It seemed to Dustin Hudak that any time he made progress on his goals, disaster was bound to strike. One step forward, two steps back.
But things are finally looking up for Hudak and his family, thanks to an apprenticeship with St. Paul-based Local 110 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and support from the labor community.
“We’re paying down our bills and hoping to be able to get into a better rental unit after getting our tax refund,” Hudak said. “All of our stuff is in storage, so we’re hoping to be first-time homebuyers down the road.”
Hudak’s story reveals the safety net unions like Local 110 and labor federations, including the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, provide for working people and their families during times of crisis. And for Dustin and his wife of 10 years, Heather, crisis has been a constant of late.
Four years ago their then-4-year-old son, Brady, suffered serious injuries after being attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull. The family, which also includes 9-year-old Jocelynn, had recently moved out of a family member’s basement and into a trailer park in Hastings. It seemed like a perfect fit as the family looked to save money for a down payment.
But the attack changed everything. “I was losing my hours,” he said. “I couldn’t work because I had to be there with Brady. Plus we had to pay for treatments, pads, prescriptions and the mileage and time it took going to doctor’s appointments.”
The requirements of Brady’s care cost both Dustin and Heather their jobs. Eventually, the trailer park evicted them, and they lived for about a month in a motel room before taking an apartment on St. Paul’s west side. The Hudaks had found work with a property manager, who arranged for them to move into the space.
There was just one problem: it was infested with bed bugs. Soon, so were the family’s beds and clothes. “It went from worse to worse to worse,” Dustin said.
Rental agencies were reluctant to lease to them, so the Hudaks moved back into motel rooms before pooling resources with Dustin’s mother on a rental unit in Coon Rapids.
But the bed bugs hadn’t gone away. Heather finally bit the bullet: a $3,200 heat-based treatment to kill the pests once and for all. It went on the family’s credit card.
When Dustin’s mother ran into difficulty paying her end of the rent, the family moved to a small apartment in Circle Pines, where they live now. Heather says the family has “always been on the fine line for public assistance,” but has rarely qualified.
But help came after Dustin, now a second-year apprentice, shared his story with Local 110’s Brotherhood Committee, which provides financial assistance to members in need. The committee helped with rent and an energy bill, allowing the family to pay down credit-card and other debts.
Local 110 also referred Dustin to the St. Paul RLF’s non-profit Labor Studies and Resource Center, which tapped its Emergency Fund and community partners to provide Cub gift cards and other assistance.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they will do that for us?’ Holy cow!’” Dustin remembered.
But the real surprise came before the holidays. Employees of TEAM, an employment services provider that works with several Minnesota unions, were looking to provide a merry Christmas to a family in need. Local 110 suggested the Hudaks.
TEAM staff delivered clothes, video games, gift cards and even a state parks pass to the Hudaks, who acknowledged “feeling a little silly” making up a wish list, but deeply appreciate the relief it provided their budget.
“I’ve never had that sense where I’m feeling comfortable, that I’m not going to lose my job or have the rug pulled out from under me,” Dustin said. “Now I kick myself for not starting apprenticeship earlier.”
– To provide assistance to families like the Hudaks, the St. Paul Labor Studies & Resource Center relies on the generous support of local unions and their members. Click here to learn more about making a contribution online.