August 31st was a day that would forever change the lives of member David Mitchell (Local 937 in Mart, Texas) and his family. It was the day that he would come home with a diagnosis of COVID-19. By September 7, Mitchell’s wife, Michelle, would begin to show symptoms, and on September 13, she was hospitalized with severe COVID pneumonia. By Sept. 14, all four of the Mitchell kids had been diagnosed as well.
Although David and his kids recovered quickly from COVID-19, Michelle did not. Her health continued to decline and on Oct. 5, she had to be intubated.
“Oct. 6th after picking up my son from Timberview High School following an active shooter at his school, as if I wasn’t under enough stress already, I walked into my wife’s ICU room and touched her leg and her heart stopped,” David said. “Michelle was revived, and shortly after that her kidneys failed and her liver failed.”
Although Michelle’s breathing slowly began to improve, other parts of her did not. The doctors took her off of sedation for three days, but she did not wake up. The doctors then decided to run a CT scan and MRI on both sides of her brain and discovered that Michelle had had multiple strokes on both sides.
David reports that Michelle’s organs are back in working order and that she is recovering slowly. The strokes have caused left-side paralysis and her motor skills have been affected as well. Her largest hurdle is learning to walk again at the rehab facility.
“She still is extremely weak and has paralysis on her left side and needs lots of rehab to get all of her motor skills back. And that’s a fight she’s ready to take on headfirst,” David said.
Alternate Vice President and GCA-927 General Chairperson Scott Chelette, who brought Brother Mitchell’s situation to SMART-TD’s attention, has gotten together with local chairpersons to provide Christmas gifts for David’s children.
“Brother Mitchell was especially appreciative of the fact that the International and the President’s office cared enough to want to help in any way they could. I explained to him that this is what an organization should do for each other, and he and every other member will see us getting back to that way of thinking,” Chelette said.
Local 569 Local Chairperson Lawrence Perkins is collecting Christmas gifts for the family. Gifts can be mailed to Perkins at 412 Rocky Creek Drive, Mansfield, Texas, 76063-8800. Brother Mitchell has three boys — ages 6, 9, and 16; and one daughter, age 14.
During this time, Brother Mitchell has been off work just trying to take care of his family. As a result, finances are tight with him not working, coupled with hospital and rehab bills. A GoFundMe has been set up by David to help the family during this difficult time. Click here to donate.
As lockdowns are lifted and pandemic restrictions are eased across Canada, we must continue to remain vigilant. With this in mind, Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) have joined together with the broader labour movement and businesses to launch “Faster Together,” a campaign to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated. The goal is to work together to promote COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and help accelerate the recovery from this pandemic.
The recent discoveries of human remains at or near Indigenous residential schools for children in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have shaken the country. These horrific discoveries call out for a full reckoning with Canada’s colonial history.
We are closer to the end than we are to the beginning. The faster we get vaccinated, the faster we can get back together. As vaccines are distributed across the country, we will be encouraging our members to get whatever vaccine may be available in their areas. We all want to resume the gatherings we took for granted prior to the pandemic. The resumption of some semblance of normalcy cannot come too soon.
We need to move forward in other ways as well. The recent discoveries of human remains at or near Indigenous residential schools for children in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have shaken the country. These horrific discoveries call out for a full reckoning with Canada’s colonial history. The residential schools and the crimes that were committed there are a stain on our collective conscience.
We must come to terms with our past in an honest and compassionate way, and we must seek justice for those who have suffered. We must call on our federal, provincial and territorial governments to prioritize their commitment to truth and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples and to complete a full investigation into all Indigenous residential schools in Canada. Committing to reconciliation means confronting the atrocities of the past so that they are never allowed to happen again.
The CBTU has taken its own first steps down the path to reconciliation. As part of the CBTU’s “Building Together” program, Virtual Indigenous Training has been developed to help increase awareness of Indigenous peoples and their culture. Since its launch, hundreds of union leaders across the country have taken the training. SMART’s leadership is committed to promoting this training, as well as honouring the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building a better Canada with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
The truth about our nation’s history needs to be fully acknowledged and addressed. The time for action is now. We must move forward together!
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society for counselling support available at 1-800-721-0066, or the National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line available 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419.
SMART TD Local 1470 (Edmonston, Md.) Secretary-Treasurer and Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Wetzelberger is doing his part to get the public vaccinated against COVID-19. A 35-year member of the National Guard, Wetzelberger was on the reserves list when he heard about his unit possibly being part of vaccination efforts. With 33 years of seniority as a conductor at Amtrak, he took a military leave of absence from being a conductor to be part of the front-line vaccination effort.
Before shots got put into anyone’s arms, they needed a plan, and Wetzelberger was instrumental in that, too. His first task after being called to duty was to work with the Maryland Department of Health and get in contact with local health department administrators and secretaries so he could schedule mobile vaccination teams from his unit to go out to drive-up and brick-and-mortar vaccination sites to help get members of the public their shots.
When Maryland decided to start doing mass vaccination sites, Wetzelberger volunteered to be the on-site commander at the M&T Bank Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens play, and got the site up and running within 18 days with the help of the University of Maryland Medical System. He brought 71 airmen with him to help operate the site.
““Health is so important. Don’t take a chance with it. I’d get the vaccine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
– SMART TD Local 1470 Secretary-Treasurer and Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Wetzelberger
“It [the Ravens’ stadium] went from a barren, first-class, club-level football stadium, to a fully-operational clinic within 18 days,” said Wetzelberger. “And our highest output in one day was 6,152 vaccinations. We did that in one day at the end of April.” He urges everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. He’s seen the effects of this virus and knows that it isn’t going away anytime soon if people are unwilling to get vaccinated.
“Health is so important. Don’t take a chance with it. I’d get the vaccine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much just foddering and just wrong information is out there about these vaccines. One of the main takeaways is, you’ve gotta do research. Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook. You gotta do research to protect yourself.”
He added: “People are taking chances with their health right now, and they’re just believing anything someone puts online, and it’s a shame because these vaccines are highly effective, they protect you against this nasty virus. I’ve known many people who’ve gotten this thing, and it’s everything from losing their sense of taste and smell all the way up to dying. So there’s no reason to take a chance.”
If you are unvaccinated and interested in protecting yourself and others, visit www.vaccines.gov to find your nearest vaccination site.
SMART SM Locals in New York City, St. Louis, Chicago and Minneapolis mobilized over the winter and spring to provide added capacity for COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts, with union facilities functioning as injection sites for members, veterans and, in some cases, the general public. These efforts were part of a coordinated effort by building trades unions to make their facilities available to President Biden’s COVID-19 Relief Task Force for U.S. vaccine distribution. In February 2021, the Governing Board of Presidents of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) voted unanimously to offer more than 5,000 union halls and training centers to the vaccine distribution effort.
“We are proud to work with our partners, such as Thrifty White Pharmacy and Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota, to offer a sponsored vaccination clinic for the community, our members and their families,” said Local 10 (Minn.) President and Business Manager Matt Fairbanks.
In St. Louis, SM Local 36 local partnered with the Veterans Administration to assist veterans with vaccine injections.
“Local 36 is proud to stand with our veterans to provide a safe, convenient location for them to receive their vaccine.”
– Local 36 Financial Secretary-Treasurer Jeremy Snyder
“Local 36 is proud to stand with our veterans to provide a safe, convenient location for them to receive their vaccine,” said Local 36 Financial Secretary-Treasurer Jeremy Snyder. He added that the union hall effectively functioned as a pop-up vaccine clinic, with sanitation crews coming in each night and doing a deep clean of the space.
SM Local 73 (Chicago) President and Business Manager Raymond Suggs, whose local partnered with Proviso Township and Jewel-Osco on the vaccination efforts, said the local was proud to offer “a safe, convenient location for members of our community to receive their vaccine.”
“Our members have been on the frontlines in battling this pandemic,” added SMART General President Joseph Sellers. “This includes producing and installing equipment critical to indoor air quality, delivering rail freight essential to keeping our economy moving and operating passenger rail and transit. We are pleased to see our efforts have been taken to the next level through the use of our union infrastructure to help with vaccine distribution.”
Because of their long history of hosting toy drives, blood drives and many other community service events, local unions have been uniquely positioned and prepared to immediately assist with broad vaccination distribution in every U.S. state. These are just a sample of many efforts across North America, as SMART has helped lead the way in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.