Creating connection is the greatest work that the Teamsters Service Bureau has in its portfolio. “I wish more people knew that unions are groups of people who help one another and their community,” said Jennifer Munt, Teamsters Service Bureau Executive Director. “Through solidarity, we transform pain into the power of possibility – whether you are jobless or facing life’s challenges.”
Teamsters Service Bureau stands out because it has combined vital human services with employment services for 35 years. The agency runs the Employee Assistance Program for 27,000 Teamsters and their families. They also help unemployed workers get trained for good jobs that can sustain a family. Both programs give people hope and tools to build a better life.
Beyond their charter and mandate, however, COVID-19 has launched the bureau into new practices that focus on the human aspect of their work. “We’re an agency with a heart,” Munt said.
That approach is crucial for Char Barrett, the agency’s Family Service Advocate. “When workers come to us, many are frustrated and angry. Listening to them tell their stories is important. It requires me to be a good listener; understanding where they’re coming from. I have to be empathetic.”
According to Munt and Barrett, word-of-mouth and 211 referrals account for many of the lives the bureau is able to impact. The agency’s services are open to workers who aren’t Teamsters. Since the start of the economic shutdown due to COVID-19, Barrett and Munt have heard from almost 1,000 workers who call for help.
To effectively guide workers through their services, the Teamsters Service Bureau has taken a holistic approach.
“People are experiencing the trauma of job loss, social isolation, and civil unrest. We’re practicing trauma-informed care. Learners recognize their emotional responses to stress and develop coping skills. We use the power of courageous conversation to help people build resilience and adapt to change,” Munt said.
Teamsters Service Bureau is utilizing funding from Greater Twin Cities United Way’s COVID-19 fund to meet basic needs while continuing to practice compassionate care. Their Emergency Fund has been a lifesaver – literally. It meant a mother could feed her hungry children….a father could pay his family’s rent…a public defender could work safely with a mask…a trucker’s life was saved from suicide…and a retiree could escape from an abusive home.
“We’re the safety net for people experiencing financial hardship. When someone first calls, they’re desperate. We provide immediate relief with a gift card for food, gas, or transit,” Barrett said.
Beyond direct assistance, the Teamsters Service Bureau has taken a deep look at itself from its innermost workings to how it interacts with clients.
“We did two things,” Munt said, “We began an implicit bias awareness training that has been the beginning of many brave conversations. And we’ve done deeper, more intentional outreach. People across the country are prioritizing Black lives and we joined them. As a white leader, it’s my responsibility to repair the harm that’s been done to communities of color. We work at the intersection of racial and economic justice.”
To learn more about the Greater Twin Cities COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, visit gtcuw.org/covid19.
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