"The strike has put us in financial ruin"
The forecast in
Detroit this holiday season is cold, snowy and -- for more than 2,000 striking newspaper workers and their families -- bleak.
Dean Francisco has been on strike for more than five months from his job as a pressman for the Detroit Free Press, where he has worked for more than 10 years. He and his wife Michelle and their two children have no other source of income.
"The strike has put us in financial ruin," says Michelle Francisco by phone, while her two-year-old daughter Sierra cries in the background. "All our funds are gone, and we're going into debt."
The family already has had to give up a car, and they don't know if they will be able to make the next mortgage payment.
Hardest of all this month for the family is preparing for Christmas and trying to maintain a normal life for the kids. Like any five-year-old, Nicholas says he can't wait to see Daddy go back to work so he can get some new toys.
"We just keep asking ourselves, 'What should we do?'"
season has been made a little brighter for the Francisco's and their fellow strikers by the generosity of supporters from all over the country. Long before the weather turned cold, the metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO set up a relief fund for workers striking Detroit's two daily newspapers, the News and the Free Press, asking supporters to contribute what they could.
A man living in a nursing home sent two dollars. A union local in another state sent a thousand. A retired school teacher pledged ten dollars a month for however long the strike lasts. The money poured in from all over until the fund had grown to $325,000.
"It sends a chill down your spine," says Eric Lindemier, director of community services.
He says more than half the money has been passed on to the families of strikers in amounts ranging from $100 to about $2,000. The funds are used to avert urgent financial crises, such as foreclosure on a house or loss of electricity or auto insurance.
Lindemier and representatives from each of the six striking unions share the weighty responsibility of sitting down each Friday and deciding which applicants will receive dollars from the strike fund. The fund has been able to support roughly 90 percent of the requests so far, he says. But the strike against the two newspapers and their joint operating agency, Detroit Newspapers, has stretched on since July 13, and the financial needs of many families are growing.
In addition to weekly food bank operations and emergency coverage for prescription drugs and optical care, the AFL-CIO staff established a special program to help striking workers and their families through the holidays. They offered to match each needy worker's family with a financial sponsor.
"We just asked them 'Would you like to be adopted for the holidays?'" Lindemier says. Those who wanted to be adopted had to agree to identify themselves to their sponsors.
Nearly five hundred families said yes and have been linked directly with an adoptive individual or organization that provides support averaging $75 for each child in the household.
"Some adopting organizations have taken the kids' Christmas lists and supported the family with gifts," Lindemier says. "Other families have much more basic needs, like food or warm coats."
The Francisco family was adopted by a United Auto Workers local.
"We just got a great big box of stuff, toys and food," Michelle Francisco says, adding that her family also has received anonymous donations, including a full turkey dinner, Christmas gifts and cash.
Lindemier says he is amazed at the goodwill that has prevailed within the strike community.
"A lot of families [affected by the strike] kept on saying 'Other families should be adopted before mine. Others have a greater need.'"
Michelle Francisco says her husband still has some hope of a strike settlement early in the new year. But her own hopes have been up so many times, only to be torn down, that she's trying not to count on anything changing soon.
"I've just kind of gone numb," she says. "You don't know what tomorrow brings. We just keep asking ourselves, 'What should we do?'"
Editor's note: Contributions to help the strikers can be sent to:
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