In the hours, days, and weeks following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the memberships of dozens of union organizations in New York State and around the nation came forward to provide whatever assistance they could, including a lot of the clean-up efforts at Ground Zero.
The unions had the advantage of already having organization, as well as a good handle on the areas of expertise that they could offer to the effort. In the years that followed, the unions continued to assist as their members became ill from medical conditions related to their exposure to the toxins found at the attack sites. Many of them remain devoted to assisting 9/11 survivors and responders to this day.
The Impact on, and Role of, Unions on 9/11
When the 18th anniversary of 9/11 rolled around in 2019, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)—a conglomeration of more than 50 labor unions in the U.S. and abroad—gathered and posted messages from some of its affiliate union members about not only the losses of their members as a result of the attack, but also the efforts that were taken on September 11, 2001, and in the days that followed the attacks.
Here are some highlights from those messages:
- From the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF): 343 members of FDNY were killed at Ground Zero on 9/11. Since then, more than 200 IAFF members have died as a result of 9/11-related illnesses.
- New York City Building Trades lost 61 members on September 11, 2001. The union reports that nearly 10,000 construction workers assisted with the volunteer cleanup efforts at Ground Zero, making up 80 percent of the workers there.
- Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100: 3,000 transit workers participated in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. The workers were able to restore subway service within hours after the towers fell, and helped to evacuate thousands of people from the area.
- International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW): The union lost a number of its members on 9/11, including two United Airlines Customer Service employees who were on the plane that struck the South Tower, as well as a union organizer and firefighter who died when the buildings collapsed while trying to help people evacuate. Many other members working in the towers when the attacks occurred also perished.
Teamsters Deliver a Multi-State Response
The Teamsters—the nation’s largest and most diverse union, mostly representing truck drivers and trucking companies—also had a large presence at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks.
Here are some facts about their involvement:
- Teamster members from Local 807 in Long Island were among the first to arrive at the scene after the attack and helped direct people out of the area.
- Members from Local 237 formed bucket brigades to help dig through the debris during the rescue and recovery efforts.
- Volunteers from Local 707 in Hampstead brought food and supplies to workers, with Javitz Center Teamsters volunteered to work the central supply center, which was stocked with food, water, emergency supplies, and more that was purchased or provided through donations collected from the public by Teamsters around the nation.
- Local 639 in Washington, DC provided transportation on refrigerated trucks of the bodies of victims from the Pentagon to an Army post.
- Local 282 had hundreds of truck drivers deployed to the area who worked 12-hour shifts for months as they removed tons of debris from the site and transported it to the landfill.
- More than 300 New York City sanitation workers from Local 831 worked at the World Trade Center site after the attacks to provide cleanup services.
The Teamsters noted that these workers were often denied the same benefits that police and firefighters received after being exposed to the toxic dust plume, such as the inability to obtain health insurance benefits for survivors if the member died of a 9/11-related illness after retiring.
The Teamsters union has regularly backed proposals and plans that ensure compensation and other assistance for those suffering life-altering and even life-ending medical conditions due to exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero.
The Services Provided By Unions for 9/11 Survivors and Responders
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), a union with more than 600,000 members who work in the state’s schools, colleges, and health care facilities, stays busy providing education about 9/11-related illnesses for its members, the public, and those who 9/11 medically damaged.
According to a safety and health specialist who works for the union, Liam Lynch—who was 10 years old when the attacks occurred and spent part of that day worried about his father who was en route to a meeting at the World Trade Center when the attacks occurred—much of this work involves providing information for teachers and health care workers who returned to their jobs while the air in the area was still heavily laden with toxins from the collapse of the towers. It is estimated that about 400,000 people were exposed to these toxins when the dust plume from the buildings’ collapse blanketed Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.
Lynch and other health and safety experts with NYSUT have stated that one of the biggest aspects of their job with 9/11 survivor members is to ensure that they’re all aware that if they are suffering from medical conditions as a result of their 9/11 exposure, there are federal benefits programs that can assist them.
The WTC Health Program provides free medical treatment and health monitoring services to 9/11 responders and survivors who are suffering from associated illnesses, and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) provides compensation for wage loss and pain and suffering that is experienced as a result of 9/11-related conditions, as well as wrongful death compensation for the estates and family members of individuals who have died as a result of a 9/11-related condition.
There are currently more than 100 ailments that have been linked to exposure to the 9/11 toxins at the World Trade Center site, including 68 types of cancer. New conditions are added from time to time, and currently, some lawmakers are pushing for uterine cancer to be added as a covered condition.
Other types of conditions that are covered include respiratory illnesses, such as asthma—which presents slightly differently in patients who were exposed to the 9/11 dust plume than others—as well as digestive disorders, sleep disorders, and mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
Teaching Those Who Were Not Born Yet on 9/11
This past spring, middle school educators and NYSUT members teamed up to offer more than 300 students—none of whom were born yet when the terrorist attacks occurred—a research project to help them understand the gravity of the attacks and their impacts on society.
The project gave students access to printed and digital resources and also required them to interview neighbors and family members about the day to get a personal grasp of the attacks and to understand why obtaining assistance for survivors and responders remains crucial two decades later.
Rose Reissman, the director of The Writing Institute and a member of the local chapter of the United Federation of Teachers, an organization affiliated with NYSUT, spearheaded the project.
Because of the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the projects were completed both in-person and remotely. Interestingly teacher participants in the project noticed that their students—faced with feelings of isolation, trauma, resiliency, and the need to come together as a group during the pandemic—saw similarities between their own pandemic experiences and the plight of those who the September 11 terror attacks
Even those students whose parents lived in other countries when the attacks occurred shared how the events affected people all over the world. The students gained access to oral histories that included a father who responded to the site to help in the rescue, recovery, and cleanup operations, and a mother who served in the Army and responded to Ground Zero while on leave.
Helping Members Obtain Benefits
Local unions have helped many of their members not only to become aware of the two federal benefit programs—the WTC Health Program and the VCF—but also often provide assistance in applying for these programs or filing a claim.
The unions may have lawyers who work with applicants or claim-filers to ensure they have the documentation pertaining to their presence at an attack site during the periods of high exposure as well as documentation related to their medical condition and how it has affected their ability to work. Those lawyers, however, sometimes need help with the unique application and appeal processes. They may wish to consult a law firm that exclusively deals with September 11 claims.
How a 9/11 Benefits Attorney Can Help Unions
Like the members of the various local union chapters, experienced 9/11 benefits attorneys have assisted the survivors and responders from 9/11 since the beginning. In the years since the attacks, 9/11 attorneys have helped thousands of claimants receive the assistance they need, including more than half a billion dollars worth of compensation.
Working with a 9/11 attorney can also provide:
- Answers to legal questions the representatives have about how the law applies to specific cases.
- Assistance in obtaining the evidence needed to prove their member’s claim.
- Educational and legal resources that they can provide for their members to learn more about the process of applying for treatment through the WTC Health Program or receiving funding through the VCF.
- Information about changes to the laws that govern these programs and the impact those changes could have on the ability of their members to access assistance through the VCF.
- Review of the materials you plan to submit with your member’s VCF claim to document your presence in an affected area during the exposure times and meet the requirements for approval and access to the program.
We appreciate the efforts that unions made to assist the communities that were hurt and their members exposed to toxins in those attacks. If you are in a leadership position for a union that is helping 9/11 survivors and responders to obtain the compensation and assistance they are entitled to receive for illnesses related to the 9/11 terror attacks, contact a 9/11 benefits attorney to learn more about how they can help.