New York City Union Workers Respond to Hurricane Sandy: Preparing, Protecting and Rebuilding

Today, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law anti-union "Right-to-Work" legislation, despite protests of thousands of residents who stood in opposition. With this coming on the heels of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's effort last year to curb collective bargaining for public employees, it has been a tumultuous time for organized labor. In New York City, however, where we have faced a different kind of challenge in Hurricane Sandy, we must recognize that without the dedicated service of union workers the effects of the hurricane would have been immeasurable.

The effects of Hurricane Sandy continue to be felt, but as we begin to return to our routines, take a moment to reflect on those who made this recovery possible. Our city's workers, represented by hundreds of labor unions, worked tirelessly to restore services and care for those affected. Many remained at work even as Sandy approached. Despite being victims themselves, many have worked as many as 80 hours, six or seven days a week, rebuilding what this disaster damaged and destroyed.

Our workers, who do so much, too often receive little recognition for their efforts, as much of their work is done out of sight. Maintenance workers, cleaners, transit workers, healthcare workers, grocers -- all have been affected by the hurricane in unseen ways, and have contributed significantly to the recovery. Join us in showing our appreciation, ask yourself these questions:

Were you able to take the subway home Sunday evening before the hurricane?

Thank the MTA employees, members of Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), who stayed late to keep the trains running until 7 p.m. and the buses until 10 p.m., instead of returning home to their families. These same workers labored tirelessly to restore services.

The worst catastrophe to strike the NYC subway in its 108 years of operation had lines running within a few days and the majority of trains resumed within two weeks, a repair effort recognized as 'bordering on magic' (Flegenheimer). Thousands of overtime hours on the part of transit workers were required for this achievement.

Were you able to get last minute supplies at your local grocery or corner store?

Thank the members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), who stayed late and kept the shelves stocked.

UFCW Local 1,500 employees at stores like Fairway and Key Foods remained at work providing essentials to New York City residents rather than returning immediately home as the hurricane approached. These workers and others maintained supply lines even in Lower Manhattan, where road closures and flooding made transportation nearly impossible.

Was your home or office repaired and reopened quickly?

Thank our doormen, maintenance workers, and superintendents, many of whom belong to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ. Also, thank our school maintenance workers who helped create and maintain shelters for those displaced by the hurricane.

Hundreds of building workers stayed with residents during the hurricane instead of returning to their own families. Their efforts were invaluable in repairing and cleaning these buildings after Sandy. One 32BJ member, building manager John Coyne, remained on site after residents were evacuated, caring for their property and their pets (Barron).

Did you have electricity throughout the storm, or was electricity quickly restored?

Thank Con Edison's workers, members of Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Locals 1-2, and members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Though outages persist, IBEW and UWUA employees have worked 12+ hour shifts, often six or more days a week, repairing infrastructure. UWUA members who have lost their homes and even family members continue to work to return power to our businesses and homes.

Was your home or business kept safe while you were away, or did you receive help from one of the countless officers and firefighters who remain stationed in affected areas?

Thank the police officers of the NYPD, represented by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, as well as your local firefighters, represented by the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) 94.

145 Firefighters in Queens subdued a three-alarm fire in residential neighborhoods spread by the hurricane winds (Dolnick and Kilgannon), and the efforts of thousands of New York's police officers protected people and property, preventing the predicted increase in crime following the disaster.

Do you know anyone displaced by the storm and given shelter in a New York hotel?

Thank our hotel workers who care for them, many of who belong to the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council (NYHTC).

34,000 residents of New York and New Jersey received emergency shelter in hotels (Maxwell). Thousands of NYHTC workers, who represent 75 percent of the hotel sector in NYC, cared for them during their stay.

Did you or someone you know receive medical attention during the hurricane?

Voice your appreciation for the nurses, doctors, and other healthcare staff, members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the SEIU Doctors Council, and SEIU 1199, who cared for patients throughout Hurricane Sandy.

As flood waters washed over the streets, hundreds of medical staff, nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers evacuated 1,200 patients from Manhattan's NYU Langone Medical Center, Bellevue, and VA hospitals, as well as Coney Island Hospital (Evans). These are only a few of the contributions from our healthcare workers during this emergency.

Listed here are only a handful of examples of New York City's workers demonstrating their commitment to this City and it's residents. While electrical workers, roofers, plumbers, bricklayers, water utility workers, and many others work to rebuild our streets and structures, teachers, healthcare workers, transit workers, and sanitation workers strive to return services.

Though their efforts are not always seen, in times of emergency, our City depends on our workers' courage, strength and dedication.

Recognize these efforts. Thank our workers.


Barron, James. "Defier of Police and Storm, Tender of Residents' Cats and Fish." City Room Blog(November 13, 2012). The New York Times Online. Accessed November 14, 2012.

Dolnick, Sam and Corey Kilgannon. "Wind-Driven Flames Reduce Scores of Homes to Embers in Queens Enclave." New York Times Online (October 30, 2012). Accessed November 12, 2012.

Evans, Heidi. "No Date Set to Reopen Hospitals that Evacuated During Hurricane Sandy." NY Daily News Online (November 11, 2012). Accessed November 12, 2012.

Flegenheimer, Matt. "New York Subway Repairs Border 'on the Edge of Magic'." The New York Times Online (November 8, 2012). Accessed November 8, 2012.

Maxwell, Judy. "Hotels Filled to Capacity in Wake of Hurricane Sandy." Asian Hospitality Online (November, 2012). Accessed November 12, 2012.