After one of the worst natural disasters in California history, the Teamsters came together again to help our brothers and sisters and to support their communities.
The fires that cost at least 100 Teamster families their homes, that destroyed more than 8,400 structures, and that killed 42 people started just after midnight on October 8. Within days, 22 separate fires were raging across Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Solano and other Northern California counties.
The toll for Teamster families in the area was immense. About 70 Local 665 members and 22 Local 856 members had their homes destroyed, as did a few members each from Locals 70, 137, 150, 315, and 853. The fire had moved so swiftly that most evacuated with just the clothes on their backs.
For Mike Yates, President of Local 665 who works out of the Local’s Santa Rosa office, the fires were personal. He had been out of town on union business, but received a 3 a.m. call from one of his stewards advising him to check on his family. While his home was not in the evacuation zone, his daughter’s family camped out at his house.
As the days progressed and fires kept burning, Yates got a call from the manager of the local Les Schwab. “They were getting donations for the fire victims and had nowhere to put them. So we moved into action,” Yates says.
“At first, we borrowed two UPS trailers. That quickly turned into four and then into eight. Then, the JC7 truck came up, filled with more donations.” Union members and volunteers from community organizations came to the parking lot to sort the donations and move them into the trailers designated for water and food, bedding and towels, clothing, and general household supplies. “The local made radio announcements for more volunteers, and the community really turned out,” Yates says with pride.
After a few days of preparations, the distribution operation opened to the public on October 14—less than a week after the first fires started. “At one point, we had 400 people on the property, including 60-70 volunteers and lots of displaced families who didn’t know if they still had homes,” Yates adds.
Yates and a few other local staff members slept outside in the early days. “We chased out the looters who were coming to steal the stuff that we were giving away for free,” he says.
Except for that, Yates says that he got nothing but help from everyone. “The whole Joint Council has been awesome. There was just an outpouring of help. Everyone called to say ‘what do you need,’ and then they sent it.
“As soon as we heard about the fire and the critical role Local 665 was playing, we arranged to fill our truck with donations and send it up to Santa Rosa,” says Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise. “We also set up a fund through All Charities Teamsters to accept financial donations and members, employers, and the general public have been more than generous. We were immediately able to make $500 gift cards available to each Teamster family that lost homes so that they could purchase basic necessities.”
Locals 315 and 70 were able to bring up refrigerated trailers, that were used to store perishable donations for food programs organized by Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, and Guy Fieri’s Barbecue. Local 856 brought up supplies in their van.
Chris Griswold from Las Vegas Local 986 sent up a 53-foot trailer filled with jackets, dog food, work boots, and bedding, as per Yates’ request, plus a check for $25,000 to the All-Charities Fund.
A San Francisco law firm brought up 350 pairs of tennis shoes and all have been distributed.
Yates says that this tragedy enabled the community to see the union in a different light. “We were able to talk about what the Teamsters do for our members and educate people about what it means to be in a union. But more than that, we just focused on how we could help each other and rebuild our community,” Yates says. “Mostly, we kept politics out of it and just did the work that needed to be done.”
Now that the initial shock is over, most of the trailers are back with the companies that lent them out. The Local is still accepting donations for the fire victims, but they’re only looking for new items.
“Fire victims didn’t want to sleep on a comforter that they didn’t know where it came from and they didn’t want used clothes,” Yates explains. “Now, they can go through new merchandise and walk out with a smile.”
If you’re looking to make a donation right now, here’s the current list of needs: new toys, new jackets, warm clothes, new tennis shoes and new women’s shoes.
The Local has partnered with community organizations, including Peer Sonoma and the Crozat Family Foundation, which was founded by the owner of G&C Auto Body, which has several shops in the North Bay and has been storing donated goods. Local 665 expects to continue distributing products through the end of the year at the union hall.
“It’s been incredibly surreal, especially inside the affected areas,” Yates says. “I’ve had my heart ripped out of my chest 50 times. People are still in shock; even with all the help, they don’t have a house to go back to. This community will take years to get back to where it was, if it ever can.”
To directly support Teamsters in Northern California who lost their homes, please send a check to:
All-Charities Teamsters c/o Joint Council 7
250 Executive Parkway, Suite 3100
San Francisco, CA 94134
Teamsters and others in Houston, across Florida and in Puerto Rico still need your help.
To donate online, go to:
Donation checks may be sent to:
Disaster Relief Fund
c/o International Brotherhood of Teamsters
25 Louisiana Ave. NW,
Washington, DC 20001