As I rushed through a cold drizzle to get to the Union Sportsman's Alliance (USA) dinner in Columbus, I was stopped by a huge line snaking around the building outside. Assuming it was the ticket line, I waited, and got wet, only to find out that the line was not the ticket line but was to get pictures taken with Daniel Lee Martin and Julie McQueen, hosts and stars of the award winning union sportsmen/women TV show 'Brotherhood Outdoors.'
The Pipefitter's Hall was packed, over 500 folks filing in for what was the eighth in a series of Union Sportsmen's Alliance public events. The USA now has over six million members, making it "larger than the NRA and next two largest sportsmen's organizations combined," according to USA National Director Fred Myers. Local media were present, along with a contingent from 'Field & Stream' magazine. The Ohio AFL-CIO had just agreed to become a sponsor of USA, www.unionsportsmen.org at its recent state convention.
'Brotherhood Outdoors' appears on the Sportsman TV Channel in the Sunday morning slot, featuring union guests, who're taken on "unique outdoors hunting, fishing stories" by the hosts, and can be contacted at www.BrotherhoodOutdoors.org Applications to take a "dream outdoors trip" with the hosts can be accessed there, as well.
"The show was voted the #1 outdoors program by the viewers, out of over 260 programs on the 'Outdoors Network, and we are the only 100 percent union program on the network," Julie said. "It's not just about who gets the biggest fish or biggest deer, but it's about our families, our communities, and how we're all brought together by our ties to the outdoors."
Dave Caldwell, President of the local AFL-CIO labor federation said that the endorsement is actually tardy.
"I guess I'm kind of a 'redneck!' I joined the NRA as soon as I was 18 and thought it was a good group, that is, up until it started attacking Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Oh) and other folks that stood up for us. I dumped them then and have been looking for this ever since!"
"This is the biggest and most enthusiastic event we've had yet," said Paul Lemmon, who is working on assignment with the USA from the United Mineworker's Union (UMW). "Actually, every one is getting bigger and more enthusiastic."
"This is the best thing I've seen the labor movement do," he stated. "Over 65 percent of our members participate in outdoors activities, whether hunting, fishing, hiking or whatever, and this program finally gives us a chance to talk with them where they live, not just preach at them."
The "signature program" of the USA is its "Boots on the Ground Program," which connects union members who are passionate about the outdoors with conservation projects that they're willing to volunteer their time and talents to help with.
"There are over 6,600 state parks in the United States," stated USA Executive Director Fred Myers, "and congress allocates a grand total of $40 million annually to the upkeep and preservation of all of them. We are partnering with the National Association of State Park Directors, setting up projects around the country to provide volunteer union labor for conservation and parks projects. These projects enhance public access to parks, the outdoors, and are helping preserve our precious national resources for generations to come. It is an enthusiastic partnership and the only thing we've insisted on is that the unions helping out get credit for their work."
"It is here, in the public parks, that our members and working families have the ability to participate in the outdoors, not private parks that the wealthy own," Fred went on to say. "Over 750,000,000 Americans visit these parks every year and there is a $14 Billion backlog on needed maintenance projects for them. They have the materials in most cases, but need the labor that we can provide to help save these irreplaceable national treasures."
Fred Davis, a steelworker at AK Steel in Mansfield and member of USW. Local 169, highlighted a nearly completed project they've been working on near that city.
"We've raised over $80,000 of the $136,000 we need to finish the Richland County Wetlands Science Project. We have 298 acres that we've built viewing boardwalks for. A center, that Ashland College is utilizing, is being finished so that kids can come, free of charge. It started as an idea over a dozen years ago, but now, with USA and union volunteers, it's a reality!"
George McAlvin and Ken Kadela, union Bricklayers from Lawrence County in southern Ohio, highlighted another project, centering on special needs children, mainly from the inner city. They raised over $30,000 to set up a youth fishing derby and a local deer hunt for 32 special needs kids.
"It really is about the kids, not about who got the biggest fish," Ken said. "Many of these young folks have never even seen the woods. To see their eyes light up, to see them be able to participate in something beautiful that so many of us just take for granted is just beyond words."
"If we don't step up and help out," George added, "who will? Certainly not the politicians! Leave it to them and we won't even have public parks anymore!"
Joan Fluharty, United Way rep for the Columbus AFL-CIO, was impressed.
"This program is just wonderful! We need to look at how we can partner with our friends to set up programs here. I'm really excited for this!"
Pat Marida, Chair of the Ohio Sierra Club's Nuclear Affairs Committee, agreed.
"I didn't know this even existed, and it is a tremendous program. The time is long past when we could allow corporations to divide working people and the environmental movement just so they can make millions. They destroy both jobs and the environment to hurt us all. This is a program that can help bring us all together."
Jeanette Mauk, AFL-CIO rep and new Director of the program in central Ohio, closed out the packed event, announcing, to loud cheers, that this would be "the first annual USA event in Columbus!"