Labor Lives United

Published Aug. 29, 2016: Whether its by giving, advocating, volunteering or a combination of the three, union members power United Way. Members of CWA Local 4009 proved that this summer by volunteering at two Meet Up and Eat Up block parties.

Photos by Bruce Unwin. Video by Charles Ashley. Story by Dave Phillips.

To many, Labor Day means an extra day off in September. But union members know that without organized labor, workers might never get a day off.

"Without unions, we'd be back in the 1800s, so to speak," said Tina Culver, President of CWA Local 4009.

Tina and other AT&T employees who are CWA Local 4009 members shared their thoughts on unions and Labor Day this summer while volunteering with United Way for Southeastern Michigan at a Meet Up and Eat Up block party.

"The unions are the backbone of the middle class," Tina said, adding that unions are responsible for weekends off and the 40-hour workweek.

"The union is a family."

Tina grew up in a union household.

"We were brought up to help each other, to help our neighbors, to help the community, to give back. The more you give, the better off everybody is, and that's what's going to make our whole country a better place — helping one another."

"The union is a family."

Many unions are strong supporters of United Way, giving, advocating and volunteering to make a difference in Greater Detroit.

Meet Up and Eat Up sites are available to kids 18 and younger.

A strong partnership

"United Way has been in partnership with organized labor for more than 70 years and it's a strong partnership," said Erkeisha Terry, Director of Labor Participation at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

"We both want to make sure kids are being educated, we want to make sure that families are financially stable, and we also want to make sure there's a safety net, that folks are getting their basic needs met. So it's a perfect intersection with what we want for our communities."

United Way's work in the community would be impossible without union support.

"It's really fantastic that many of these folks are passionate about volunteering," Erkeisha said. "They're passionate about donating and they're really passionate about advocating, not just on behalf of their own workers but advocating on behalf of their communities."

"United Way has been in partnership with organized labor for 70 years and it's a strong partnership."

A fun time was had by all at Meet Up and Eat Up this summer, and labor volunteers helped make it happen.

The importance of Labor Day

Terrence Shell's family has a long labor history. A Chief Steward of the CWA Local 4009, he's following in the union footsteps of his father and grandfather.

"I would never go against the union," he said.

"Ever."

It's that history that makes Labor Day such a special holiday for Terrence and his family.

"Labor Day is a time where families can come together and we can actually talk about things that we went through over the past year," Terrence said. "It's also a time to go out into another community and give back."

Terrence has been giving to United Way for a decade.

"Every check, there's something going to United Way, and that really makes me feel good to be able to do that," he said.

He volunteered at two block parties this summer.

"You could just tell that there were families that were there that actually were very thankful for the things that we were doing," he said.

Members of CWA Local 4009 sort food during a Meet Up and Eat Up block party.

Thank you

Labor Day is the perfect occasion to thank union members for all they do, Erkeisha said.

"Thanks to union donors, we are making sure that kids are eating on a daily basis. Through our Meet Up and Eat Up program, we've served millions of meals each summer to kids in need. And that's just one way our union family makes a difference with United Way."

Labor partners also help ensure the underserved have access to basic needs and other resources, that children are ready to start school and that high school graduates are ready for college and a career.

"It's all about helping people."

"When people look at where their dollars are going, their dollars are stretching really far here in southeastern Michigan," Erkeisha said. "Union members have been vital to our work since our partnership formed more than 70 years ago. When groups like organized labor come together, we really see the impact of their work in our communities."

When labor teams up with United Way, everyone wins. 

"These Meet Up and Eat Up block parties have been fantastic," Tina said.

"To see the kids' faces just makes you feel so good, and you just want to continue to do that, to work with United Way on this. It feels fantastic.

"It's all about helping people."