Hurricane Harvey churned, swirled and lashed the Houston area from August 25-29, leaving the worst flooding in the city’s history in its wake. The following Monday, Joint Council President Rome Aloise was speaking with Joint Council 42 President Randy Cammack and the two decided to get their semi-trucks filled with donations to help Teamster families in the Houston area. Within two days, drivers were on the road, collecting donations.
For the past five years, Ron Valdez has been driving the Joint Council 7 semi to Teamster rallies, pickets and events across Northern and Central California. Never did he think that he’d be called upon to take the truck to Houston on an emergency run.
Ron is a Local 853 member, retired from Sysco Foods in Fremont. Mike Fritz works for Berkeley Farms and is a Local 853 Trustee. Steve Bender, a Local 853 organizer, accompanied the two drivers as they picked up donations across the Bay Area and did the marathon drive to Houston.
“We started picking up stuff at the Safeway plant in Tracy, then went to Southern Wine & Spirits and DBI Water, who all donated pallets of drinking water. We also got juice from Berkeley Farms. Meantime, many of the Locals in JC7 brought donations of clothing, food and diapers to Local 853 to load onto the truck. The Sheet Metal Workers donated tools and gloves, and donations came from individual union members and community members.
Once the truck was filled to capacity on Thursday night, Ron, Mike and Steve drove to Rialto, just east of Los Angeles, to meet up with the other five trucks—from Joint Council 42, Local 630 in Los Angeles, Local 63 in Rialto, Local 542 in San Diego and Local 986 in Las Vegas.
“The CHP met us in Rialto on Friday morning and escorted the convoy to the Arizona border. We were then escorted by the Arizona and New Mexico State Police in those states,” Ron explains. “The benefit of the escort is that we were able to go 80 mph and, since we were driving under FEMA guidelines, we didn’t have to stop for inspections. It worked out well, especially in California, where we were allowed to be in the fast lane and the CHP wouldn’t let any cars pass us. They did a fantastic job. It felt like we had the whole freeway to ourselves.”
From the Texas border into Houston, the convoy was on their own. After driving 25 hours straight, they finally arrived at the distribution center on Saturday evening to unload. Members from the Houston Teamster’s Local were on hand to help. “The mayor and vice-mayor were there to greet us and receive the donation, and that felt great,” Valdez adds.
By 1:30 on Sunday morning, the drivers from all five trucks were at a hotel in San Antonio. Without escort, the drive home was slower, but also less urgent. They spent one more night in a hotel in West Texas, and then drove straight back to Oakland. They were home by Tuesday morning. “It was a long trip but it was worth it and it was certainly well-appreciated,” says Valdez. “We were willing to go to Florida if we got that call.” The following week, Valdez was attending his high school class reunion. “People came up and thanked me and the Teamsters for what we did. My response: ‘Hey, that’s what we do!’” Aloise agrees. “Ultimately, we wanted to take care of our Teamster brothers and sisters,” he says. “In this case, we took care of our own members and others in the city as well. From an idea on Monday, to the delivery 1,900 miles away on Saturday, we made an immediate difference in people’s lives. That’s what being a Teamster is all about.”