WATCH: Black Vietnam Vet on How the UAW Helped Him Overcome Addiction

Bishop Herman Dailey talks about how the UAW helped him to overcome drug addiction

“I believe in this union” shouts 75 year old, African American Bishop Herman Dailey as he clutches a megaphone outside of GM’s Rochester Operation, where he worked for nearly 35 years.

“When I came home from Vietnam, I didn’t have no job; I was homeless. The UAW stood by me, gave me a job and I was able to feed my family, and I’m out here to let you know that there is a real hell for those bad people” Dailey says to a crowd of cheers from striking General Motors workers. 

For Bishop Dailey, the strike at General Motors is personal. In 1969, he returned to Rochester from Vietnam, addicted to drugs and struggling to deal with the demons of war. His family fell apart, he got into trouble with the law, and his life appeared hopeless. 

“I was facing a divorce, I was drinking,” says the 75-year-old begins to sob as he reaches for my shoulder for support. “I was drugging. I hate to talk about it. I had a daughter, and I wasn’t ready for a divorce. When you go away to war and come back, it’s hard, and I wasn’t ready”. 

“I was angry. Think about this you go fight for your country then you come home, and you are facing a divorce. I was crying, and I needed help,” says Dailey. 

Then one day, his brother let him know that the United Autoworkers was hosting a job fair for returning Vietnam Veteran and General Motors hired him. 

“I’ll never forget that day September 5th, 1972,” says Dailey. 

Despite his drug addictions and the problems he had with supervisors at work, the UAW worked with him to help keep his job and put his life back together. 

“They gave me a chance to do what’s right,” says Dailey. “Nobody would give me a job, and that’s why I’m here because I believe in this union.” 

Eventually, Dailey become a Vice President in his UAW Local 1097 and through his work in the union became a coordinator for the union’s Employee Assistance Program to help workers struggling with personal troubles. 

“A lot of brothers were like myself, black and white. They were struggling. A lot of Vietnam Vets, they were struggling with alcohol and drugs and trying to get jobs and coming to work drunk and missing time,” says Dailey. 

Dailey eventually started the Outreach Community Center to give the homeless a place, where they could live as they overcome addiction. No foundations would give Dailey money to start the program, but his union was there to lend a hand. 

“I had no money,” says Dailey. “The UAW donated my first check to feed the hungry and clothe the needy and put folks in treatment, and that’s why I’m here today because I believe in this union and thank god for this union.” 

With the help of his union, Dailey was able to start a program, where after people went through treatment for drug addiction, and then were able to get good union jobs at GM’s Rochester facility. The UAW even got General Motors to help support his program to help drug addicts. 

“I went through that, and if I went through it, I gotta help the next person” says Dailey I gotta help my brothers and sisters, I’ve been there and done that and here I am now at 75 years of age on Genesee Street, still feeding the hungry and still feeding the homeless and the UAW helped me every year to do that and that’s why I’m out here”. 

For Daily, the UAW changed his life, and he says he’s willing to do anything to help rally support as the UAW faces its toughest strike in a generation. 

“We gotta come together and let them know that we are gonna stand for what is right,” says Dailey. “I believe in this union. We need to come together and let them know that we are gonna come together and stand for what is just for this community”. 

Donate to Help Payday Travel to Cover the G.M. Strike

About the Author

Mike Elk
A protege of Bill Greider, Mike Elk is a yinzer labor reporter, who covered the drug war in Brasil and spent years covering union organizing in the South for the Guardian. In 2016, he used his $70,000 NLRB settlement from being fired in the union drive at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report while living in Chattanooga. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he now lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

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