Union hall serves as emergency shelter for volunteers - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Union hall serves as emergency shelter for volunteers

The union’s meeting hall is a quiet place for 50 cots. A large ice machine fills coolers for workers as they head out for another day in the heat. (Source: WAFB) The union’s meeting hall is a quiet place for 50 cots. A large ice machine fills coolers for workers as they head out for another day in the heat. (Source: WAFB)
Spotlights illuminate the parking lot along the side of the union local building.  A portable shower unit is there for the volunteers. (Source: WAFB) Spotlights illuminate the parking lot along the side of the union local building. A portable shower unit is there for the volunteers. (Source: WAFB)
This room is a day sitting area.   Puzzles and other items are on the tables, and a long table has the ingredients for a good cup of coffee and a snack. (Source: WAFB) This room is a day sitting area. Puzzles and other items are on the tables, and a long table has the ingredients for a good cup of coffee and a snack. (Source: WAFB)
An array of snacks awaits volunteers who can work all hours of the day.  When they come in, there is always something to quell the hunger of a missed meal or an attack of the munchies. (Source: WAFB) An array of snacks awaits volunteers who can work all hours of the day. When they come in, there is always something to quell the hunger of a missed meal or an attack of the munchies. (Source: WAFB)
Shannon Waters of LiUNA! Local 99, a labor union chapter which is headquartered in Baton Rouge, and has offices in New Orleans, Shreveport, Lake Charles and Jackson Mississippi. (Source: WAFB) Shannon Waters of LiUNA! Local 99, a labor union chapter which is headquartered in Baton Rouge, and has offices in New Orleans, Shreveport, Lake Charles and Jackson Mississippi. (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

If you drive down Government Street headed away from the Mississippi River around midnight, you’ll see what looks like two spotlights on a building. The brilliant white beams are almost alone in the general dark section of Government Street. 

As you pass, the parking lot has a dozen cars outside the building. The local laborer’s union has visitors. 

LiUNA! Local 99, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, is hosting the staff volunteers of the American Red Cross. 

"Tuesday right after the storm, Red Cross contacted us and wanted to know if they could use our hall as a shelter for their staff volunteers. They couldn’t find any hotels or anywhere to stay. So we offered our hall," said union spokesman Shannon Waters. 

The union hall turns out can hold up to 50 cots. Waters said it’s hard to guess how many volunteers are sleeping there because they are not all there at the same time.

"They actually have 24-hour shifts. They have one group that comes in at night. They come in and go to sleep and they have another group that goes out and works night shift and day shift." 

Waters said the union also has a room that’s set up as an area to build a puzzle or scan emails.

"We have a day room area where we have about 10 tables for them set up for them to eat and kind of relax there. They had to bring in portable showers because we weren’t set up for that, but we do have bathrooms, other facilities, wi-fi." 

In fact, the twin spotlights that illuminate the building’s west side are for security reasons. Waters said the portable showers are on that side of the building. 

Waters said Local 99, which has been around since 1903, has roughly a thousand members and covers Louisiana and Mississippi. Internationally they have up to 500 members throughout the United States and Canada. Their headquarters are in Baton Rouge, and they also have offices in New Orleans, Shreveport, Lake Charles and also Jackson, Mississippi. In fact, Local 99 is currently housing some of its own members in the union training facility in Livonia. 

Waters said it’s not unusual to offer the entire facilities to help the community.

"The unions have traditionally always been involved in the community, since they’ve started," he said. "So one thing we’ve tried to do even during Katrina,
during Rita, and now during the 2016 flood is we’ve always tried to reach out to the community."

Union members right now have been volunteering driving box trucks to different shelters for the Red Cross. Waters said they also have members who go out and gut people’s homes. They include union members’ homes, of course. 

I walked into the room set up as a day room. A puzzle was spread on one table, many pieces already fitting together, some laptops remained where their owners may have left them. Not all the Red Cross volunteers are from out of state. I met a Baton Rouge volunteer there in the day room. A long table sports every kind of snack and hot brew drink mix. The Red Cross provides that, but the union kicks in the use of its very big ice machine. 

"We’ve welcomed them, all their ERV vehicles, when they come out they come fill their ice chests for the day. That machine is so big it produces more than we ever use!" Waters said.

The space is very quiet. Waters said they try to keep it that way.

"We kind of leave them alone, unless they need something. Because they’re all working in shifts." If while working hard, they ask for advice, union members have the best. "We can make restaurant recommendations, things like that." 

The local has left the time spent camped here up to the Red Cross. For as long as they need them, LiUna! Local 99 will be there. 

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