Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hope on wheels: Tennessee Teamsters band together for Katrina victim

UPS Teamster Alex "Kalo" Kalogeropoulos
In our ongoing look back at Hurricane Katrina on the 10th anniversary of the storm, today's story is about Teamsters in Tennessee who pulled together to help out a fellow member -- relocated from New Orleans -- whose life was turned upside down by the Katrina disaster.

In late 2005, a group of UPS workers in Tennessee began meeting privately to discuss what to do about their newest coworker Alex “Kalo” Kalogeropoulos. Following Hurricane Katrina, the displaced UPS driver and Local 270 member was putting on a brave front, but his fellow Teamsters could sense the stress and hopelessness on Kalo’s face. They also began to notice he was the first to arrive and last to leave every day – the result of having to share one car between the entire family for a more than two-hour commute to and from the UPS Center in Masman, TN.

As shop steward for the unit, Tracy Wallace learned of the situation and led the effort to get Kalo back on his feet by getting him a ride of his own:
He reminded me of a lost puppy – he didn’t have a home and had been through so much. Once I got to know him, I learned how difficult a time it was for the family. He never complained, but I knew it was taking a toll. He was dealing with so much. After he told me his truck was lost in the storm and the family was sharing one car, I realized why he was always in the parking lot by himself before and after work. So, we came together and raised enough money to buy a used van that I was able to fix up. We were happy to help.
The parking lot was crowded with Teamsters the morning the van was presented to Kalo, who says he was moved to tears by the generosity of his union brothers and sisters at Local 480. It made “a world of difference” for the family during a very difficult time, he adds:
Crazy thing is, I was just so happy to be working again that I refused to let the commute get me down – as long and frustrating as it was at the time. Being able to work again brought me sanity, then having such welcoming co-workers lifted me up. But when they surprised me with the car, it was beyond anything imaginable … It was overwhelming for a lot of reasons. First, because it was the greatest surprise I’d ever had. Second, because I knew right away the difference it was going to make for the family. And boy, what a world of difference it made for all of us.
Tracy Wallace
Tracy continued to look out for Kalo, taking him under his wing and inviting his family to join him and his wife at their home for dinners. When time came to meet with management to discuss union issues, Tracy asked Kalo to join him: 
We became close and I started taking him to some meetings with management. He was so interested in my role as steward and had so many questions. There was no doubt he was going to become more active when he got back to New Orleans.
Honored to play a role in union discussions with management, Kalo returned to New Orleans in 2006, inspired and determined to put Tracy’s teachings to practice by becoming a steward for Local 270 members at UPS. Today, he credits Tracy and members at Local 480 for making him “more Teamsters than ever”:
If you lived through Katrina, then you have a story to tell. My story wouldn’t be possible without the help of my union brothers and sisters at Local 480, especially Tracy. He looked out for me and picked me up when I was at my lowest. He was more than just my friend, he was also my mentor. He taught me the power of the union comes from being an active union member. There’s a lot of pride that comes from being a steward. I feel it every day.
Following the Katrina story in the latest issue of Teamster magazine, the two stewards spoke for the first time in years, Wallace said during a recent phone interview:
We talked for nearly two hours catching up with each other. We even made plans to visit one another in the next year…He’s just a good ole boy. I’m glad we could help him.