Union Heroes Made a Difference on 9/11

Image: James ParksAs the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack approaches, the union movement remembers those who lost their lives, those who risked their lives to get others to safety and those who took part in the cleanup and rebuilding efforts that followed.

On the AFL-CIO website here, you can find a video we produced after the attacks of union members describing their efforts. Also on the site is a message from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and links to union websites about 9/11.

A member of AFGE Local 2004, Jeffrey Matthews was employed as a federal police officer with the Defense Protective Service (now called the U.S. Pentagon Police) on 9/11. His and other AFGE members’ stories are featured here. He says when he saw the TV broadcast of a plane flying into the World Trade Center, he jumped into his police uniform, grabbed his weapon, ran to his car and headed for the Pentagon.

While Matthews was on his way, Margaret Espinoza, a paraprofessional in a school two blocks from the World Trade Center, was already trying to get students safely out of the building. A member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), an affiliate of AFT, Espinoza remembers the dust and noise, the confusion and fear. She and a colleague, Julia Martinez, partly wheeled and partly carried two wheelchair-bound students to safety through streets choked with debris.

Across New York City, teachers, school staff and administrators helped secure safe passage home for 8,000 students without a single serious injury. You’ll find Espinoza’s story and those of other AFT members here. She  says:

They did just an awesome job, a wonderful job in the aftermath. At school, everyone was like family, and we came together in kindness and decency.

Meanwhile, as Matthews approached the Pentagon, the smoke was still billowing from the building.

There were helicopters taking the injured away. It was pure chaos.

He was assigned a location to scan the crowds and onlookers for snipers. Later he was  assigned to guard the morgue tent. He spent the next 26 hours helping the U.S. Marshals Service provide scene security and helping the FBI collect and document evidence.

Witnessing the carnage of the attack, he thought: I have stared into the face of Satan, and I still remain to fight another day.

This post originally appeared in the AFL-CIO Now Blog on September 9, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks: My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.