Crossing Paths with Clean Water Action

Clean Water Action founder and Twin Cities resident David Zwick signs a letter to President Bush for the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act in 2002. Zwick died Monday, Feb. 5., 2018, in Minneapolis. (Courtesy of Clean Water Action)

New Orleans   It isn’t exactly the answer to a popular trivia question, but there might be some head scratching by outsiders, someone from Mars, or an earnest future researcher trying to puzzle out an answer to the question of how a multi-year and multi-layered partnership developed between ACORN and Clean Water Action.  As always, there’s a story behind it all seeped as much by design as simple good luck and happy coincidence.

Clean Water Action was – and still is – the organization that grew out of the fight for the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 that established most of the protection for water and water sources that we still enjoy and defend against corporate assault and public authorities’ inattention.  The stick stirring a lot of that drink had been David Zwick, an early Nadar Raider, and the founder and executive director of Clean Water Action.

Our paths crossed in 1992 as Local 100 expanded to Texas to organize school support workers in the wake of Governor Anne Richards signing a bill that allowed school workers personal decisions to mandatorily force local school districts to honor their request to join a union and have their dues deducted from their pay checks.  This is the same law that is regularly under constant legislative attack now in Texas.  We moved quickly and had to hire a lot of people to do a lot of jobs.  Mostly Orell Fitzsimmons and I hired organizers, but the drives involved mailing and phone banking lists of thousands that triggered home visits and membership recruitment.  We hired a woman named Wendy Weingarten to manage the chaos of paper and data.  I don’t remember Wendy having much background in that area, but she impressed us as committed and confident, and she became the tourniquet that we applied to that gaping wound.

Working closely day by day and juggling the work with Wendy and her schedule and her growing family, the layers of her life also became clear, and that meant meeting her husband, David Zwick and coming to know Clean Water Action.  David and Wendy had somehow made the decision to move and relocate to Houston for multiple reasons, but one was Zwick’s insightful conviction that a major battleground over clean water was Texas.  He opened an office of sorts to keep up with his national responsibilities not far from our building in the Heights.

Year End/Year Begin meetings were always mandatory in the ACORN family of organizations and that meant Wendy’s attendance was also required, and that David would be around with kids in tow as well.  David, quiet and without comment, because of our respect for his work at Clean Water became the first ever outsider ever allowed to attend a YE/YB.  In the days when everyone there was also asked to evaluate the meeting, David finally spoke, gracefully, about how much he appreciated being allowed to attend and how much he had learned.

A few miles away from our Heights office, Clean Water had another location that housed their local canvass program and its various staffing a couple of miles away where we introduced ACORN and Local 100’s work to their crew briefings.  Having shut down ACORN’s canvass in the mid-1980s, we were intrigued that their canvass was still sufficient to support their work.  The Clean Water canvass was run under contract by something called CCI, much like our own CCI.  We had them run canvasses for us in Austin and Dallas among other cities for some years trying to see if we could make it work.  Last summer as Chaco and I pulled the trailer out of Missoula, Montana to its new home in Manderson, Wyoming, we had a farewell dinner and talked about the small world with my old comrade and friend from Northern Plains Resource Council days, Tom France, and his partner, Meg Haan, who had run our joint operation in Austin back in those days.

I was reminded of all these times and Dave Zwick and his quiet dignity, great contributions, and our thoughtful conversations, as I stumbled on the obituary about his untimely death while reading old newspapers piled and waiting from endless days of travel.

Warriors fall, but the battles are constant and continue.  We honor them still!

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How and When Did Scrooge McDuck Take Over Disneyland?

New Orleans    My dad was born and raised in Orange County, California, first in Tustin, then Santa Ana, and finally Orange itself where he lived until he finished high school. My grandfather was a foreman on an orange grove ranch until he couldn’t be, and then he worked as the janitor at the Lutheran Church, next to the parochial school that my dad, his brother and three sisters all attended at various times.  My dad used to tell us about delivering papers on his bicycle before dawn along the hills covered with orange groves that are now all occupied by one housing development after another.

We used to drive out to visit my grandparents in California every five years after we moved to New Orleans.  Of his two weeks of his vacation, we would spend three days driving out and three driving back, leaving at 4 AM in the morning to beat the humidity of the Gulf Coast and then the aridity of the desert until we arrived.  Once we went by his cousin’s carpet store to watch them build the Angels stadium in Anaheim.  We once went to Knott’s Berry Farm.  Twice we went to Disneyland.

I was shocked to read in an old copy of the New York Times that 85% of the 17,000 Disneyland unionized workers make less than $15 per hour, and that’s in California where the minimum wage is over $10 per hour, not $7.25, and on its way to $15 by 2022.  Furthermore, that’s in Orange County, not Sunflower County, Mississippi where my mother was raised.  Living costs are in another dimension in California.  The Times references a California Budget & Policy Center that calculates that a single adult would need to make $33,000 to meet a basic monthly budget, which is about $16 per hour at full-time work.  The story followed several Disney workers around as they slept in their cars, brushed their teeth at Starbucks, and tried to make it on their less than full-time shifts.

What’s going on here?

Disney is the largest employer in Orange County.  In 2017, the company made almost $9 billion in profits.  In the 3rd quarter of 2017, the parks and recreation segment of Disney, which includes Disneyland and Disneyworld in Florida, was the only major division that beat expectations with $1.2 billion operating income in that quarter alone.  No question, Disney has the money.

And, these workers have a union now and forevermore.  Walt Disney built the place union, and it was been union since it opened in California.  Even Disneyworld in Orlando is union in anti-union Florida.  The unions are organized in various trades councils where in theory every union and craft are part of the bargaining and representation from the skilled trades in maintenance to the large number of service workers in the hotels that are part of UNITE HERE.

Usually, we would think this is a great thing, but what’s gone wrong in Orange County that is allowing Disney to be Scrooge McDuck in dealing with its workers?  This should be Neverland, not Frontierland.  The Times story was triggered by a union-backed survey that indicated that 75% of the responding workers said they “do not earn enough money to pay for their basic monthly expenses, and one in 10 said that they had been homeless in the past two years.”  Clearly, we must demand that the unions stand up to Disney to force this rich company to pay living wages or make sure that visitors stop allowing their children to witness this daily hypocrisy in the name of profits.

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