Fearful for his family, Morris frantically tried to phone his mother but couldn’t get through. She called him about 2 a.m., Louisville time.

She had good news: all the family had survived unhurt, and their homes were undamaged. “Waking up on my birthday knowing that everybody was alive and okay was the best birthday present that I could ever have,” Morris said.

Sanders still has aunts and uncles in Hart County. "Luckily, none of them were hurt," he said. "But the tornado took out some barns within a couple of hundred yards of where they live."

Sanders is quick to praise the nationwide response disaster relief program. "It's incredible that labor unions are sacrificing and making commitments to help people they don't even know."

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He explained, "We are processing everything through the United Way of Kentucky, which encompasses the entire state. They are in our office."

Sanders said his role "is bringing people together. For example, I am also a UAW member. We have a local (2164) there in Bowling Green at the Corvette plant."

Parts of Bowling Green also sustained severe tornado damage. So Sanders reached out to Kelsey Bragg with Local 2164. "She's going to be an advocate for us by going out and seeking families and letting people know that to utilize these funds, they need to apply for them."

Said Taylor, who lives in Midway, which the tornadoes spared: “It is extremely rewarding to help our union brothers and sisters and their families in their time of need. It’s been amazing to see the resiliency of those impacted and the selflessness they express. Often when we tell them that the funds are available to them, they tell us to give the money to someone else in greater need.” 

Besides dispatching financial and other aid, Morris and Taylor supply important information, such as how to get help from federal and state agencies and where to find housing, food, clothing and other supplies. 

Union members harmed by the tornadoes can apply for Union Member Disaster Relief assistance by filling out an online form that’s on the state AFL-CIO website. Clicking on “DISASTER” will take them to the form: https://ky.aflcio.org/disaster

The form also has a link for donations. Checks with "Union Disaster Relief" in the memo line may be mailed to United Way of Kentucky, P.O. Box 4653, Louisville, KY 40204-0653.

Morris said it may take from two to five years for the devastated areas to rebuild and recover fully. “But we are going to keep on assisting folks until our funds run out.”

The fund got a big boost last month when the UAW chipped in $134,000 to the United Way of Kentucky. "We are our brothers' keepers. We are our sisters' keepers," Louisville WDRBTV quoted Mark Dowell, a member of UAW Local 862 and UAW Region 8 Southeastern CAP representative and Retired Workers CAP representative. "When one of us hurts, we need to jump in and help each other...we love each other just like brothers and sisters in our own family. So if somebody...needs help, we're going to be there for them. So that's what makes me a proud union member today, and I will die a proud union member."

Jeff Wiggins, state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, and Jerald Adkins, president of Working Strategies LLC, are two of many others who are helping with the program.

Wiggins, from Reidland, a Paducah suburb, said the Union Member Disaster Relief effort is more proof that “union people have good hearts. They give until they can’t give any more. They volunteer their time, their services, their expertise. Labor steps up to the plate to help communities.”

He and Adkins, from Frankfort, have traveled throughout western Kentucky helping distribute aid and videoing the destruction. "Upon awakening on Dec. 11 and seeing news clip after news clip of the devastating tornado damage in western Kentucky the night before, I knew immediately that I needed to do something to help all of the union members who had lost cars, houses and even family members."

He said Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan phoned him on Dec. 13. "He said that they needed immediate help in western Kentucky to determine the needs of all the union members who were impacted by the storm and that they were going to partner with the United Way of Kentucky to raise funds for those members impacted."

Adkins soon made the first of many trips to western Kentucky to survey the destruction. "I also visited union members while they were in the process of trying to dig through and salvage sentimental items. I knew that even though we couldn't bring back their houses, every penny raised through the program would be instrumental in helping those folks with immediate relief in paying their mortgage or rent, paying their utility bills, putting food on the table and buying essentials for everyday living."

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"It was amazing to see how quickly the fund grew and it made my heart feel good knowing that 100 percent of this fund was going to union brothers and sisters and their families who were in desperate need."

Berry Craig