IAM International President Bob Martinez recently visited Panama City, FL Local 1106 members at WestRock mill and Local 449 members at Tyndall Air Force Base. They, and the community as a whole, continue to suffer two months after Hurricane Michael made landfall. The storm is the first ever Category 4 hurricane on record to hit the Florida panhandle and brought with it wind speeds exceeding 150 mph.
“There wasn’t anything in this area that wasn’t affected or touched,” said Local 449 Secretary-Treasurer Stephen Smith. “Businesses are still closed. Something as simple as this Sunday at 5 o’clock at night, I couldn’t buy a gallon of milk. Everything was closed.”
Although these members are back on the job, things are far from normal at their workplaces. WestRock has limited production but major repairs at the plant continue around the clock. A large tent sits in its parking lot for feeding workers three meals a day. Blue tarps cover nearly every remaining home in the surrounding neighborhood. The sounds of chainsaws and portable generators never cease.
“You’ve got people supporting these jobs that don’t even have a place to live. I’ve seen very few FEMA trailers or anything like that coming in to help people,” said Local 1106 President Frank Bright. “A lot of people are having to stay out of town because there’s hardly any apartments left in town that haven’t been damaged.”
Once-charming streets lined with old-growth trees are now piled with never-ending rows of debris that were once homes, trailers, appliances, furniture and boats. Along the Highway 98 entering Panama City, entire stands of southern pine trees have been snapped down like dominoes. The rebuilding process will undoubtedly take years.
“One of the reasons I’m out here is to meet with the membership and make sure they understand that the International and our brothers and sisters across the country are still concerned about their wellbeing,” said Martinez. “This is our family, this is the Machinists family, and any of our members that are hurt or devasted by something, we want to be there for them at the end of the day.”
Martinez’s visit and assistance from the IAM Disaster Relief Fund are appreciated by hard-working IAM members who have never been through anything like this before.
“The resilience of our members in the Panhandle is outstanding,” said Southern Territory General Vice President Rickey Wallace. “Even though many of them are still living in the remnants of what Hurricane Michael left when it cut a furious swath along this part of the state, they still remain dedicated to the job and producing the best work the IAM has to offer. It is this dedication and diligence that sets Machinists members above the rest.”
“I take pride in what I do and I’m not exceptional by any form or fashion, but I try to be,” said Local 1106 Recording Secretary Jason Strickland. “But to be humbled to the point of I don’t have a choice but to need help, it changes your perspective. It changes your outlook and it changes your attitude.”
The IAM Disaster Relief Fund provides assistance for our members and their families who endure hardships following natural disasters.