Steamfitters Local Union 638

Total Running Time: 9:58 min.

Astoria, Queens. Don Perks has been a steamfitter since 1962, installing massive ventilation ducts and heating units into buildings with other "brothers" from Steamfitters Local Union 638. For years, Don had a reputation as one of the union's hardest workers - and one of its biggest drinkers. After a series of close calls, Don finally turned his life around, and decided to help other union members with drinking problems. He's currently Director of the union's Member Assistance Program, part of an internal effort to give union members the support and treatment necessary to kick their drinking and drug-abuse problems. Don and other activists explain that steamfitters, like many people in construction, have a long history of drinking. But unlike other unions that rely on managed care to treat alcoholic members, the steamfitters decided that "the buck stops here" - and initiated a self-insured program that includes a 24-hour addiction hotline, plus 30-day in-patient rehab. They also cultivated a work environment where it was OK for a "tough guy" to admit to a drinking problem; explains Samuel Bacharach, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, "The Steamfitters use their brotherhood and their sisterhood as a way of intervening." At a Labor Assistance Workshop in Washington, D.C., Don talks about the need for drinkers to go beyond their 30-day treatment and participate in aftercare. "You've got to come a minimum of six weeks," he says. "If we can get them six weeks, we got 'em." He adds his group is not interested in targeting individuals for rehab: "We're not here to stop people from drinking....We're here to help people that want to stop. That's our purpose. If you want to keep drinking, then that's what you do. If you want to stop, come see us. We can help."