When United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard asked a room full of the organization’s local members how many volunteered in their communities, every hand in the room went up.
The moment demonstrated the value that USW places on philanthropy, volunteering and, most importantly, community.
For one nonprofit, Variety - The Children’s Charity, the support it’s received from the USW has been invaluable.
“USW brings a small, not very well-known charity great connectivity. … It’s not just about steel,” said Charles LaValle, chief executive officer of Variety.
Variety offers children with disabilities unique programs, experiences and equipment throughout 54 counties in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
USW focuses its efforts on raising money for items such as strollers, speaking devices and bicycles that are specifically designed for children with special needs.
LaValle said that Variety’s work with mobility and communication equipment is what sparked USW’s interest in the nonprofit.
“What USW demonstrates is that if you take action, we really can change kid’s lives,” he said. “How would you feel if your child didn’t have a voice? USW has really internalized that, in their heads and their hearts. It’s not just an issue to them – this is real people, not a topic to debate. It’s very clear why they deserve this award. They felt and acted. It’s been a privilege working with them.”
Added USW’s Gerard: “It’s all part of the union’s culture. [Working with Variety] is so immediate, both in your heart and in your face at the same time.”
To illustrate the point, Gerard recalled an incident he witnessed that he says still resonates with him today.
“We got [a young boy] and his family a speaking device, and when we went to watch the Variety people teach the family how to manage the [device], and the young fellow started using it, you could just see it in his eyes that he was unbelievably happy,” he said.
“The next day, he played a joke on his mom, and he said, ‘Mom, I was just kidding’ with his device,” he continued. “So here’s a 6- year-old kid who was never able to have a joke with his mom because he couldn’t say it. That really touched not only me, but a lot of people in the union.”
Gerard added that the USW is determined to provide as many adaptive devices for Variety as they can.
To date, the labor union has provided 10 speaking devices for Variety, and their work is ongoing, with a fundraising campaign that takes place both inside and outside the organization.
Gerard believes that it’s important that the nonprofit efforts of the USW be recognized by the community.
“It’s positive recognition,” he said. “[It’s important] that the community recognizes that the union does more than collective bargaining, though that is an integral part of it.”
Gerard said he sees philanthropic work as an integral component of the work the USW does in the community.
“The role of it is to make life better for our members and their families, both in the workplace and outside in their community. The union is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week, 52 weeks-a-year community activist organization. It’s something that our members take pride in.”
View the video profile of USW.
6o Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Top officer: Leo Gerard, international president
What it does: Industrial labor union representing 1.2 million members and retirees in Canada, the Caribbean and the United States in a diverse range of industries, including primary and fabricated metals, chemicals, glass, rubber, heavy-duty conveyor belting, tires, transportation, utilities, container industries, pharmaceuticals, call centers and health care
Supported nonprofits: Jefferson Awards Foundation; The United Way; Variety - The Children’s Charity; The Center for Hope; The Bridge Over Troubled Waters domestic violence center; local schools and food banks, immigrant groups, cancer groups and school supply drives