Michigan unions join environmentalists in call for infrastructure repair

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WARREN, Mich. - More than the climate is changing.

On Thursday, May 30, a packed town hall meeting on climate change and infrastructure needs, held at the International Electrical Workers Union hall, showed a growing level of concern and unity between labor and the environmental movement.

Leaders representing labor, the Blue Green Alliance, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the Union of Concerned Scientists discussed the stark reality of climate change, the decaying infrastructure and the need for immediate action.

"Climate change is here, it's real and it's good to see so many people here finding solutions," said Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Michalakis in welcoming the crowd.

The bleak facts startled the audience.

The president of the Utility Workers Union of America, David Langford, said seven billion gallons a day of fresh water are lost through leaks - at the cost of 91 million dollars a day.

Brian Pallasch of ASCE said there were 600 of those leaks every day because of an aging infrastructure. Most were installed soon after World War II. Astonishingly, earlier ones, made of wood, still exist and they all contribute to the discharge of 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage a year.

An approach seen too often by Langford is, "Why fix it, we'll just charge you more." He added, "We are paying top dollar and getting a third world infrastructure."

Langford said the electrical transmission distribution system is so old that if you brought back Thomas Edison, who developed the first electrical transmission system, he'd feel "right at home. Nothing has changed."

He said it doesn't have to be that way. New technology can carry much higher voltage with little voltage drop and it's a way to save energy and green up the economy. He noted China now has lines that carry far greater voltage with much less loss.

Of concern to all is a growing divide between haves and have-nots. David Foster from the

Blue Green Alliance said, "If you're wealthy you get to live in the first world economy, if you're like the rest of us you get to live in the crumbling infrastructure. Six months after Sandy, they were still turning on lights in poor communities."

That divide was also noted by the American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker. Hecker said the ASCE gives school infrastructure a "D" grade. What "pulls" that grade up to a D are the few schools getting high grades, often in wealthy communities.

Hecker said kids need an environment conducive to learning. No child should go to a school with a failed infrastructure and it was "despicable" so many do.

In addition to creating a better learning environment, Hecker said a green school facility would save one hundred thousand dollars annually in costs, enough to hire two additional teachers.

Referring to the recent bridge collapse in Washington, Roxanne Brown, Assistant Legislative Director for the United Steelworkers Union, said a truck hitting a bridge should not cause it to collapse and warned there are thousands of bridges at this level of disrepair that if hit, could fall down.

She also said we are not doing things at the policy level to prevent climate change and are far behind much of the world in getting at the root of the problem

Steve Frenkel, Midwest Director for the Union of Concerned Scientist said the obvious: we need to transition from a fossil fuel based economy.

What will happen to the workers employed in those industries? Frenkel said, "We must insure workers and communities affected by the transition get the help they need."

Speakers said the meeting is launching a movement to save the planet and our communities and this is only the beginning.

Langford said we need to "put on a fight and take the show on the road. Our goal is to take it to every state and explain to the communities how they are getting ripped off."

Photo: The I5 Bridge over the Skagit River collapsed last month after a truck hit the trusses. Martha T. Flickr CC 2.0

 

 

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