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Celebrating 80 Years of Partnership Between United Way and AFL-CIO

“We all benefit from the labor movement and the union members that stay on the front line through our toughest times – the pandemic, the economic crisis, severe storms, and other emergencies.”

Union members are essential workers on the frontlines and continue to be critical partners in United Way’s mission to be a force of economic justice, improving the lives of those in our community, particularly the most vulnerable. Union members represent skilled workers from across all industries, including both the public and private sectors, with the powerful ability to bring together community, government, and businesses to create and promote access to good jobs.

United Way and the AFL-CIO are celebrating 80 years of partnership this year, and we marked the occasion on May 18 at the Mass. AFL-CIO Senior Leadership Conference in Falmouth. President and CEO Bob Giannino spoke about the significant community contributions of Labor liaisons at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and our work with partner unions to make lasting, positive change in our region. The conference gathered 85 presidents and vice presidents from organizations across Massachusetts, including Steven A. Tolman, President of Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

The labor movement’s longstanding partnership with United Way began right after World War II, as an innovative way to rebuild our nation. United Way (then known as Community Chests and Councils) and labor’s umbrella organizations (the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations) worked together to create a mechanism for payroll deduction for workplace campaigns, resulting in labor representation on United Way boards. This evolved into collaborative fundraising and community development. Since then, unions have been strong partners, encouraging members to give and volunteer.

United Way’s labor liaisons are key to our community relations work, and they have truly stepped up and demonstrated their commitment to the people of our region throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The Labor team has held 38 food drives in dozens of communities throughout our region since 2020, resulting in the collection and distribution of over 195,000 pounds of food and five pallets of diapers to nonprofits across our area.

Last fall, our Labor colleagues were significant contributors to the success of our largest Thanksgiving Project ever, providing Thanksgiving meal essentials to 18,000 families and more than 70,000 residents of Eastern Mass. Nationally, just last week United Way Worldwide and the National Association of Letter Carriers held the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, which has collected and distributed nearly 1.4 billion pounds of food nationwide.

United Way established targeted city relief funds, in partnership with municipal leaders in over a dozen communities particularly hard-hit by the crisis, such as Chelsea, Everett, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lynn, Randolph, and Revere. Labor partners made critical connections with municipal and state leaders to help establish and promote these local funds, as well as United Way’s overall Covid-19 relief efforts. The city funds provided emergency financial assistance to over 400,000 households during the crisis.  We also partnered with UNITE HERE Local 26 to establish the Hospitality Workers Covid-19 Emergency Fund, which provided grocery gift cards to more than 2,100 workers at a critical time during the pandemic, when 90% of hotel workers were unemployed.

Labor partners were critical in ensuring workers and communities were aware of Mass211, United Way’s statewide, 24/7 health and human services hotline. Mass211 fielded more than 1 million calls for assistance over the past two years, providing information on mental health services as well as organizations residents could contact for assistance with essential needs like rent, utilities, childcare and food.

Our union members are natural community builders who aim to have fun while doing good. We’re grateful to benefit from that powerful combination, and this September, we’re excited to partner with local labor unions to host a Cornhole Tournament at IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester to benefit the 2022 Thanksgiving Project.

As we continue to rebuild our communities and stare down continued economic crisis, we look forward to continuing to partner with our friends in Labor.