United Way and Labor movement unite to support Southwest Illinois community
The following blog post originally ran in the Edwardsville Intelligencer.
United Way and organized labor first teamed up when our community and nation needed it: in 1941, when the world was at war.
Now, almost 80 years later, United Way and labor unions continue working together to tackle our community’s most pressing challenges. Today, that partnership remains strong, including in the Southwest Illinois community.
Making a difference
Helping to build a stronger, healthier community is not only a union tradition – it’s the mission of United Way.
In Southwest Illinois, union members raise thousands of dollars annually through fundraising and service projects, including the annual Labor Trap Shoot, the Food for Families drive and more. Labor is also instrumental by helping drive the critically important Community Christmas food and toy drive across the greater Riverbend area.
During the COVID-19 crisis, union members came together in a big way once again. The Southwestern Building and Construction Trades Council, Madison County Federation of Labor and Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council, with assistance from United Way labor liaisons, helped busy healthcare workers through a Snacks for Healthcare Workers drive, which raised more than $20,000 and provided nutritious snacks to multiple local hospital workers.
Year after year, local union members also partner with United Way to complete meaningful service projects in the community. From fixing a leaky roof on a local church known for assisting families in crisis, to helping an Eagle Scout build an addition to expand a local animal shelter, union members consistently answer the call to volunteer their time and skills to improve our community.
Education and job training
United Way also works with unions to address and educate local people about pressing community issues.
Our region faces a high demand for skilled workers, and the number of open jobs in the skilled trades is projected to increase. To help continue to build our region, the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, supported through a collaborative of United Way of Greater St. Louis, unions, government agencies, employers, and community organizations, started the BUD (Building Union Diversity) Program in 2014.
The program provides five weeks of paid basic construction training to equip people for pre-apprenticeships in high-demand union jobs, with a special focus on recruiting people of color and women, who are historically underrepresented in the skilled trades, to help fill the skills gap.
The program has had more than 200 graduates, with 82% entering construction jobs after completing the program. The 20th BUD class graduated last month, and though this year’s program was modified to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 crisis, 14 participants graduated, excited to start their new careers.
The United Way Labor department also partnered with St. Clair and Madison Counties’ Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Alliances, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to present last month’s Virtual Suicide Prevention Conference. More than 200 local community members, labor and business leaders and healthcare and social service professionals tuned in to deepen their skills and experience through expert speakers and informational sessions on important issues such as substance use, the stigma around mental health, risk factors and responses and more.
Union members represent skilled workers from across all industries and bring key knowledge and expertise to United Way. Thirty-five union leaders serve on its Board of Directors and Regional Auxiliary Boards, and five union members work full-time as United Way labor liaisons to help union families facing hardships and strengthen Labor and community ties.
Local union members’ support is vital to helping United Way continue to provide stable funding throughout the year to a network of nonprofits that address our region’s challenges, including health, education, financial stability and basic needs.
This is especially crucial as many union members themselves face unique challenges, like job loss, wage interruptions and housing and food insecurity due to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.
United Way’s Labor Helpline provides free, confidential help to members facing unemployment and other life crises.
Staffed by United Way’s labor liaisons, the helpline gives callers the opportunity to speak with a peer they can trust and receive resources and strategies for life changes, childcare, help with elderly parents, emergency and utility support and more. Annually, it provides free, confidential help to more than 550 callers each year.
United Way and organized labor understand the power of working together and know that’s how we transform communities and create effective and sustainable change. Together, we are united for the health, stability, equity and security of our neighbors. We are united for a better tomorrow for everyone.
Nick Dodson is an AFL-CIO Labor Liaison – Labor Engagement for United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Southwest Illinois Division.