Life After the Storm


Iashia Nelson is a driver for First Transit and a member of Local 988. Sadly, she’s been on the receiving end of a hurricane before. She came to Houston after losing everything she had to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As she stood on the roof of her apartment building with 30 other people, watching Houston drown as flood waters devastated everything in sight, she wasn’t thinking about her past in New Orleans. She was thinking about her future and whether she would survive to see it.

She took out her phone, made a video with a plea for help, and posted it to her social media accounts. Good Morning America caught wind of what she was going through and they contacted her to speak live on the air. As Hurricane Harvey rampaged around her, she was able to ask for help in front of a national television audience. Eight hours later, Nelson and everyone she was with were rescued by volunteers from the Cajun Navy.

A few days later, after she had been temporarily relocated from an evacuation shelter to a hotel, Nelson returned to where she lived.

“I went back to my apartment and walked right back out because I don’t have anything left,” Nelson said. “The only thing that I saved was my Bible.”

Four Weeks of Disaster

In a less than a month, the Gulf Coast was devastated by three back-to-back hurricanes that caused such catastrophic damage in so little time, it pales in comparison to anything else in recent memory. In the aftermath of the storms, relief poured from all over the country to the affected areas, and the Teamsters were on the front lines.

“I would estimate that we have thousands of members that have been affected by this storm in one way or the other,” said Robert Mele, President of Houston’s Local 988. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the richest man in Houston or the poorest man in Houston. Harvey didn’t discriminate in its devastation.”

At a warehouse in Houston, that network was on display as trucks came in from all over the country.

Teamsters are the lynchpin of the relief efforts in the region, doing what they do best to get much needed supplies to people in need: handling logistics and distribution.

“Everyone from Houston’s mayor to government board chairs to various community groups are looking to us for help and guidance on how to respond to this disaster,” said Roy Gillespie, Joint Council 13 Human Rights Commissioner. “Local 988 has been through this before. They can activate their network and response infrastructure pretty quickly to deal with this crisis. We show everyone how to load, unload, do inventory and move stuff out. We don’t run a warehouse, we run a transfer station.”

Back to Back

Shortly after Harvey ravaged Houston, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida. While the mainland certainly was not spared, the Florida Keys took the brunt of the damage, with 10-foot storm surges and 130-mph winds laying waste to the island chain.

Local 769 represents workers at the six largest employers in Monroe County, Fla., and their membership was devastated by the storm.

On September 10, Recording Secretary and Business Agent Rolando Pina and Business Agent David Renshaw were granted access to the disaster area.

During that trip they made 16 stops throughout the Keys, at each stop they delivered some much-needed supplies to their membership and to communities.

Ten days later, Local 769 had set up a warehouse staging location in Port Everglades. Local 25 members Jimmy Williams and John Curtin delivered a truck full of food, water, diapers, clothes and other much-needed supplies. Local 769 members and staff were there to break up the cargo into smaller containers so they could send it down to the islands.

“It’s been a bit of a logistics challenge, making the trip down to the Keys and back, but we’ll do whatever it takes,” Renshaw said.

As of this writing, the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund is working with Joint Council 16 to assess the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Hitting the Ground Running

“Puerto Ricans are a real resilient bunch, and we’re doing everything we can, but the clean-up effort is going to be huge,” said George Miranda, President of Joint Council 16, which includes Puerto Rico. “I thank God that there are a lot of good people doing hard work to make things better for the 3.5 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, but the main problem is that the infrastructure is just totally and completely devastated.”

Stefan McClean is a Local 769 member and driver for Crowley who was on site in Key West to deliver relief supplies to people who have been affected by the storm.

“When people see a trailer coming in here, you see a look of surprise and pure happiness on people’s faces,” Mclean said. “We are grateful for our relationship to these communities, so we don’t mind sharing.”

At the Houston warehouse, Local 988 members wasted no time getting much-needed supplies to their community.

Anthony Salazar and Jesse Nunez have been forklift operators for more than 25 years, and they were putting their talents to work at the warehouse headquarters in Houston, lifting pallets loaded with supplies off of trucks coming from all over the country.

“We were just seeing story after story, and we wanted to help,” Nunez said. “Our business agent, Joaquin Galvan, called us looking for volunteers and we got ready as soon as we could. Just to see people get back on their feet, I would be happy to see that.”

“I was talking to my daughter about all this, and we decided if a storm hits again, we’re going to go out there and help rescue people. We’ll get a boat, lifejackets, everything,” Salazar said. “It’s great that everybody stepped up for Houston. We always try to help out when there’s a disaster somewhere else, but this time we got hit.”

Phil Cady and Art Collins are United Airlines mechanics and shop stewards with Local 19. Cady and Collins were assisting their membership with rebuilding their houses after the flood.

“The biggest priority we have right now is getting to the flooded homes; pulling out sheetrock, drywall, carpeting, everything that’s been ruined by the floodwater, and preparing these homes for adjusters and for rehabilitation,” Cady said. “We want to try and get them to at least a place where they feel there is hope.”

“There’s a lot of suffering out here; not just our people, but everyone.” Collins said. “The devastation, I’ve never seen anything like it. You go to approach people to ask what they need, and they just have this look on their face like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’”

Rebuilding in the Aftermath

Many Teamsters were looking to help Houston, but others were looking to rebuild their lives.

Alex Gonzalez has been a UPS driver for the last 27 years. He’s lived in Spring, Texas, right outside of Houston, since 2004. When the floodwaters began to rise, his neighbors in the cul-de-sac he calls home initially relocated to his house, but when they watched the floodwater come halfway up the driveway, they fled to a neighbor’s office in town. A few days later they returned to their homes. Every house on the street had incurred severe flood damage.

“This cul-de-sac is like a big family, we all help each other out,” Gonzalez said. “Even so, I’ve never been through a flood before, and I’m not going to lie to you: it’s devastating. You feel like you almost want to curl up in a ball and die. After losing everything, that’s how bad it is. I’m still at a loss for words.”

Not Letting Go

Gonzalez mentioned that Local 988 had been in to check in on him and see what he needed.

“We’re grateful for it. My union always helps us out in every situation. They’re like pit bulls. They latch onto something and won’t let go until something gets done.”

One of Gonzalez’s neighbors and friends in the cul-de-sac is Local 988 Business Agent Felton Jolivette.

Like Gonzalez, Jolivette had to have the entire bottom floor of his house gutted because of the flood damage. It took him two days to pump all the water out of his house.

“Before the water started getting in the house, we were looking out the window and it was like we were on an island. Floods in the front, the back, you could see it all around,” Jolivette said. “You can’t really prepare for it. You see it on TV and you hear about it, but to experience it yourself is different, and it’s a horrible experience. A lot of stuff you work hard for, stuff you don’t want to lose, it’s just gone.”

Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria didn’t last long, but their devastation will be felt for years. For everyone affected, the storm leaves a big question as to what the future holds. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Teamsters can rely on one another in the worst of times.

“We’re all good neighbors, we’ll make this work, we’ll come back from this storm and hopefully be ready to help out other people affected by these storms,” Collins said. “Teamsters are tough. We know how to get this done.”

To request funds for disaster relief or to make a donation to the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund, visit