Labor Responds to the WTC Tragedy With Action on Many Fronts

Volume CI, No. 11November, 2001

Heather Beaudoin

As the world reeled in shock at the World Trade Center disaster, the labor movement moved quickly to create resources to assist victims, families of victims, and anyone indirectly affected by this tragedy, emotionally or economically.


The New York State AFL-CIO and New York City Central Labor Council immediately established a Labor Support Center which, in the first week, helped thousands of people by providing concrete information, counseling and job placement.

Within 48 hours, unions across New York City received packets of information to provide to their members. Information was provided on Red Cross services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), crime victims’ compensation, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, emergency travel assistance, protection from creditors, low-interest loans and disaster relief Medicaid/Family Health Plus. (The packets are available at the 802 office.) The Labor Support Center also provided individual counseling for anyone affected by these devastating attacks. If you need information on any of these services, or would like to volunteer, please call 1-800-506-0036.


It was clear to the labor movement that a lot of people would be out of work because of the attacks. An estimated 108,500 jobs have been lost in the city within one month of Sept. 11. The estimated wages and compensation lost is $6.7 billion, and the estimated total output lost is $16.9 billion. The top four industries that lost jobs are securities, retail trade, restaurants and theatrical producers.

Labor’s immediate response to this aspect of the crisis was creation of the Emergency Employment Clearinghouse Program. Organized by the NYC CLC in coordination with the Consortium for Worker Education and the New York City Partnership, it is designed to create temporary jobs for displaced workers. It has been reaching out to employers across the city, with the goal of creating 10,000 transitional jobs.

The Emergency Employment Clearinghouse continues to field thousands of calls each day. As of Oct. 3, nearly 4,000 jobs had been listed or pledged, approximately 7,400 dislocated workers had contacted the clearinghouse, and more than 1,200 workers had been sent out on interviews.

The Consortium for Worker Education also provides job training and career counseling. If you are in need of any of these services please call (212) 558-2261.


The CLC established a Disaster Relief Fund, which has been receiving contributions from across the country from international and local unions, and many individuals. (Contributions to the fund may be sent to the NYC CLC office at 386 Park Avenue South, Sixth floor, NYC 10016.)

As a gesture of solidarity with New Yorkers affected by the World Trade Center disaster, Farm Aid and Patchwork Family Farms, a Missouri farmers’ marketing cooperative, donated 5,000 pounds of meat products to the labor movement’s relief effort on Oct. 2. Roger Allison, a farmer and leader of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, and Farm Aid Director Carolyn Mugar presented the donation to Ted Jacobsen, Secretary-Treasurer of the NYC Central Labor Council.


Leaders of the state and city labor federations have been meeting with legislators to discuss issues such as workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. They are calling for 100 percent COBRA coverage for workers left unemployed by the WTC disaster, and pressing for measures that will stimulate the local economy.

The AFL-CIO is campaigning for legislation to aid the more than 140,000 aviation workers who are losing their jobs in the wake of Sept. 11 – pilots, flight attendants, cleaners, security guards, baggage handlers, caterers, mechanics and their families. They face not only lost income, but also lost pensions and health care. Congress quickly voted $15 billion for an airline company bailout – but nothing for aviation workers. Senate Bill 1454, authored by Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.), and similar measures in the House, would extend unemployment benefits, offers job retraining and provides medical benefits for aviation industry workers.


The NYC Central Labor Council has focused on helping undocumented workers and immigrant communities throughout the crisis, making sure that every person in every community will have access to equal services. Speaking at an interfaith service on Sept. 24, CLC President Brian McLaughlin said the labor movement must “call upon the people of this city and its workers not to forget the importance of tolerance and understanding.” He said, “Those who resort to violence and acts of bigotry against…people of Muslim faith or Arab descent betray the essential core of what it means to be American.”


Countless lives were lost and thousands of union members put their own lives at risk, as they rushed to the aid of those injured and killed. No words can describe the heroism displayed by fire fighters, police officers and emergency medical service workers. Thousands of construction workers rushed to the site, eager to use their skills to prevent further loss of life. Many 802 members quickly volunteered to play at hospitals, memorial services and volunteer centers, in efforts to help heal the suffering with music (see article on next page).

On a personal level, Sept. 11 was a day of agony for me, as I tried to find my twin sister, who had a 9 a.m. meeting scheduled on the 86th floor of Tower One. It wasn’t until sometime that afternoon that I heard from her, and learned she had decided to cancel her meeting and had walked out of the building just as the first plane hit. The strength and solidarity the labor movement has shown at this time of tragedy has been a source of comfort to me, and I feel pride in the leadership it has taken throughout this crisis.