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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007 01:01 am

Labor made

Springfield unions come together to provide volunteer emergency help

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Ward 10 Ald. Tim Griffin
Untitled Document After last year’s tornadoes ravaged Springfield and knocked out most of the city’s power, hundreds of union members — including members of the Laborers, Teamsters, Carpenters, and Operating Engineers unions — stepped in to rescue stranded residents and remove trees from their homes. Now, with the help of Ward 10 Ald. Tim Griffin, they’re looking to make it into a permanent gig.
During a recent City Council meeting, Griffin called on Mayor Tim Davlin and the other aldermen to support a new emergency-response coalition — a combined Springfield-Sangamon County initiative that would deploy union volunteers and their equipment to the hardest-hit areas within 90 minutes of the onset of an emergency situation. Griffin says the idea for the coalition sprang from concerns that liability issues kept city response crews from stepping onto private property to help residents after the March 2006
tornadoes.
“There needs to be something that crosses boundaries here that’s not worried about which side of the sidewalk something happens on,” Griffin says. “Those tornadoes are pretty [nondiscriminating]. They don’t go on certain sides of the sidewalk — they go wherever they hit.”
Brad Schaive, business manager of Laborers Local 477, is one of the coalition’s main organizers and confirms that all of Springfield’s local unions are on board. In the event of a disaster, Schaive says, the locals’ business managers will sound the alarm, sending hundreds of union members with axes, chainsaws, and backhoes to the Prairie Capital Convention Center for assignments. Each union has agreed to play its own role: Teamsters will clear street debris, Laborers and Carpenters will remove trees from homes and rescue trapped families, and Operating Engineers will use backhoes to remove larger debris and fallen trees from neighborhoods.
Schaive says that the goal is not to replace the city’s emergency agencies but rather to add heavy-equipment-trained, CPR-certified volunteers to the list of the area’s first responders. He says that union members are also some of the most committed volunteers. “If Springfield doesn’t survive, then our future is very bleak,” Schaive says. “The welfare of Springfield goes hand in hand in how we provide for our families, and nothing is more important to our members.”
Basic plans for the emergency-response coalition, including grants from private donors and designated land and trailers to store the organization’s equipment until it is needed, have been in place for more than a year. Now, Griffin says, the coalition will ask the city for minor grants and for help with coordination efforts so that volunteers will know where they are needed if a disaster occurs. “We have the people in place and the place in place,” Griffin says. “Let’s get a big table and sit down with all of the interested parties and start banging out the details. Let’s have, by the next time storm season hits, this already behind us — signed, sealed, and delivered. “The new view of the City Council is ‘Let’s not put off this issue; let’s get with it; let’s do things. Let’s be proactive, not reactive.’ ”
On Tuesday, Ernie Slottag, the city’s communications director, said that the mayor is “100 percent behind the coalition” and that city officials have entered into talks with Griffin to discuss the coalition’s operations.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com
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