SAN PEDRO—Armed with buckets of simple green and scores of rags, union members volunteered Saturday, Nov. 8, to be the USS Iowa crew for a day, scrubbing down bunks and cleaning walls in the 72-year-old battleship.
More than 40 members of Southern California’s labor unions—including Orange County Employees Association, United Food and Commercial Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and several others—came to commemorate Veterans Day and honor our nation’s heroes by giving back.
The celebration will continue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday with a FREE community Veterans Day event at the OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, in Costa Mesa.
The events are part of the Veterans + Labor initiative, launched in 2013 by California’s unions. Through the initiative, union members across California volunteer to support veterans in their communities, and fight for policies and programs that provide resources for veterans in need and connect them with good jobs.
“We’re workers, so today we were proud to stand with Veterans by doing work on a historic ship—work that ensures our country will never forget the sacrifices veterans have made for our freedoms,” said Jennifer Muir, Assistant General Manager of the Orange County Employees Association, which represents 18,000 public workers in Orange County.
“These are the heroes of our country, so the least we can do is come out here to say ‘thank you for serving’ and clean up a ship that was in battle,” added Gilbert Davila, Organizing Director for UFCW Local 324 in Buena Park. “It’s an overwhelming experience here today.”
Commissioned in World War II and known as the “Big Stick,” the USS Iowa is the West Coast’s largest battleship museum, serving 250,000 visitors a year. Local and national government funding for the museum is non-existent, so the Iowa depends on volunteers to accomplish many of the duties needed to maintain the ship, according to the Iowa’s website.
“We wouldn’t be open if it weren’t for volunteers,” said Sue Schmidt, USS Iowa Volunteer Coordinator. “Big groups who come out often can do large projects that we just haven’t got the manpower for. They can get a lot done in a short amount of time.”
While some cleaned the inside of the ship, others were on the shore, bringing more than 100 artillery protectors out of storage to be used as displays on the Iowa.
OCEA member Michael Williams—who oversees public drug and alcohol programs for the County’s Health Care Agency—said it was an honor to be up close to a piece of United States Naval history.
“This is special to me,” he said. “I’m from a long line of military veterans, so giving back in this way feels awesome.”
Santa Ana Police Sgt. Mike Gonzalez—who serves as a Master Chief in the United States Navy Reserve and a volunteer on the USS Iowa—first stepped aboard the Iowa as a newly-enlisted sailor in the early 1980s. He traveled the Mediterranean and went above the Arctic Circle on the ship. Knowing others care for the place he called “home” for four years makes all the difference, he said.
“Orange County labor showed up and they set the standard. We’re looking normally for 20 or so volunteers. Labor showed up with about 45,” he said.
“It’s about having value in something greater than yourself. Everyone here could be sitting at home on a Saturday drinking a beer, but instead they’re volunteering their time, and their families’ time, to do dirty work. Without Labor coming in and doing the work, it would take us a lot longer to get the ship where we want it to be.”