Calamity in Flint Sparks a Fire of Outrage

The calamity in Flint has sparked a fire of outrage, igniting intense examination of the disastrous consequences of anti-Unionism on middle class jobs, public infrastructure and quality of life.

This Michigan city has been in the news because its water system has been poisoned by lead leaching from old service pipes. Approximately 100,000 residents are affected.

Many thousands of infants and children have high levels of lead in their blood, putting them at risk of devastating mental and physical impairments. An outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease is also linked to the disaster.

It started in 2014, when Flint city officials, desperate to save a few million dollars, cancelled their contract with the city of Detroit for delivery of water. The idea was to get water from a new treatment plant near Lake Huron, but this facility isn’t scheduled to open until late this year. So, for the meantime, the city of Flint decided to draw its water from the nearby Flint River.

Blame falls on Gov. Snyder

Unfortunately, the water in the Flint River has a higher acid content than the water from Detroit. This acid has been eating away at the old leaded service pipes leading to the homes of Flint’s residences, poisoning their occupants.

Blame is landing on state regulators who signed off on the plan and for several months disregarded warnings coming from Flint health authorities and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

We’re just beginning to learn the extent of callous contempt held by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration for Flint’s residents. Recently, we learned how the state failed to include a federally-required additive to prevent the leaching of lead into Flint’s water supply — putting children at risk to save a lousy $100 a day.

Flint’s rise, fall and hopes

How did we get to this point in a city once at the center of America’s flourishing auto industry?

My grandmother organized the AC Delco spark plug plant in Flint in 1936, just about the time our Union, now known as UFCW 8-Golden State, was coming into existence in Sacramento.

This was the beginning of Flint’s heyday, when the city was a model for our nation’s economy with its strong middle class.

The United Auto Workers was a powerful force in local and state politics. As a result, the state of Michigan had good laws serving the interests of working people. It didn’t matter if the governor was a Republican or Democrat — this was a pro-Labor state.

Fast-forward to 2016. Michigan is now led by an anti-Union governor — Rick Snyder — and its laws are written and passed by an anti-Union legislature.

Michigan has become a “right to work” state, which means Union power is diminished by crippling restrictions.

With its Unions weakened, Michigan’s laws to protect working families have been replaced with laws favoring the greed of rich and powerful corporations, under the flawed belief tax cuts and other favors for the wealthy will somehow “trickle down” to everyone else.

As we’ve learned again and again, tax cuts for the wealthy only make the wealthy wealthier while blowing holes in governments’ budgets. So these governments cut corners, with disastrous results like those we are seeing in Flint.

Here we observe what happens when Unions are not sufficiently involved in politics: decaying infrastructure, lack of environmental and health regulation, the decline of the middle class and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Meanwhile, America’s Unions, including the UFCW, are coming to the aid of Flint’s residents (see below). Leave it to the Unions to do the right thing!

Early in February, while addressing the UFCW International Union’s Advisory Board and Executive Board, I connected the calamity in Flint with the decline of middle class jobs and the devolving of Michigan into a “right to work” state.

I was gratified by the strong response and inspired to see such passion at the highest levels of leadership in our Union.

The people of our nation need to understand the significance of the tragic events in Flint, for they reveal the dangers awaiting us all if the attack on Unions is allowed to spread wider than it already has.

The fire sparked in Flint can be quenched only by the rising tide of a resurging Union movement.

Solidarity Works!

California on Path Toward $15 Minimum Wage in 2022

This is a historic moment, the beginning of a new era for working people in California.

I am with Gov. Jerry Brown as he signs into law the strongest minimum wage standards in the nation. With all of us working together, we secured a $15 minimum wage, providing a better future for workers.

The final obstacles fell away last week, when the governor reached an agreement with leaders of Unions and the California Legislature. The Assembly and Senate passed the legislation within a few days.

Most economists agree Californians need a raise — a big one. Now it’s going to happen.

This historic measure strikes a blow to income inequality and will help lift millions out of poverty. What’s more, it will help Union members across all industries and pay scales.

This is a perfect example of all Unions working together toward a progressive agenda. It helps all working people and not just those working under Union contracts.

The new law helps in another important way. It means non-Union retailers like Walmart are less able to drive wages downward throughout the retail industry.

Here is an example of Union activism in the political process can improve the lives of all working people.

Solidarity does work!

In Solidarity,

Fear and Hate vs. Courage and Love

We who love freedom and respect for human rights have different ways of reacting to the terrible events in Paris and San Bernardino in recent months.
We can react with pain, grief, horror and anger toward the people who carried out these attacks on innocent human beings.

We can feel compassion toward the victims. We can act with firm resolve to tighten our defenses against future assaults. We can vow to pursue the culprits wherever they hide.

All of these responses are appropriate for a free people in a democratic republic.

Other responses are not appropriate: indiscriminate hatred and violence, racism, religious intolerance and a willingness to surrender the very freedoms we are trying to protect.

I won’t specifically address some of the recent positions taken by political figures who embrace bigotry as public policy. But it’s worthwhile to note how these same individuals can be counted among the most dangerous opponents of Unions.

Unions, after all, embrace the idea of regular, “ordinary” people putting aside their differences and working toward a common goal: a better future where all of us can raise a family, own a home, send our kids to good schools and have respect in the workplace.

Unions have the critical role of making sure the working people get a fair share of the wealth they create for their employers.

When Unions are strong, we have a strong middle class. When Unions are under siege, as they are now in many states, we have a middle class in decline.

Those who oppose Unions say they act in the name of freedom and opportunity, but somehow the beneficiaries of their actions are always the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the land.
Why do Americans put up with this?

The simple but true answer is fear. For centuries, political leaders have used fear of others as a means to keep the citizenry in line.

In the past those “others” have been Jews, Catholics, Chinese immigrants, African Americans, hippies and “welfare queens.” More recently, they have been Latino immigrants.

Now a new “other” has been discovered: refugees from a horrible war thousands of miles away.
Of course we need to be vigilant, but vigilance doesn’t necessarily mean hating all those who profess a certain religion and entering their names into a government database. And it doesn’t mean turning our backs on people who are suffering.

The opposites of fear and hate are courage and love. These are the values of a healthy and growing society. These are the values we need to nurture and protect, even as we are vigilant against those who reject those values.

Our way is stronger than theirs. We will prevail.

As we pursue our hopes and dreams in the year ahead, let’s practice more courage and love. Cherish those who are close to you and be compassionate toward those who are far away and “different.”

The struggle for a better world begins within us.

Solidarity Works!