Workers from the 17,000 member state-wide SEIU Local 668 have rallied around each other to make sure Christmas goes on for the 520 unemployment call center employees and their families since being laid off last Monday. Employees from the Altoona call center were greeted by Senator John Eichelberger handing out Christmas cards with $150 cash from Senator Wagner as they were leaving for the final time. Senator Wagner used the opportunity as a way of saying “the union that represents these people should have been standing at the door handing out money,” but the union has been done. They orchestrated a member driven toy-drive to make sure there are gifts under the trees for the hundred children affected by their parents layoffs.
Bikes, snowboards, footballs, baseballs, bats and much more were crammed into the hallways and corridors of Local 668’s cramped Harrisburg headquarters. They’ve been sent to the union hall from members around the state and will then be delivered to the families in need as Christmas gets closer. As I walked into the office this morning, there were still a dozen children bikes donated from members from Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County Central Labor Council. Each one of the bikes were tagged with names and addresses of the children and who the bikes were donated from. They will be going out to families today or tomorrow or perhaps delivered to their houses Sunday morning.
The drive was orchestrated in large part by SEIU Local 668 member Shawn Domenico who has been working at the Duquesne unemployment call center for the past 7 years. Domenico sits as a Community Service Committee representative in Allegheny County and was able to use the power of his union to convince the union and other regional offices to get a toy drive up and running days after the Senate ended the legislative session. Domenico explained over the phone that there are close to one hundred children who were affected by these layoffs. The union was able to find out what families still needed to get their children for Christmas and was then able to fit all of those needs. Toys were then divided among age specific groups. As the drive was coming to a close, Domenico crisscrossed Pennsylvania on Monday delivering toys to local shops in Harrisburg and Altoona, which got most of toys. The toys have already been delivered to their members for the most part, but some stewards plan on making the rounds to their members on Christmas morning. Employees inside the union’s headquarters explained that this year’s toy drive has been bigger than drives in years past, but the children are the only ones to benefit from this drive. Members have given gift cards to select grocery stores and made monetary donations for parents at local union meetings and Central Labor Council meetings.
Throughout this political stunt by Senator Wagner, the senator has often asked what the union has done for its members. Well, this is what small “u” unionism is about in times of need. It was the union who put together a toy drive for their members and families. It was the union making sure these toys are delivered across the state, and it was the union that made sure Christmas wishes didn’t go by the wayside.