In the Pacific Northwest, the letters M-V-P take on a whole new meaning.IAM District 751 and its Machinists Volunteer Program (MVP) are unmatched in their service to the community.
At 4 a.m. in Tacoma, the streets are quiet except for an occasional passing car. The average person wouldn’t get up at this time of morning to do something for themselves, let alone something for complete strangers.
Rob Curran is no average person.
The IAM District 751 retiree and his wife, 751 member Brenda, make the early morning journey to the Downtown Tacoma Rescue Mission to prepare and serve more than 200 hungry people, many of whom come to the mission for what could be their only meal of the day.
The line of individuals stretching outside consists of a wide variety of souls. From old, weathered and wrinkled faces with eyes that seem to have seen a century of troubled times, to clean shaven young adults grabbing a bite to eat before catching the bus to work. Regardless of what day’s adventures lie ahead for the patrons of the mission, a nutritious breakfast will get all of them off to a good start thanks to volunteers like Rob, Brenda and many other IAM District 751 members.
“I enjoy doing it,” said Curran. “I’ve been volunteering here at the mission for 10 or 15 years. It’s a privilege.”
For Curran, giving back is second nature.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Curran. “The union gave me a good opportunity to earn a good wage and benefits. So I feel I have an obligation to give back.”
Curran has volunteered so much of his time, he is one of three District 751 members to receive the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for volunteering more than 4,000 hours.
“People ask me if I have a hobby,” said Curran. “Well, this is my hobby. It’s something I love to do. I try to help people out and do my part to make this world a better place for all of us. Any of us could be on the other side of this line.”
District 751 Local F retiree George Braun first visited the Tacoma Mission to volunteer nearly 20 years ago. These days he is there about five days a week helping out.
“I started volunteering around 1998, then just got more and more involved,” said Braun.
Braun has received many awards for his dedication to serving others, including the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He has put in more than 1,200 hours each year for the past three years.
“I’ve had a good life,” said Braun. “So I figure I need to give back. A lot of these people are living under unfortunate circumstances and much of it is out of their control.”
Joining the crew at the Tacoma Mission was retired 751 steward Vennie Murphy, who has been volunteering at the mission for about 17 years.
“I volunteer every weekend I am available,” said Murphy. “It makes me feel good to be able to help other people. It’s a great program here. If you show up you get a meal. They serve two meals every day of the year.”
Murphy enjoys serving at the mission and understands the need of those receiving the meals.
“We treat the people on the other side of that counter with respect, because you know one bad turn and you could be on that side,” said Murphy. “Even working at Boeing, if you fall on hard times, like going through a divorce or something, you can easily find yourself on the other side of this counter right here.”
Tacoma Mission Staff Coordinator Mary Johns is appreciative for the constant supply of 751 volunteers.
“If they weren’t here, things would be very hectic,” said
Johns. “With Rob and these guys, they know what to do, I don’t have to do much directing. They just do it, and I rarely have to step in.”
Exactly 60 miles north up I-5, District 751 Local F Steward Carter Wolbaum is at the Everett Gospel Mission preparing a breakfast of eggs, biscuits and gravy. The second and third Sunday of every month, Carter stops by the store to pick up biscuits and gravy to donate to the mission.
Eight years ago, the Marine veteran volunteered at this very same mission on Christmas, before his second deployment to Iraq.
“It was really rewarding, and ever since then I wanted to come back and help out,” said Wolbaum.
He returned to the mission to volunteer last year, and as luck would have it, the union brother who was providing the food and volunteering was retiring.
“I showed up and it was going to be his last month,” said Wolbaum. “I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s nice to do something for someone who needs it. You never know when you’re going to be the one needing help.
“Our union gives a lot to the community, and this is my way of being a part of that,” said Wolbaum. “I’m lucky to be in the position to do it. If it wasn’t for our union, I wouldn’t be able to.”
Everett Gospel Mission breakfast cook Larry Spiegelberg is thankful for Wolbaum and the other 751 volunteers.
“It’s a real blessing to have Carter and the rest of the volunteers come in and help out,” said Spiegelberg. “They make my job a lot easier. I can get ahead of the game.”
And as a resident of the mission, he is especially grateful for the volunteers who help keep the place running.
“I’d be on the streets if it wasn’t for this place,” said Spiegelberg. “I’m so grateful for what they’ve done and how they have allowed me and everybody here get their lives together.”
751 MVP PROGRAM
Helping and serving at the homeless missions is just one example of the many contributions members of IAM District 751 make. Volunteering is just as much a part of their culture as anything else. So much in fact, District 751 has a program to organize all the volunteer activities.
The Machinists Volunteer Program, or MVP Committee, meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month to plan volunteer projects.
“It’s a great program,” said District 751 President and Directing Business Representative Jon Holden. “Any community event or need that comes in, our MVP committee evaluates it and determines if it’s something we can do, and if so they get volunteers to staff it and make it happen.”
The MVP Committee is something Holden is very familiar with. Prior to taking the helm at the district, he was a MVP committee chair.
“It was a great way to be involved in my union,” said Holden. “Our district has been doing a lot of volunteering activities in our community for a very long time. We feel it is very important to give back.” With close to 30,000 IAM members in the area, District 751 has quite the presence in the community. They are not only known for setting the standard for contracts in the aerospace industry, but also for raising the community’s standard of living through their volunteerism and support.
“It’s not lost on our members. We have resources that others might not have, because of the wages and benefits we have been able to negotiate,” said Holden “With that comes the ability to donate money to causes, donate time to our schools and non-profits. We know there’s part of our society that needs help, and because of our union contracts we are able to support those groups that do great work to help those who need it most. Without those contracts, we wouldn’t have the resources to give back. But we do and we are proud to do it.”
District 751 members feel very strongly about giving back to their community and have been doing so for many decades. So much so, there is a requirement for all union stewards to volunteer at least eight hours a year. Individually, eight hours doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you consider the district fluctuates between 650 to 700 stewards, you begin to realize the impact these members have on their community.
“Our members work on hundreds of projects a year,” said Holden. “They have volunteered over 13,000 hours each of the last two years supporting our community. I am very proud of them, it’s exciting to see our members be so involved with their union and support their community so much.”
On a crisp March morning a group of 20 District 751 Machinists gathered at a home in Arlington, WA to help out a fellow union brother in need. Mike Miller retired from Boeing after 30 years but an amputation a few years ago left him less mobile than he used to be. His union family is giving him the freedom to move in and out of his house more easily by building him a wheelchair ramp.
“Many times I can’t wear the prosthetic because of swelling and sores, so I have to use a knee scooter,” said Miller. “It’s getting very difficult to get out of the car and up the stairs into the house.”
He is very grateful for the support of his union family.
“I’m very thankful. Union guys really stick together,” said Miller. “I really appreciate everything they have done for me.”
In addition to the ramp, Miller also got a little dose of the comradery he used to witness daily.
“It was good having the union guys around the house hanging out, drinking coffee and cutting up,” said Miller. “It was like being on the shop floor again.”
For over 30 years District 751 Machinists members have been giving the gift of mobility to hundreds of people in the community who are in need of a wheelchair ramp. It’s a program they are most proud of.
For current MVP Chair Princie Stewart, this specific project is even more gratifying because they are helping a 751 retiree.
“It’s very special to be able to build a ramp for one of our union brothers or sisters,” said Princie. “They put in a lot of years in our union and being brothers and sisters doesn’t stop when you retire, we will be there for you any way we can.”
Business Representative Garth Luark has been involved in over 300 ramp builds during his nearly 20 years of volunteering, but this particular build was special for him.
“I worked with Mike to help him with a medical layoff before his retirement,” said Luark. “When I heard that he was in need of a ramp, I wanted to come out and help him again.”
Back in Everett, a dozen 751 members secure trash bags and grabbers and don high-visibility safety vests, then set out to clean up the nearly two-mile stretch of Fourth Avenue which District 751 has claimed as their own. Volunteers meet here the second Sunday of each month to make passes up and down each side of the busy street to pick up litter.
“It’s a way of getting out there and bringing to light to the public what unions are all about,” said 751 Local A Steward Derek Gottschalk. “We do this for the betterment of our community. We have our sign up here that says this road belongs to us and we take pride in that. We want this to be the cleanest section of road in Everett.”
Members of the district feel volunteering is an important part of being a union member and it shows others that it’s valuable to have unions within their community.
“Volunteering gives us a sense of ownership in our community,” said MVP Committee member and Local A member Adrian Camez. “We build the best planes in Washington state, but it doesn’t stop at the time clock and it doesn’t stop at the gate at Boeing. It continues on with our work in the community. It’s a great thing to be part of such a great union.”
Whether it is helping feed the less fortunate at the mission, collecting food for Northwest Harvest, building playgrounds for the local schools, picking up trash on the roadside or building wheelchair ramps for those in need, the Machinists at IAM District 751 have established themselves as a pillar in the community. It’s something DBR Holden feels very strongly about.
“It’s important we volunteer in the community and identify ourselves as Machinists Union members,” said Holden. “We get a lot of media coverage when we have to battle our employer. It’s important for the community to know we are doing a lot of great things to raise the standard of living in this community. We don’t just work here, we also volunteer and we make this community stronger.”
The volunteer efforts in the area do more than strengthen the community. The 751 Machinists name recognition pays huge dividends when it comes to organizing.
“People recognize Machinists Union members working in the community, and when they want a union, they see ours as the organization they want to join,” said Holden. “We are having success in organizing new groups, getting first contracts and raising the standard of living for more people.”
The 30,000 members of District 751 keep their local economies rolling and their communities a great place to live. They serve as great examples in their belief that making their community stronger is one of the most important things we can do as union members.
Curran said it best with an answer that is indicative of the volunteering culture of District 751. When asked how long he planned to continue to help others, Curran replied, “I’ll do it until the day I die. Even if I’m in a wheelchair, I’ll find something I can do from there.”