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United Way Blog

In Milwaukee, Labor Is A Force Multiplier

As we approach Labor Day, let’s reflect on the words of Samuel Gompers, labor union leader and founder of the AFL:

What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.

That’s what United Way wants, too. Together with our labor partners across America, we’re building stronger bonds and stronger communities. From job training, affordable housing, and free tax prep assistance to more options for healthy eating, physical activity and access to healthcare – United Way and our labor partners want to make life better for all.

The Milwaukee Labor-United Way Partnership works hard to address challenges facing working families. That’s one reason Milwaukee was selected by the national AFL-CIO as a Model City for Community Services. The four AFL-CIO Labor Liaisons serving the area work with United Way to galvanize union members around our community. As an example of our continued partnership with labor, Sheila Cochran, COO and elected Secretary-Treasurer for the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, will serve as our 2017 Community Campaign Co-Chair.

But our partnership with labor goes beyond workforce campaigns and union treasury gifts. Take our sock drive, for example. It was a new idea generated by a new Labor Cabinet, and grew into a community-wide effort. Led by the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and United Way, the drive netted 2,005 pairs of socks. About 700 of those were for children, after Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association told us about the many children who lack socks to wear to school.

Jay Reinke, an employee of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, with socks for the sock drive.

In a town with sub-zero winter temperatures, keeping people warm is no small thing. For three years, the Labor Council and AFL-CIO have joined with United Way for “Blanketing Greater Milwaukee,” to collect blanket and sleeping bag donations for Milwaukee’s estimated 1,500 homeless. Donations go to 20 local organizations, including homeless shelters, children’s and teen programs, and street outreach organizations. United Way uses our new community van (underwritten by Wisconsin professional sports teams) to distribute contributions. A gift of 480 blankets from the Milwaukee Fire Department has already surpassed our goals, but we’ll be going strong until the end of January.

That’s on top of the health & hygiene drives, days of caring, luggage drives and other volunteer activities our labor friends are spearheading.

So as we pause to celebrate working men and women on Labor Day, let’s also celebrate the contributions of our labor partners in making a difference for our communities.