Local 11’s Good Works, Focus on Safety, Help Members and Greater Los Angeles Cope with Crisis

From safeguarding members to community service, Los Angeles Local 11 is playing a leading role helping the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

That includes delivering specially made Local 11 masks to construction sites, staffing grocery giveaways, providing space for mobile food banks to park their trailers and handing out board games to homebound families, among other good works.

Even the mayor took notice, praising the Los Angeles County Labor Federation and the IBEW in a news conference. “They got members together at the IBEW training center to give out food and meals to more than 2,500 L.A. families and they’re going to continue to lead these food operations,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “They’re also helping to organize volunteers to pitch in where we may need their help.”

It’s second nature for Local 11. “We’ve always reached out to the community and we will continue to do so,” Business Manager Joel Barton said. “We should all be doing what we can to improve the human condition.”

Volunteering is a big part of that mission, he said, but so is continuing to work – safely — on vital construction projects around Los Angeles.

And Barton is encouraging everyone who can to keep working.

“We’re making sure that the job’s actually the safest place to be,” he said, describing the aggressive approach Local 11 is taking to social distancing, personal protective equipment and sanitizing work areas and tools.

Delivering Local 11-branded face masks to workers the past several weeks has given Barton, organizer Tommy Faavae and business agent Gary Tomlin the opportunity to inspect job sites, including projects at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Cal State University, a VA hospital and the Phillips 66, Torrance PBF Energy, and Valero refineries.

“What we’ve been experiencing is that they’re going above and beyond the safety protocol,” Faavae said. “They’ve stepped up on making sure they sanitize all equipment, materials, hand tools. They actually have a couple of apprentices with sanitizing equipment on rollable carts that they take from unit to unit.”

Local 11 Political Director Antonio Sanchez contracted with a union printer to produce the logo masks, the latest swag with a local design. “When we go to conferences, we tend to have a louder and bigger presence – our shirts, our sweaters, the culture of Local 11 is there,” and the masks are a natural extension of that, he said.

Members love them. “They’ve been very enthused and are asking for more,” Barton said.

The visits also give workers a chance to ask questions and raise concerns. “For their business manager to go out there and talk to them face to face is a good morale pick up for the men and women in the field,” Faavae said.

Those able to work know they’re among the lucky ones in a city where many of their brothers and sisters are struggling. Sanchez said 90% of hospitality workers are laid off, as are up to 70% of janitorial staff at high-rise buildings.

Local 11 has turned out dozens of volunteers for a Labor Federation program providing boxes of groceries to union families.

For the event that the mayor cited at the training center, “the food distribution didn’t start until 10 in the morning, but we had people there at 7 a.m. to set up,” Sanchez said. “What I hear from the guys is that they’re grateful to be able to help because they know not everyone has a job.”

On another day, as cars pulled up to a school for free packed lunches, Local 11 activist “Big John” Harriel and his band of volunteers handed out board games – Monopoly, Scrabble, backgammon, chess, Clue, Battleship, and more to delighted parents and children. “You name it, I had it,” he said.

Harriel remembers how the “old school” games helped him bond and communicate during his own troubled childhood. “We didn’t have cell phones, we didn’t have internet,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I learned a lot of cool words from Scrabble.”

Through his own charity, Big John Kares, along with Local 11; his employer, Morrow Meadows; union carpenters; and Chapter Two, an organization for at-risk youth, Harriel purchased hundreds of games from a wholesaler who gave him an extra discount.

“We’re going to do it again,” he said. “It was a hit, an absolute hit.”

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