Getting the Lead Out of Schools

leadpsymptoms

New Orleans       Increasingly, we are going to ask which school district is going to be the last one to stand up for its children and workers and test for lead.  There really is no rational reason in the face of the devastation that lead brings to children and others and the overwhelming evidence of its ubiquitously destructive impact in schools, and for that matter, other public buildings, for any steward of public trust and responsibility not to assure communities that they are protecting the safety of families and workers.

            After our success in Houston in winning testing for lead in all the districts’ water fountains and other water sources, and what seemed to be the quick agreement in New Orleans to move in the same direction, we have been heartened.  Attention is growing as well.  PBS is coming to New Orleans to film ACORN’s affiliate, A Community Voice and LSU Health Science Center’s testing program in both the schools and adjoining neighborhoods.  A lead education program that is embedded in the ACV housing education classes is also going to be filmed and featured.   Three New Orleans schools have already been tested for the impact of lead on both the soil and water sources.  The PBS angle focuses on the way in which science is being used as a tool for change in the communities, which seems spot on in this fight.

Local 100 United Labor Unions was somewhat surprised that Dallas continued to drag its heels in responding to us on this issue.  With fall and the return of classes, a meeting with a school board member and resumption of school board meetings as well as an emerging coalition of various groups united in their call for such testing, found a positive response finally.  Not only are they going to do the testing, but the Dallas Independent School District also finally agreed with our position to test retirees that had been exposed to lead and other chemicals in the warehouses.

            Dallas had little choice as well because they were beginning to seem a pariah in the metroplex.  Fort Worth had already not only agreed to test all of its water fountains, but having found evidence of lead already in several of them, has moved to replace them.  Arlington, half-way between Dallas and Fort Worth, has also announced a testing program as well.  Other school districts in the Houston area, including neighboring suburban districts of Alief and Cypress-Fairbanks are also moving forward on a testing plan now.   In Texas, districts are beginning to fall in line, but although Local 100’s representative in Arkansas reported some success in lining up allies among teacher groups to push for testing in Little Rock and Pulaski County, both districts are still lagging, even as so many of the trains have pulled out of the station on this issue.

            Other public buildings where we clean, as well as state and public facilities where our members work, are high on our list as well.  The simple rule of thumb should be that wherever there is a public water fountain, there needs to be a lead test. 

How hard is that to get done?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

More Lead Drama in Schools, but More Progress

Testing of Lead in School Drinking Fountains

Testing of Lead in School Drinking Fountains

New Orleans  Why aren’t all school districts in the country simply crying “Uncle” and conceding that they will test all of their schools for lead in the water? They must know this is a tide coming towards them that they cannot resist. Yet, still we find foot dragging and, in some cases, the flimsiest of excuses thrown in our way.

Last time we visited this topic, we were noting the progress made by Local 100 with the officials of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) on this issue. As we reported, they were willing to finally accelerate the testing program so that all schools in the district would be tested within 2 to 3 years, rather than the 30 plus they had initially proposed at 10 or so per year. All good. Real progress!

But, not so fast. When Orell Fitzsimmons, director of Local 100’s office in Houston talked to them in more detail about the testing program and shared information about other school districts’ program, it turned out that they were NOT planning to test any of the water fountains. Bizarre, since this is perhaps the main entry point for water to get in our little darlings’ systems. When pushed by the union and some of our school board allies, the response from the district was, “No problem. We have filters on all of the water fountains.” Problem solved.

No, Fitzsimmons and some of our members in maintenance then checked on the water fountains including the models and serial numbers. Whoops! Turns out filters were not installed on water fountains of that era. So, check and checkmate, and the district has now agreed to check all of the water fountains. The question that lingers here and elsewhere, is why the obfuscation. We’re talking about children and their safety. Why play games?

There’s also progress in New Orleans finally. A front page story on lead and a picture of leaders and members from A Community Voice, affiliated with ACORN International, demanding testing in all of the schools is finally making progress. It’s slippery, but the response has come from one of the school board members indicating they will test all schools and are going to use the better protocols from West Virginia which have become the standard nationally exceeding that of the EPA. Louisiana is also pushing the Orleans School board to notify all parents that they need to have their children tested in conformity with Louisiana State law. Needless to say that it’s happening.

Meanwhile, Local 100 members are on the move towards the school board meeting in Dallas and Little Rock at the end of this month to demand testing in these district as well. A meeting with retired workers with lead exposure is also being scheduled in Dallas. It will be interesting to see whether Dallas and Little Rock are learning something from other districts and ready to say “Uncle” and get on with it, or is going to drag this out at the risk of more workers and students?

ACV action on Lead in Water in NOLA Schools

ACV action on Lead in Water in NOLA Schools

Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech assembling lead testing kits

Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech assembling lead testing kits

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Best to Remember the South is a Violent Place

Police in Baton Rouge after blocking protestors

Police in Baton Rouge after blocking protestors

Grenoble   As I mark the calendar closer to the finish on my euro-hella-road-trip, reading the news and seeing the videos on-line first from Dallas, where of course we have an office and members, and then over and over again from Baton Rouge last weekend and now more recently, where we also have a union hall and lot of union members, I have to admit, it’s unsettling. It was also unnerving to be in Brussels the night of the truck massacre in Nice, France, but Texas and Louisiana are home, so I understand the fear and fury there much better.

The killing of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge is tragic, chilling, inexcusable, and insane. The fact that the law-and-order message is likely to finally give the Republican Convention in Cleveland some coherence is both unsurprising and scary in its own right. If the public is angry, confused, uncertain and scared, that sets the table for authoritarian platforms and candidates. I’m currently reading a book about Germany and five generations by a lake near Berlin and reliving the rise of Hitler against this backdrop and just finished the Nobel Prize winning book of interviews ten years after the Chernobyl disaster in Belarus, so the impacts and aftermaths of such tendencies are perhaps too much on my mind, and I apologize for that.

The killings by the police of African-Americans and Latinos is also tragic, chilling, inexcusable, and insane though. Last weekend, my daughter shared several videos with us of the police riot and sweep up of demonstrators in Baton Rouge protesting the killing there. I’m a veteran organizer and have been on the other side of police lined up in a phalanx, marching forward on crowds. I’ve steered marches away from mounted police and the power of their horses. Nonetheless, I can hardly ever remember a more foreboding and intimidating situation than watching the videos of the police forming up in line in Baton Rouge and then advancing on the protestors there, while police runners moved from the main body of the formation to chase down the slow footed, beat them down and arrest them over fences and behind trees and bushes. This was not police work, but armed and dangerous mayhem. Two hundred were arrested, including friends of my daughters and other well-intentioned people exercising their right to protest. Many ended up stranded and staying with friends of friends and their families. Charges against one hundred of them have now been dropped. If reports have touted the Dallas police chief and its force as clamming and effective in that city’s recovery, the same cannot be said in Baton Rouge.

Peaceful protests, even ones that are a bit sparky, and police killings are apples and oranges and completely unrelated. Most public figures have been on message both defending the police against death by public service as well as the fundamental right to protest, but wisely spokespeople for Black Lives Matter and others are saying that no matter they are afraid to protest right now given the events that this is all triggering.

“Rap” Brown was from Baton Rouge and famously said decades ago that “violence was as American as apple pie.” For all of the gun happy crowd that refuses to countenance any restraint in purchase or use, it’s worth remembering Brown’s words and adding the fact that if there is any area of the country more violent than another, as Dallas and Baton Rouge are proving again, it’s the South. When global observers wonder in the words of a Times’ headline how to sort out the difference between a “terrorist and the deranged,” they are talking about France, but they could as easily be talking about Baton Rouge and Dallas.

We’re playing with fire if we don’t move to fix these problems on all sides of the debate and do so immediately.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Leaders Assess Progress and Map Out Plans

DSCN1360

reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

Baton Rouge   Thirty Local 100 United Labor Union leaders gathered together for the 36th annual leadership conference for the union, this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Leaders were there from Little Rock and Warren, Arkansas, Dallas and Houston, Lafayette and New Orleans, and points near and far in the three-state areas. We met in Local 100’s big 5000 plus foot union hall in Baton Rouge, so that the members could see first had what had been done to improve the space, and what still needed to be done. It was a hot, mid-90’s June day, but the 10-foot ceilings and thick cinderblock walls made the large meeting room pleasant with five fans running. That is not to say the leadership won’t take a harder look at the thousands needed to repair the air conditioner, but it was a lot better than people had any reason to expect. They were surprised, and I felt lucky, or as I reminded many of them, “tell me you can’t remember visiting your grandmother in the country and hearing the ceiling and attic fans humming?”

A lot of time in the morning was spent reviewing our progress on living wage campaigns or more accurately moving the minimum wages up. In Houston, we had success in both our Head Start unit as well as moving the ages up past $10 per hour for our cafeteria workers. The lesson we had learned, according to Houston office director, Orell Fitzsimmons, was to not try to grab all 30,000 workers in the district at once, but to concentrate on one segment after another. Having raised the hourly wage in the cafeteria, the union is now hunkering down to try to extend the hours from seven to eight to move people up more solidly. In Arkansas, the union with our allies are trying to push a statewide petition of workers and supporters to set the floor above $10 per hour. Winning an election could be difficult, but having our members who are state workers living in poverty is even harder. In Dallas and New Orleans there have been efforts that have met with some success at establishing levels past $10 per hour for subcontracted workers, but in those cities, especially New Orleans, the issue is enforcement. One cleaning contract we organized recently is now six-months overdue on paying the new city standard of $10.55 per hour. I can remember years ago a hotel union in San Jose-Monterrey saying they didn’t want to support our living wage fight because then why would workers need a union? It turns out part of the answer is: they would still need a union to actually get it!

On other fronts, the union is preparing campaigns to advocate to get lead tested and removed from schools and workplaces to protect our workers, children and clients. We are also going after nonprofit hospitals to hold them accountable for providing charity care, especially in Texas where there is no expanded Medicaid and elsewhere in our private sector contracts where the deductibles are pricing our members out of the company-sponsored plans and into the penalties for not having Obamacare.

Will we come up with the money to fix the air conditioner? I don’t know, but we’ll win some big campaigns because of leadership meetings just like this!

reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

DSCN1361

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

School Workers as Well as School Children Exposed to Lead in Texas

Pictured, left to right, Retired Workers Thomas Taylor, Doris Taylor, Kenneth Morgan and William Morgan. Photo Credit Kenneth Stretcher

Pictured, left to right, Retired Workers Thomas Taylor, Doris Taylor, Kenneth Morgan and William Morgan. Photo Credit Kenneth Stretcher

New Orleans    The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) had acquired the old Proctor & Gamble soap manufacturing plant relatively speaking for a song. A big, hulking highly visible building on Lamar Street near downtown, the facility became a multi-purpose center for odds and ends of the district large and small. The district is now shuttering the building because they have found lead, mercury, and other heavy metals. In speaking to Channel 5 TV, Dallas ISD spokesman Andre Riley said “the district is not sure what caused the contamination at the 95-year-old building.” We can only imagine!

United Labor Unions Local 100 represents workers from bus drivers to custodians to food service workers throughout Dallas County. They are reading the reports from this building very closely, as well as the reports from Flint, Newark, and around the country where schools have been found to have lead and other chemicals in the water in old buildings. In Texas there is no requirement that schools test the water, so workers are likely to find parents joining them in making demands to assure the water is safe to drink, but our members, both working and retired, are now also worried about whether the conditions and lack of safeguards may have already been damaging to them.

Kenneth Stretcher, Local 100’s longtime organizer in Dallas, met with ten retired DISD workers this week who had worked in the old P&G plant who were vocal on these issues. Though the district has promised that it would provide and pay for blood tests for any workers concerned, there has been no follow-up to implement this promise with current or former workers. Local 100 has also been joining hands with community organizations working in the area of the old plant who are working with the medical school to provide blood tests in the community, and they may step in where the district has been slow to act.

The problems in this building are hardly new. A Texas State Libraries story talking conditions in the building in the 1990s said “the records center was located on the sixth floor of an old Proctor and Gamble soap factory…the conditions were less than favorable for storing records: the floor contained standing water, birds were in flight, and some boxes were held together by mold. Additionally, a variety of wildlife had nested in the containers….” And, they weren’t even thinking about the conditions or their impact on health and safety for the workers.

This will be a big campaign in Dallas, but it also been a wakeup call for Local 100. We are now moving to set up a system to collect soil samples on schools where our members work throughout Houston and Dallas. Obviously, we will join with the community to demand testing of the water quality especially in the older facilities. We are expanding such tests to our health facilities in Louisiana and state facilities in Arkansas where we have members as well. We are reaching out for help to university partners who have state-of-the-art testing equipment.

It was shocking recently to read that OSHA has issued almost no new rules during the seven years of the Obama Administration. Where were they on this lead and heavy metals assault on workers in public and private?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Union Leaders Thinking “Outside the Box”

Workshops on subcontracting and nursing homes and community homes

Workshops on subcontracting and nursing homes and community homes

Texas Union Members speakingUnion Organizer Roger from Houston listeningShreveport Local 100’s stewards and leaders organized themselves into three different workshops. One focused on schools and head start units, another looked at health care with nursing and community homes, and the last bit hard into contractors and subcontractors for sanitation and janitorial workers. The results were inspiring and exciting. In the report backs one leader perhaps summed it up best by saying, “we have to think ‘outside the box.’”

The reason is simple enough to follow as well. Companies are “way out the box.” One problem stewards were unpacking focused on a unit where Local 100 had won an election in April 2009 for cleaners with a local, Dallas-based company at D/FW Airport Concourse D. After endless delays in bargaining including company delays around election objections, after six months of bargaining in which the company delayed and postponed one meeting after another, they walked away from the table in spring of 2010 with dueling NLRB charges. Another company won the bid in May 2010 and recognized the unions but within hours of coming to agreement with the union in August, they walked away from the contract. A third company is now bargaining with the union, and prospects are fair for a settlement, but the union has now had to also demand recognition with several additional companies that are subcontracting part of the work. The workers, those that have survived, are shell shocked. The giant public airport authority running one of the USA’s largest airports is involved in such a race to the bottom, that it is squeezing contractors and sweating workers without a moment’s hesitation. The Local 100 stewards understood that these problems require not just leadership, but virtually heroism!

Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail