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National UW & Labor History

United Way Labor Departments


Since 1946, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and United Way of America have enjoyed a cooperative working relationship through which they and state and local United Ways have provided services to members of organized labor, their families and their communities.

United Way and organized labor work together to:
  • Train union members to assist co-workers and their families with information about available local services and to refer them to the appropriate organizations.
  • Recruit, train and place diverse members of organized labor on the decision-making bodies of health and human-care service organizations. This is done at the national, state and local levels.

  • Recognize labor leaders who have rendered outstanding United Way volunteer service by annually awarding the Joseph A. Beirne Community Services Award - established in memory of that remarkable labor leader.

    The 2002 Beirne Award recipient is Sandra Jean Irons, President, Gary

    Teachers Union, Local 4, Gary, Indiana.

  • Solicit contributions from workers, which account for a sizable percentage of the two-thirds of the funds that United Ways raise through payroll deduction each year. Through the Labor Letters of Endorsement Program, the president of the AFL-CIO asks presidents of its affiliated unions and state federations to send letters endorsing United Way campaigns to their memberships. This program also encourages individual union members to volunteer their time and contribute their resources to United Way campaigns. It also encourages local unions and central labor councils to endorse and support United Way campaigns.

  • Provide a staff of more than 200 full-time state and local AFL-CIO Community Services Liaisons who serve as links between their state federations and central labor councils and United Ways in 175 communities across the United States. In addition, 21 local labor agencies and five state labor agencies receive direct United Way support.
  • Support the National Association of Letter Carriers’ (NALC) National Food Drive held annually on the second Saturday in May. The drive stocks local community food banks, pantries and shelters with non-perishables Letter Carriers collect from customers along their mail routes. The drive, which has become the world’s largest one-day food drive, was started by NALC in 1991 in cooperation with the U.S. Postal Service and the AFL­-CIO. United Way became a full partner in 1994.

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