AFL-CIO, several unions send volunteers to Puerto Rico
Chicago-based United Airlines and major unions are bringing a planeload of supplies to Puerto Rico as President Trump is being criticized for his administration's slow aid response. | AP

NEWARK, N.J. — Some 275 volunteers – pilots, mechanics, flight attendants and other workers – took off from Newark International Airport on October 4 on a union-sponsored relief mission to hurricane-smashed Puerto Rico, the AFL-CIO announced. Some 50 unionized registered nurses, members of National Nurses United, flew in from San Francisco the day before to join the mission.

The unionists headed for the island commonwealth, whose 3.4 million residents lack power, food, drinkable water and other resources, two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit.

The 50 nurses, part of NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network, left San Francisco International Airport on a flight to San Juan via Newark at midday on October 3. The network sends nurse volunteers to disaster areas worldwide for two-week stints.

The unions are stepping in to provide aid even as the Republican Trump administration is catching flak, particularly from the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, for its slow aid response to Puerto Ricans’ distress. Trump, in turn, is waging a war of tweets against her.

That’s in contrast to Trump’s rush to aid victims of hurricanes that hit Florida and the Houston-Galveston area. Puerto Ricans, like the Texans and Floridians, are U.S. citizens—a point opinion polls show half of mainland U.S. respondents don’t realize.

AFL-CIO spokesman Gonzalo Salvador said the idea for the multi-union aid mission, which will include members of the Machinists, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Air Line Pilots, and other unions, was a joint effort of unions and unionized Chicago-based United Airlines.

“They were ready to fly a whole planeload of supplies,” he said. The unions eagerly offered to send the people, all volunteers. “They’re taking leave days. They’re going because they want to,” said Salvador. The plane, a union-built Boeing 777, will “bring food, water and essential supplies to those who need it most,” the fed said.

Both NNU and the AFL-CIO are coordinating their relief efforts with the Puerto Rican Labor Federation and with Mayor Yulin Cruz’s office.

“In Puerto Rico, the RNs will focus on immediate medical needs in local hospitals, nursing homes, and other sites based on immediate need for island residents who have endured unprecedented devastation as a result of the super storm. They will be filling needs identified by the San Juan mayor’s office as well as other local officials,” NNU said.

“Press reports indicated that in addition to the general poor conditions, hospitals have been overwhelmed struggling to meet medical needs, clinics and doctor’s offices failed to re-open, patients with chronic illnesses have not had access to needed medications, and concerns are emerging about the potential of cholera and other epidemics,” the union added.

Updated by the author, Oct. 4, 4:45 p.m.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.