Often, when we think of family, mothers, fathers, children and grandparents come to mind. Aunts and uncles are also part of the equation. Close friends often become family as “claimed” relatives.
The poet, Tato Laviera, once described family as “a whole other kingdom.” Family brings together individuals who sometimes share values yet frequently hold differing points of view about what is “right” and what is “wrong” (and everything in between). Sometimes they hold widely divergent political views. Yet, the “kingdom of family” creates a structure for discussion, debate and ultimately acceptance of different viewpoints.
For Local 237 members, the union is family. It is a large family whose members hold over 250 job titles, work for many City agencies and endeavor to create a better quality of life for all New Yorkers. The family elders – Local 237 retirees – live all over the map, spread throughout the 50 states and Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. Working members and retirees are immigrants, emigrants and born and bred New Yorkers. They speak many languages, yet all are part of the same family. Although their backgrounds may be different, they are Teamster brothers and sisters.
We spoke with several retirees about their union family and here is what they said:
Ken Fox, retired Cook, HHC: “The union represents you and takes care of you.” We are the union and “if you have a problem you come to the union – you keep it in the family.” He continues by saying, “the union protects the members and the members protect each other.” “We respect each other, we feel a connection, and we learn from each other, we are united.”
Nilsa Torres, retired SSA, Level III, NYPD: The union is “like a family away from my own family.” It is a place where the “happiness of everyone is joined together.” Using the Retiree Division’s Salsa Class as an example, Ms. Torres says that it is an “expression of life, happiness, youthfulness and love.” The diversity of participants in this class reflects “happiness of everyone joined together.”
Frank Aiello, retired NYCHA Superintendent: When Mr. Aiello describes his union brothers and sisters, he says “they are people I treasure. When I am involved with union activities and programs it is old home week.” Whether in the field while he was working, or during his time as an instructor with the union’s Education Department, or more recently the Retiree Division’s Italian Heritage Committee, he enjoys spending time with lifelong friends and has “a lot of fun” while doing it.
Linda Tavolaro, retired NYCHA Manager: Ms. Tavolaro traces her roots in the Teamster family back to when she started working at the New York City Housing Authority. In her words, we were “working with so many people from all over the world, sharing foods, learning about different traditions and cultures. Yet, we all wanted the same thing: to make a decent living and to support our families.” This was in combination with a “strong desire to serve the residents of NYCHA.” “We supported each other in sometimes challenging and dangerous situations, knowing that we had an opportunity to make people’s lives better.” This sharing and shared goals brought everyone closer.
The sense of family and shared values that Local 237 retirees possess helps to keep Local 237 strong. The structure of the union family brings people of different backgrounds, races and life experiences together with the goal of creating a better life for members and a better life for the New Yorkers they served as public employees.
It seems, of late, that we are living in a time where communication between different generations, races, ethnicities and genders is suffering. While we celebrate our union family and our connections to our union brothers and sisters, let’s see if we can find ways to share our Teamster Local 237 family experience with everyone in our communities. We can spread the message by becoming active with Community Boards and communities at large, by sharing stories with our children and grandchildren and listening to our friends and neighbors who hold differing points of view. Our “kingdom of family” can provide a model for connection, listening and opening the doors to communication in the communities where we live.