Each year, volunteers from different West Coast regions gather and receive a “thank you” for donating their time and effort to help fellow union members who are struggling to be free from alcohol and drug abuse. The volunteers all participate in the Alcoholism and Drug Recovery Program (ADRP) supported by the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).
This year’s Bay Area event featured a wide range of guest speakers and discussions that covered addiction, medical research, treatment programs and more.
Most of the volunteers have firsthand experience with what it takes to kick a life-destroying habit, and they’re willing to talk openly about their struggles to stop using substances and behaving in ways that cause problems at home and work. They say it’s all part of being honest about who they are, and a good way to help connect with others who are suffering from the same problem they once had.
“I’ve been clean and sober for 29 years, but it was a struggle to quit then and it requires a constant effort to stay clean,” said Norman McLeod, who’s now retired but remains active in the Bay Area Pensioner’s Club in addition to his ADRP volunteering. “I want to help everyone, especially young people, avoid some of the mistakes we made by getting into drinking and drugs.”
Coast Benefits Specialist John Castanho offered some historical perspective that received nods of agreement from many in the room. “Earlier generations of longshore workers, including some in my family, thought that alcoholism was just a normal part of work.
That’s changing, thanks in large part to the work done by the ADRP Coordinators and volunteers like you.”
The ADRP program resulted from steady membership pressure that built over the years, beginning in 1956 when the issue was first debated openly at a Longshore Caucus meeting. The PMA and ILWU started a trial program in 1964 after arbitrator Sam Kagal asked the union and management what they were doing to help workers with addiction problems. Some locals, including 10, 13 and 21 had experimented with their own programs, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the ADRP was formally established to provide intensive help for all members.
“We’re the best place to get help and information without feeling judged or jeopardizing your job,” said Hunny Powell, who now coordinates the Bay Area ADRP and was once a substance user herself. “Back then I called George Cobbs for help and it changed my life,” she said, referring to the former ADRP leader who passed away in July, 2017.
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Cobbs, Bill Ward, Ed Torres, Chick Loveridge and many others, the ADRP today helps hundreds of people get clean and sober each year up and down the coast. Mario Perez from the ILWU-PMA Benefit Plans Office reported that 247 claims for alcohol or drug treatment were processed by his office last year. Most of those involved first-time treatments, but members who need a second, third or even fourth chance to enroll in a high-quality residential treatment program are able to get help to recover.
In addition to the formal treatment programs, ADRP volunteers provide a daily lifeline of support and encouragement for dozens of co-workers who they contact each week.
“We have an impressive network of people who are trained and ready to help around the clock,” said Powell. “Our program is based on people who have been there, done that, and know what it takes to put the problem behind you – one day at a time. It starts with a phone call, and I look forward to hearing from more people who want help.”