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Posts Tagged ‘Flint’

The Flint Effect: Will One City’s Crisis Spark A National Awakening?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Jeff Bryant

When news about lead contamination in the water supply of Flint Michigan made headlines across the nation, many compared the crisis to Hurricane Katrina. Even Michigan Governor Rick Snyder called the disaster “his Katrina,” comparing the failure of government leadership in his state to the failure of public officials who left Katrina victims stranded.

But while Katrina was a singular event with a tragically long legacy, Flint is proving to be the beginning of a story playing out over a much longer time period and in more than one place.

It’s the difference between a blockbuster movie and the season opener of a TV serial.

In an update on Flint from the New York Times, we learn the crisis is anything but over. “Reports of rashes, itchiness, and hair loss” are making people fearful of using the city water to bathe in. “Families are going to extraordinary lengths to find places where they can bathe without fear,” the report says

And of course what’s yet to come is evidence of the irreversible damage done to the developing brains and nervous systems of Flint’s children due to the exposure to lead.

But what makes Flint more of a presage is the realization it’s sparking around the country about the conditions being inflicted on our youngest citizens.

Flint Is Everywhere

When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “America is Flint,” he branded the crisis a “wake-up call” to address the national problem of lead toxicity in children’s environments.

Now we know some public officials indeed stirred. As the Associated Press reports, Flint prompted school officials in many places to test classroom sinks and cafeteria faucets for lead.

What they found was alarming: “Among schools and day care centers operating their own water systems … 278 violated federal lead levels at some point during the past three years. Roughly a third of those had lead levels that were at least double the federal limit.”

The reporters found an elementary school in Wisconsin with pipes, buried in the concrete foundation, leaching lead into the tap water and a Head Start center in Missouri whose relatively new building showed up with high levels of lead in the water. These facilities have switched to bottled water at considerable cost.

“No state is immune to the problem,” the article states.

The AP story follows other disturbing reports from big-city school systems plagued with lead in school drinking water. As Mother Jones reports, schools in Boston, Baltimore, Camden, and Newark “have been drinking trucked-in water for years due to lead concerns.” (The writer could have mentioned Philadelphia, too.)

The article calls schools with verified lead levels “the lucky ones” because officials at least know the water is toxic and have taken steps to address that. The much bigger problem is that many school systems simply don’t know the danger flowing through their pipes.

The article quotes a university professor who studied lead contamination in Flint, who observed, “It’s definitely the schools that you do not hear about” that are the most concerning.

It’s The Aging Infrastructure, Stupid

A significant part of the problem is that, according to Mother Jones, “roughly 90 percent of the nation’s schools aren’t required to test their water.”

But the issues go way beyond testing. As the AP reporter explains, in “almost all cases” of lead contamination, “the problems can be traced to aging buildings with lead pipes, older drinking fountains, and water fixtures that have parts made with lead.”

So even when municipal water supplies show no contamination with lead, that’s no assurance schools are lead free. Lead pipes weren’t banned until 1986, AP explains, but the average age of school buildings in America “date to the early 1970s.”

Some communities have addressed their aging school infrastructure by simply closing old buildings down. But taking that option can result in a number of potentially negative consequences.

First, after closing school buildings down, students still need somewhere to go to school, and again school buildings can often be a systemic problem. There are other problems as well.

As Rachel Cohen explains in a report for The American Prospect, closing down school buildings, even aging ones, has proven to be a very controversial issue in communities across the country. Cohen points to a number of cities where school closings have destabilized neighborhoods, devastated small businesses, and lowered local property values.

“Public schools have always impacted communities in ways that go beyond just educating young people,” Cohen writes, citing the benefits of “well-maintained school facilities” to economic vitality and civic life.

Also, old school buildings that are poorly maintained and in need of repair are located disproportionately in low-income communities of color, which has prompted education and civil rights advocates to connect school closings to charges of race and income discrimination.

Further, a majority of schools that are closed aren’t really closed for good. In fact, most find a second life as charter schools, and the problems don’t go away; they just change hands.

“Rather than shutter schools,” Cohen explains, “residents argue districts should reinvest in them.”

The Investment We Need

Where will the money come from?

“Increasing state and federal spending could both help struggling urban schools, and also help fortify communities more broadly,” Cohen says. She quotes an expert on school infrastructure spending who suggests the federal government “start contributing at least 10 percent toward district capital budgets” to low-income communities to Title I funding.

Much better still would be a national program addressing our aging education infrastructure. Congress is currently engaged in budget talks, but so far rescuing school children from their increasingly unsafe learning environments hasn’t been on the agenda, with one exception.

The exception comes from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose People’s Budgetincludes an investment of $1 trillion to “transition to 21st Century infrastructure, which ensures our roads, bridges, railways, and facilities are strong and that no town experiences the devastating effects of crumbling infrastructure we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan.” The CPC also calls for “greater investments in K-12 education.”

What better investment is there than making sure school buildings are safe and healthy?

The fact that Flint is not only staying in the news, but is also still in conversations in Congress, is testament to how disturbing the story is. But now that we know that Flint is really everywhere, it’s time to go beyond merely being disturbed to taking specific actions. Millions of school children are relying on us.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on April 14, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

With Gov. Snyder Failing to Fix the Problem, Working People Step Up in Flint Water Crisis

Thursday, January 28th, 2016
Kenneth Quinnell

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been rightly criticized for how he has handled the water crisis in Flint. In his State of the State speech earlier this month, he had a chance to take the crisis head on and failed to do so. Working people, on the other hand, are stepping up where Snyder has failed.

Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, responded to Snyder’s speech:

The people of Flint deserve answers and accountability, but the governor didn’t provide either tonight. Until the governor waives his [Freedom of Information Act] exemption and releases all materials on the Flint water crisis—including those from his senior staff—his promise to release a handpicked number of emails is hollow. To help the people of Flint start to heal and ensure a disaster like this never happens again, the governor needs to be fully transparent with the public and start telling the truth.

Sam Muma, president of the Greater Flint Central Labor Council, agreed:

It seems pretty clear that Rick Snyder still doesn’t get it. Our city needs sustained, long-term resources from the state to clean up the mess that Snyder created, and on that front, the governor’s speech fell short. All I heard were more empty promises from a politician who’s desperate to dodge the blame. Snyder needs to start being straight with people and show real leadership if he’s ever going to help Flint recover.

Meanwhile, union members have been helping out Flint residents. UAW and LIUNA members have volunteered to help out, and now Plumbers and Pipe Fitters members are going door to door to help residents install filters that will make their water a lot safer. Focusing on seniors and people with disabilities first, the plumbers have helped instill more than 1,000 filters since last week. Residents like Lucia Chapman, who was deeply concerned about the safety of her brother who has a disability and her grandchildren, have been thankful for the efforts of the union members. “I don’t have to worry about if I’m drinking bad water. Everything will be alright because we got people like him,” she said, in reference to plumber Tony Slatton, who changed her faucet and installed her filter.

Learn More:

If you would like to know how you can help, visit Michigan AFL-CIO’s website for details.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 27, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Fast Food Strikes Catch Fire

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

David MobergEarly this morning, fast food workers in New York, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. launched strikes demanding both a wage increase to $15 an hour—from a median of $8.94—and the right to form unions without employer interference.

Later this week, workers in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and Flint, Mich., will also go out on strike, expanding the reach of the movement of fast food workers (and, in Chicago, retail workers) that started with protests in New York and Chicago last year and grew into a series of one-day strikes throughout 2013. In Flint and Kansas City, strikes are taking place for the first time; in other cities, strikes will expand to target new franchises.

Organizers anticipate that thousands of fast food workers will join in the strikes, which coincide with heightened public awareness of wage stagnation and economic inequality. Some strikers may stay out longer than a single day.

The fast food strikes are part of a broader movement by low-wage workers for higher pay and union representation that has caught fire over the past year.

Targets include a range of employers, including Wal-Martfederal subcontractorswarehousesretail stores and car washes. Workers have typically formed loose local organizing committees that, with financial and logistical support from unions and community groups are growing into national networks, most prominently OUR Walmart.

This low-wage service and retail worker movement has tapped into a vein of discontent. But it has also created hopes for change through the fledgling campaign’s remarkable success with imaginative tactics.

“I’ve always dreamt about a moment like this,” says Terrance Wise, a 34-year old fast food worker and father of three in Kansas City. “But what am I going to do by myself? There’s strength in numbers. It’s a beautiful thing, a positive thing, that’s going to change this country. … My job should be a good job.”

Although he works long hours at his two part-time jobs—8 years at Burger King (now for $9.35 an hour) and 2 years at Pizza Hut (for $7.45)—and his wife also has a low-wage job as a home healthcare aide, Wise struggles to make ends meet. He recently lost his house to foreclosure and had to move in with relatives.

Overall conditions in the industry have not changed as a result of the movement, but some workers have won improvements. In Chicago, organizers say, workers at some McDonald’s and Macy’s locations received modest pay increases after the April strike. Dock worker Andrew Little, 26, said that managers raised pay from $9 to $11.26 an hour for him and his coworkers after they participated in the Chicago strike.

“I was honestly shocked,” he said. “We told ourselves it wouldn’t happen overnight. My first thought was the strike really did have an effect.”  But Little remains focused on his “main goal”: to form a union. “We want both a raise and to sit down with management and talk about how we can better serve the store and the store can better serve us,” he says.

As happy as he is with his raise, he is especially pleased that no striker was fired or disciplined. “That’s the best part,” he said.  Like other strikers, he returned to work accompanied by supporters—a dozen community representatives, clergy and organizers—who insisted that he should not suffer any retaliation. Workers have a real fear of being fired, Little says, but that can be prevented “if enough of us all stand up and demand respect.”

Not all employers responded positively, at least not at first. After strikes in St. Louis in May, some participating workers lost hours, pay, shifts or promised transfers, according to Jobs With Justice leader Rev. Martin Rafanan. But Jobs With Justice delegations went to the restaurants and talked with managers, corporate representatives or even, in one case, the corporate general counsel. “All of the cases were resolved in favor of the workers by the well-coordinated responses of community leaders,” he says.

There’s only one documented case of a striker being fired during this year’s wave of fast food job actions: Greg Reynoso, from a Brooklyn Domino’s. Fast Food Forward, the New York branch of the movement, responded by making his employer the first target of the current strike. On Friday, organizers report, 14 of 15 Domino’s delivery drivers did not show for work, effectively shutting down the operation on its busiest night. Meanwhile, roughly 60 supporters, including U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), gathered outside the Domino’s to protest Reynoso’s dismissal.

The actions come at a time when issues of inequality and the minimum wage have taken the national stage. President Obama is on tour giving high-profile speeches on economic inequality, and a Hart Research poll shows that 80 percent of the public supports the proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.35 to $10.10 in three steps.

Fast-food workers’ poverty wages were spotlighted last week when everyone, from Stephen Colbert to The Atlantic, made sport of McDonald’s for unintentionally debunking its own claims that it provides a living wage. A model budget McDonald’s created for its workers recommended holding two jobs (which is tricky with fast-food jobs, which require workers to be available on-call) and included nothing for heating, far less for health insurance than the cheapest McDonald’s plan, and other fantasies. Implicitly, the budget showed what strikers know: it’s hard to make ends meet on less than $15 an hour.

This article originally appeared on Working in These Times on July 29, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg is a senior editor of In These Times, and has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976.

Michael Steele and the Demise of Working America

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Back in April 2009, GOP chairman Michael Steele appeared as a guest on a republican-oriented talk radio show. A caller to the program voiced his opinion and stated he did not believe the U.S. is in a state of economic crisis. Steele laughed in agreement and claimed that “[t]he malls are just as packed on Saturday.”

San Rafael, California is located 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge along U.S. Highway 101. With a population of approximately 50,000, it retains the flavor of a small town without sacrificing any of the amenities you’ll find in the most sophisticated of communities.

Nearly every week for the last six months, as I drive along “Mainstreet” on my way to work, I’ve noticed a new storefront that has gone vacant. These are not the vacant addresses that once housed “Old Navy” or “The House of Knives;” and 4th Avenue is not a strip mall. These were shops and boutiques that operated and prospered for the last 20 or more years by catering to the desires and whims of what had been one of the most prosperous communities in the nation. But ever since the mask was removed from Bush’s depression last summer, many of these privileged professionals are finding themselves squeezed financially in the same wringer as the rest of America’s middle class has been for quite some time. As a result, one by one, these shops are falling by the wayside.

The American economy we see today is the end-result of political policies that have been transforming American society for the past 30 years. Based on slogans such as privatization, de-regulation, free trade, out-sourcing, “conservatism,” tax reform, and right to work, legislators have been giving American business what it wants since the days of President Regan. They have turned this country into a place that no longer resembles the country it was when I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

San Rafael, CA is a long way from Flint, Michigan, the town where I grew up.

Flint was never a place that you would mistake as being a center of sophisticated culture. It had always been a blue-collar town. But in its own way, it had once been a pretty prosperous place. Flint was probably the first urban center in America to feel the crunch created by those economic and business policies that destroyed industrial America. You could say that Flint had been America’s canary in a cage, because that town began dying in the 1970’s.

Type the words “Flint Michigan” into your browser or into the search bar over at You Tube. Take a look at what conservatism has done to America. Flint residents living next door to an abandoned property are now able to purchase that property for $1.00. The city will come in, demolish and remove any existing building on that property and fill in the holes. Thereafter, the new owner only needs to keep the property looking presentable. Another strategy being used is to provide incentives for residents in out-lying areas of the city to move in closer to the city center, so that city services can be discontinued to the abandoned areas.

In the wake of the policies listed above, community after community across America have been pushed over the brink of the same slippery slope as Flint, Michigan was abandoned to years ago when business (General Motors) moved out. Michael Steele’s words prove he remains as ignorant of where America stands today as John McCain was during his failed presidential bid, and Steele’s words are just as irrelevant as is the Republican party. The trouble is, that leaves America with only one other political party. From the looks of it, the Democrats have been cowed for so long by their minority status that following their return to a leadership position, they immediately bowed the knee to the masters of corporate Amerika. That being the case, I can’t see how we’ll ever emerge from the wreckage that’s been left behind.

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