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AFSCME Members Stay Strong Despite Being Walloped by Hurricane Irma

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Miami-Dade 311 call center employees, including Local 199 member Lorraine “Ms. Purple” Brown (center), share critical information with worried Miamians. (Photo by Arlene Vilsaint)
Miami-Dade 311 call center employees, including Local 199 member Lorraine “Ms. Purple” Brown (center), share critical information with worried Miamians. (Photo by Arlene Vilsaint)

TALLAHASSEE, Florida – AFSCME Florida members stood ready to soften the blow of Hurricane Irma as the historic storm slammed into Florida over the weekend.

With poise, skill and dedication, they sprang into action for their communities and their neighbors and are determined to help Florida recover once Irma moves on.

Working days on end to field incoming calls at Miami’s 311 call center, Lorraine “Ms. Purple” Brown, a member of Local 199, shared information with worried Miamians, calmed fears and routed calls to the appropriate agencies.

“We will be open 24/7 until the danger passes. I’m not leaving until maybe Monday at the earliest,” Brown said in a phone interview Saturday. “When possible, we just close our eyes and sleep a little at our desks – 15 minutes here or there. We have access to showers and food, but all of us would rather be on the phones helping people. We can sleep later.”

Keeping people safe was only part of the battle. AFSCME members are also entrusted with making sure Miami’s infrastructure was ready for the onslaught.

Drexwill Ferguson, who normally handles air conditioning equipment in South Florida, took on a different role during Irma, making sure that power-generated facilities are properly secured and powered down to avoid fires or other mishaps.

“I’m always prepared. You can't eliminate all danger, but doing my job and doing it well lets me make sure we can cross off some basic problems,” Ferguson said.

Help AFSCME Members Affected by the Hurricanes

Our AFSCME sisters and brothers in Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Florida and other areas affected by recent hurricanes are on the front lines of the disasters. They are doing what they do best: Serving their community. Helping people. But they need our help.

Click here to make donations to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund, to help AFSCME members get back on their feet.

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Meanwhile, stationed at Miami’s Emergency Operations Center was Salvador Pagan, a sea force enforcement specialist, who’s been working 12-hour shifts to coordinate the work of different agencies and private companies, to get information out about Miami’s port. Alerting the sprawling cruise ship industry of Miami’s status is a ballet in the best of times but a massive undertaking in situations like these.

“I make sure we’re constantly communicating what is happening at the port with every other department, the mayor, and the governor,” he said.

For the next several days, Mary Blocker-Williams, a Patient Care Associate at University of Florida Health Jacksonville and Vice President of Local 1328, along with other AFSCME members of Local 1781, plans help patients affected by the storm.

“Our doors are open for anyone who needs help now or in the days to come,” said Blocker-Williams. “They are going to need not just professional help but a friendly voice as well. Now, more than ever, is when our AFSCME members do what they do best.”

Despite the devastation that natural disasters like Irma bring, dedicated public service workers like AFSCME members in Florida and elsewhere do their best to help their communities endure beyond disasters.

AFSCME Florida has at least 17,000 working and retiree members in every corner of the state.

They work for cities, counties, hospitals, schools, housing authorities, water and sewer plants, sanitation departments and universities from Pensacola in the northwest to Miami in the southeast, from Jacksonville in the northeast to Naples in the southwest, and from Tampa to Orlando across central Florida. Retirees are spread out across the Sunshine State.

As the media turns attention to Florida and Puerto Rico – where 1 million people lost power after Irma sideswiped them on its way to Florida – we continue to focus on the relief and recovery efforts of all AFSCME members; including those in the wake of Irma and those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.

Please contribute today to help the thousands of AFSCME sisters and brothers who are affected by the recent storms and other natural disasters.

Note: Mark McCullough reported from Tallahassee.