Education International
Education International

USA: Teachers and their unions rising to the challenge in hurricane aftermath

published 8 November 2012 updated 12 November 2012

Many teachers, their colleagues, and their communities, primarily in New York and New Jersey, were struck hard by Hurricane Sandy. Their homes were destroyed, and their schools and workplaces severely damaged. Many families still find themselves facing an emergency, lacking clean water, food, clothing and new power outages.

School buildings have been turned over for use as emergency shelters, and continue to house those made homeless by the storm. Teachers are among those struggling to recover from the devastation caused by the hurricane. However, teachers are also among the first-responders providing relief services to their fellow citizens, often at great sacrifice.

For example, in New York City, the members of the United Federation of Teacher (UFT), which is affiliated to both the Amercian Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), rose to the challenge. They have volunteered by the thousands, working in evacuation centers and staffing shelters. They are delivering supplies, looking after elderly evacuees, caring for neighbours’ pets, and helping in any way possible. Most importantly, they’ve tended to children, organizing activities and supervising safe shelters in the storm’s aftermath. And now, teachers are mobilizing to ensure that classes restart as soon as possible, and that children and their families are able to regain a measure of important stability in their lives.

Education support staff, such as school nurses in New York and New Jersey, have been working around the clock to help victims, even as their own homes and workplaces have been damaged. Members of the New York Public Employees Federation, who work throughout the state, have been on emergency duty dealing with the aftermath since the storm hit, as have their colleagues in Connecticut and Maryland.

“Whenever disaster strikes anywhere in the world, our Education International brothers and sisters have always been there. We are now seeking donations to the AFT Disaster Relief Fund to help our members, their families, and their communities get back on their feet," said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

"Disasters can happen in the blink of an eye - so it is up to all of us to rise to the challenge and help where we can," said Dennis van Roekel, NEA President, and EI Vice President.

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, reflects the shock of so many in the aftermath of this natural disaster in saying how “saddened we are by the widespread destruction and loss of life, but also grateful for the work of teachers, public sector employees and healthcare workers who give aid and comfort to those in need.”

Saving lives and meeting the immediate food, shelter and healthcare needs of those hardest hit by the hurricane have been the most important priorities. The teachers and their communities remain confident in their resolve and their determination to rebuild together. But full recovery lies months away. Welcome donations and well-wishes from union colleagues around the world have begun to arrive. You may send messages of support to the UFT President at mmulgrew@uft.org.

To make a secure online donation by credit card, please visit the AFT Disaster Relief Fund. Contributions will be distributed to those members most in need during this critical time.