CWA: It’s time to take on Wall Street

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) has launched a campaign to restore economic and political democracy in the United States.

“We see our democracy being drowned by the unchecked mega-contributions of  Wall Street banksters and hedge fund moguls,” said Chris Shelton, CWA president on a nationwide teleconference with thousands of CWA members.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of the 1 percent, said Shelton has tipped the balance power in their favor, and the result is a number of bad policy decisions that have enriched the few at the expense of many, said Shelton.

Shelton described some of the problems that the new concentration of wealth has caused:

Taxpayers were forced to bail out the too-big-to-fail banks in 2008 when their wild speculation crashed the world economy.

The wealth of the 1 percent has “grown obscenely” while everyone else’s wages have stagnated.

Congress last year passed fast track authority for the job-killing Trans Pacific Partnership.

“Enough is enough,” said Shelton. “It’s time to take on Wall Street. Its time to rebuild an America that works for working people, not just the 1 percent. It’s time to build a mass movement to take on the banks. That’s why CWA is launching our Take on Wall Street Campaign.”

The campaign has four immediate goals:

1. Break up the big banks so taxpayers don’t have to bail out banks that have grown too big to fail.

In the 1990’s, the government broke down the barrier between retail and commercial banking, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren who spoke to CWA members during the conference call. As a result, Wall Street banks were able to use the bank accounts of every day Americans to speculate on the economy, which led to the financial crash in 2008.

“The banks got rescued,” said former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who also spoke during the teleconference. “But the ensuing recession cost millions of workers their jobs, their homes, and their savings.”

That can’t be allowed to happen again, said Warren. We need legislation that breaks up the big banks, ensures that they can’t use government insured funds for speculation, and prevents banks from cheating people.

2. Tax Wall Street speculation.

“A 0.5 percent tax on Wall Street trades could generate as much as $130 billion a year,” said Shane Larson, CWA’s national legislative director. “That’s enough to fund Bernie Sanders’ free higher education proposal and there would be enough left over to build schools, improve health care, and fix our deteriorating highways, bridges, sewer systems, and water works, which would create thousands of good paying jobs.”

3. Get money out of politics.

Corporations and the super rich have taken control of the political process by making huge campaign contributions, said Shelton. We need legislation that limits the amount of money that corporations and individuals can contribute to political campaigns.

4. Make fund managers pay their fair share of taxes.

The tax code is stacked against working people, said Sen. Warren. Hedge fund managers get more than a  50 percent discount on their income taxes. Their income should be taxed at the same rate as working people.

Also, there are too many loopholes in the tax code that allow the rich to avoid paying taxes.

“The carried interest loophole alone allowed 25 people to avoid paying taxes on $11.6 billion of their income,” said Sen. Warren.

CWA plans to build a broad coalition around this agenda. In the next few weeks, CWA will announce the organizations that have agreed to take part in the Take on Wall Street Campaign.

CWA will also conduct an information campaign directed at CWA members. The union will hold train the trainer workshops to teach union leaders and activists about the campaign. Leaders and activists will then return to their locals to give this information to members.

Shelton said that it’s important for CWA to take on Wall Street because every time the union sits down with an employer, the banks are either directly or indirectly at the table on the side of the companies.

Verizon is a good example.

Verizon has a close relationship with Wall Street banks.

Two banks, Bank of America and Bank of New York Mellon Corporation are among the ten largest institutional shareholders in Verizon.

JP Morgan Asset Management, a division of JP Morgan Chase, is also a big institutional shareholder in Verizon.

JP Morgan Chase and Verizon have a long, symbiotic relationship.

When Verizon in 2013 bought out its partner  Vodaphone,  JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley provided a $60 billion bridge loan that made the deal possible.

JP Morgan also was one of the Wall Street underwriters of bonds that financed the buyout.

The bond sale generated tens of millions of dollars in fees for JP Morgan and other Wall Street banks.

Wall Street has supported–some might say encouraged–Verizon’s divestment in its traditional wireline services.

This divestment has led to a decline in wireline services and to Verizon’s hard line against its union workers at the bargaining table.

Even though Verizon is an immensely profitable company, it is still demanding concessions from its union workers, the vast majority of whom work in its wireline division.

It’s going to take a mass movement to reduce the power of Wall Street, said Shelton.

“One thing that members can do right away to get this movement off the ground is to support, Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign for President,” said Shelton. “Bernie has made curbing Wall Street’s power one of his main issues.”

“Wall Street has destroyed our economy,” said Larson. But we can rebuild it by engaging our fellow union members in the fight to take on Wall Street.

Detroit teachers union sues to get crumbling schools repaired

The Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and a long list of parents and students on January 28 filed a lawsuit asking a judge to compel the Detroit school district’s emergency manager to repair dilapidated school buildings that threaten the health and safety of Detroit’s public school students.

The lawsuit also asks the judge to require the emergency manager to create a capital fund that will fund upgrades to Detroit’s crumbling school buildings.

Finally, the suit asks the judge to return the school district to local control.

“Educators and parents have been raising the red flag for years about dangerous school conditions, only to be snubbed, ignored, and disrespected by (Detroit Public Schools) and the emergency managers . . . ,” said Ivy Baker, DFT’s interim president.

The lawsuit suit describes the deplorable conditions under which students, most of whom are African American, must learn and teachers must teach: Gaping holes in walls, fallen ceilings, rodents and their droppings in the halls and classrooms, swarms of roaches, black mold, unrepaired water damage to walls and ceilings, poorly maintain restrooms, and classrooms where students must wear coats to keep warm in the winter and where they swelter when it gets hot.

These conditions were brought out in the open by a series of sickouts carried out by teachers.

The sickouts began in December and picked up momentum in January. At their height, 88 of the Detroit’s 100 public schools were closed down.

The school district’s emergency manager Darnell Early asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to get DFT to end the sickouts, but the judge refused the request because the sickouts weren’t organized or sanctioned by DFT.

Instead, they were organized and carried out by rank and file teachers frustrated by the poor learning conditions in their schools.

A week after the judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order, the union filed its lawsuit in a Wayne County Court.

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) in 2009 was put under the control of an emergency manager appointed by the Michigan governor. Poor student performance and mismanagement that put the district in financial peril were the reasons given for taking away local control.

The emergency manager was supposed to improve academic performance and fix the district’s financial problems.

Since 2009, four people have served as emergency managers of DPS. None has been successful at either task.

The school district’s debt has increased since an emergency manager was appointed and academic achievement has not improved.

Early, the latest emergency manager, also was the emergency manager who oversaw the conversion of the Flint water system that rendered the city’s water undrinkable. He was appointed to both positions by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

Like the water problems in Flint, Early and Gov. Snyder knew about the problems in Detroit’s school building before they were exposed to the public by the teachers’ sickout.

And like they did in Flint, they ignored the problems.

The lawsuit suggests that they decided to ignore the school problems school because the governor had other priorities.

“Under emergency management, DPS’ assets have been practically given away and its student body split amongst charter schools and the Education Achievement Authority (EAA),” reads DFT lawsuit.

EAA is Governor Snyder’s experiment in education policy. It’s a state board controlled by the governor that has taken control of 15 Detroit schools.

The EAA schools instruct students through the use programmed learning software developed by Agilix and the School Improvement Network (SNIP), two Utah-based companies.

EAA schools employ education facilitators to help students to navigate the software. Some of these facilitators are recent college graduates with no formal education training recruited through Teach for America.

EAA schools have been plagued by controversy.

E-mails between EAA officials and representatives of Agilix and SNIP show that they were using EAA’s Detroit schools as an experimental testing ground for the software in hopes that its numerous defects could be corrected. The companies then hoped to market the software more widely.

The software had proved to be ineffective in Kansas City where it was first implemented.

EEA touts the success of their schools, but Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter, reports otherwise:

“The most recent MEAP (Michigan’s statewide achievement test) results show that a high majority of EEA students are either stagnating in terms of math and reading proficiency, or falling further behind,” reads Guyette’s investigative report in Detroit Metro Times.

While Gov. Snyder’s EEA was experimenting with unproven education software, Detroit schools continued to crumble and its financial situation has continued to deteriorate.

According to the lawsuit, under Gov. Snyder’s watch, “DPS’ per pupil funding has dropped significantly. As a result, DPS’ fiscal emergency is worse than ever. After six years of state control, the annual budget deficit is larger this year than the last fiscal year that a locally elected school board governed the District.”

“DPS’ fiscal condition and administrative indifference has left facilities in disrepair,” continues the lawsuit.

After the lawsuit was filed, Bailey accused the state of bringing “the school district to its knees” and called for a return to local control.

“Detroit teachers should be commended for bringing these problems to light,” said Bailey. “They work so hard despite the poor conditions and make so many sacrifices to give their kids a great education.”

Sharing economy workers seek their fair share

As the result of a grassroots campaign by Seattle ride-share  and taxi drivers, the Seattle City Council in December voted 8-0 to allow drivers who work for Uber and Lyft as well as taxi drivers to form unions and bargain collectively.

Ride-share and taxi drivers in Seattle are classified–some would say misclassified–as independent contractors, and as such, they do not have the same protected right to organize and bargain collectively that most workers have.

The Seattle ordinance gives them that protection.

Ride-share drivers aren’t the only unprotected workers. They are joined by a large contingent of workers who work in many fields.

These so-called independent contractors make up the bulk of labor in the new sharing economy, businesses that operate internet platforms that link customers to service providers by apps.

In California, state Representative Lorena Gonzalez has introduced the 1099 Self-Organizing Act, which if enacted would extend organizing and bargaining protections to workers in the sharing economy.

The sharing economy is a growing part of the US economy. About 20 percent of jobs created since the end of the Great Recession are in app-based companies like Uber and Lyft and temporary staffing agencies, both of which rely heavily on a precarious workforce, unprotected workers who work for low pay and receive few if any benefits.

Companies like Uber have been able to stay afloat and attract investors such as Goldman Sachs, which has $1.6 billion invested in Uber, by shifting much of their business costs and risks to their workers.

Uber drivers pay for their vehicles, pay for their insurance, don’t have any safety net benefits such as company-sponsored health care.

If they are hurt on the job, they won’t be able to collect workers compensation because the company doesn’t pay their workers compensation insurance premiums.

If the economy takes a downturn and drivers don’t work because there isn’t enough demand for Uber services, drivers can’t collect unemployment insurance because Uber doesn’t pay for it.

When Uber drivers are too old to work and must retire, they won’t collect Social Security because Uber doesn’t make Social Security contributions for its drivers.

The lack of protections and other reasons led some Uber drivers in Seattle to organize the App-based Drivers Association, which is affiliated with Teamsters Local 117.

“Since I started driving for Uber, Uber has cut our pay without notice, terminated drivers without giving a reason, and blocked our efforts to improve our working conditions. We’re looking for fairness and the ability to earn a living wage,” said Peter Kuel, a member of the App-based Drivers Association after the Seattle City Council passed its worker organizing ordinance.

The Seattle ordinance allows drivers for app-based companies and taxi companies to choose a non-profit organization to represent them.

The ordinance requires the city to share the names and contact information of app-based and taxi drivers registered with the city to any non-profit organization interested in helping the drivers form a union.

When a majority of drivers for a company express an interest in joining the non-profit organization, the company must recognize and bargain with the non-profit organization.

“This (ordinance) means a lot to us drivers,” said Fasil Teka of the App-based Drivers Association. “It can have a positive impact, not just for drivers in Seattle, but for independent contractors across the country.”

The bill introduced in the California General Assembly by Rep. Gonzalez seeks to accomplish the same thing for workers in the sharing economy but in a slightly different way.

The bill would allow independent contractors working for app-based companies to organize themselves and bargain collectively. The bargaining unit wouldn’t have to be affiliated with an established union.

“There are pitfalls and benefits to the (sharing) economy,” said Rep. Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Times, “We need laws that promote it and protect it, but also protect workers and ensure they don’t slip through the cracks.”

Gonzalez’s bill is far from being a sure thing to become law, but it does represent an acknowledgement among some policy makers that rights of independent contractors need to be redefined and expanded.

It’s not likely that companies like Uber will give up their ability to shift their business costs to their workers without a fight.

Uber has already indicated that it will challenge the Seattle ordinance in court.

Nevertheless, passage of the Seattle ordinance and the introduction of the California bill show that the fight to extend basic protections to independent contractors has begun and won’t be going away.

Day of Action at United Airlines

Flight attendants who belong to the Association of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers of America (AFA-CWA) on January 21 staged a day of action at airports around the world to protest United Airline’s collective bargaining stalling tactics

For the last three years since the merger of United and Continental airlines, the two sides have been trying to reach an agreement on a new contract that will replace the collective bargain agreements in place when the two airlines completed their merger in 2012.

According to the union, United is employing stalling tactics in hopes of forcing a concessionary contract on the flight attendants.

United’s concessionary proposals include new scheduling rules that, according to the union, would be “the worst in the industry.”

Scheduling rules not only affect when and where flight attendants work, they determine how much time they will have to rest, to spend with their families, and to enjoy their away-from-work life.

In a bargaining message to members, the union said that United wants to eliminate scheduling protections that flight attendants currently enjoy, so that the company can have “total discretion” in scheduling work..

The union also said that the company wants health care and retiree health care concessions.

The January 21 day of action included public picketing and meetings to discuss strike information at more than 20 locations.

“Flight attendants are done waiting for management to negotiate a (fair) contract,” said AFA presidents Ken Diaz (pre-merger United), Randy Hatfield (pre-merger Continental) and Kathleen Domondon (pre-merger Continental Micronesia). “We are serious about reaching an agreement flight attendants can be proud to ratify.  We are hopeful new leadership at United translates to efforts by management to conclude these negotiations and absent resolution we are preparing to exercise all of our legal options as necessary.”

One of those legal options is a contract bargaining strategy that AFA has successfully used since 1993 called CHAOS, or Create Havoc Around Our System.

Depending on the situation and the strengths and weaknesses of management, AFA employs the appropriate CHAOS tactic or tactics to give its members the maximum amount of bargaining leverage with the least amount of risk.

Some of the tactics used in past CHAOS campaigns include intermittent strikes, system wide strikes, a media campaign to warn potential customers of potential flight delays or cancellations, and actions that demonstrate union members’ solidarity and resolve.

In 1993, AFA was locked in a tough round of bargaining with Alaska Airlines. The company was looking to provoke a strike, so that it could use replacement workers to bust the union.

The union defeated the company’s anti-union strategy by creating CHAOS. In this particular case, the union used selective intermittent strikes, short strikes that end when workers agree to return to work unconditionally, to disrupt flights.

The tactics led to a new collective bargaining agreement that was strongly supported by the membership.

When United changed its leadership team in September, there was some optimism that the bargaining deadlock could be resolved without using CHAOS.

But optimism faded when United’s leadership continued using negotiators from the old leadership team and continued to insist on concessions at a time when United’s business is booming.

United recently reported $7.3 billion in net income for 2015, a 560 percent increase over 2014’s net income of $1.1 billion.

The company will use this surge in wealth to reward shareholders by buying back $3 billion worth of stock, which will also richly reward United executives who own stock in the company by increasing the price of their shares.

The huge increase in net income is primarily due to lower fuel costs. When fuel prices were rising, United and other airlines used the high cost of fuel to justify fare increases and new fees.

United has given no indication that it plans to lower fares or eliminate the fees, but it is returning some of its immense profits to passengers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “starting in February, United . . . plans to bring back free snacks to passengers in economy seats.”

While passengers will be receiving their share of United’ profits in the form of peanuts, United flight attendants won’t be so lucky.

United still wants flight attendants to work longer and harder without adequately compensating them; moreover, the company wants more control over one of the workers’ most precious possessions, their own time.

The flight attendants on the other hand want a bigger piece of the profit pie. Part of this bigger piece should be in the form more worker control over their work schedules and the time that they spend away from work.

“We are standing up for our fair share of the profits we help create,” said Sara Nelson, AFA international president. “This isn’t just about United, it’s about setting the new standard for flight attendants across the industry.”

Europe inches toward implementing a Financial Transaction Tax

The finance ministers of ten European countries reached a tentative agreement in December on a plan for implementing a financial transaction tax (FTT), a small tax on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments.

Supporters of the tax say that even a tax as small as 0.01 percent on the trillions of euros worth of trades that take place in the 10 countries could generate billions of euros in public revenue that could be used to offset the austerity cuts to public services and public infrastructure.

A financial transaction tax would have the extra benefit of reducing the kind of market volatility and risk taking that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

The tentative agreement does not, however, mean that implementation of the financial transaction tax is a done deal. There are a number of details that need to be worked out and how these details are finally resolved will determine how much revenue the tax generates.

The finance ministers agreed to set a six-month deadline for working out the details of the final agreement.

Some supporters of the tax cheered the agreement.

Simon Chouffot, spokesperson for the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, which has been advocating for the tax, told Equal Times that the tentative agreement “is good news.”

“It was never an easy task to implement a new tax on the financial sector, but we are getting there,” said Chouffot to Equal Times. “And importantly, there seems to be an appetite for making the tax as broad as possible, so that it includes derivatives.”

Others were less sanguine.

The European Public Service Union (EPSU), a confederation of public sector unions whose member unions represent 8 million employees, expressed concern that as the ministers work out the details of the tax, they would grant exceptions that weaken it.

“The FTT is an opportunity to make the financial sector give something back to the societies from which it has taken so much over recent years,” said Jan Willem Goudriaan, general secretary of the EPSU. “The countries involved need to agree (to) a strong FTT, without loopholes. European governments have no problem coming to a decision on budget cuts, so they should be able to reach an agreement on the FTT.”

Discussions among European Union (EU) members about implementing a financial transaction tax began after the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, proposed that EU members coordinate their implementation of an FTT.

Progress toward implementation has come in fits and starts.

After failing to achieve a consensus of all 28 EU members, 11 nations–Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain–decided forge ahead with implementation.

Estonia didn’t agree with the terms of the tentative agreement and dropped out.

One of the details that needs to be worked out before a final agreement can be reached is who and what financial instruments will be subject to the tax.

Reuters reports that the tentative agreement stipulates that all share transactions would be taxed including derivatives.

France, however, has proposed exempting market makers, super large brokerage firms that keep markets liquid by buying and selling stocks that they own.

There also appears to be no agreement on the tax rate, and some worry that banks, which have opposed the FTT, will continue to lobby for more exemptions that would weaken the tax.

During the interim period, the finance ministers will also consider how the tax will affect large pension funds and sovereign debt markets.

Public support for a financial transaction tax is widespread in Europe. One poll found that 64 percent of the population in the countries considering implementation favor the tax.

Many of those who support the tax do so because their governments spent billions of euros bailing out banks that engaged in the risky financial speculation that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

The expense of saving the banks played a role in government decisions across Europe to implement austerity programs that resulted in reduced public investment in public infrastructure such as education, health care, transportation, and human services.

The FTT would allow governments to recoup some the bailout money and use it to invest in the public good.

The FTT would be “a much-needed boost for investment to tackle unemployment, generate growth, make Europe more competitive and deal with the refugee crisis,” said Julian Scola, head of communications at the European Trade Union Confederation to Equal Times.

It would also enable Europe “to invest in education and training, in infrastructure, in the shift to a low-carbon economy, in research and development, and in health, housing and social care,” added Scola.

CTU urges City Council to sue predatory lenders and demands mayor’s resignation

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on January 12 urged Chicago’s City Council to take legal action against predatory lenders whose alleged illegal conduct could cost the city and its schools as much as $1.4 billion.

According to CTU and the Chicago Tribune, Bank of America and other financial institutions marketed risky derivative deals called interest rate swaps as safe insurance against potential interest rate increases on school bonds.

The Chicago Public School district is currently facing a budget deficit that could cause the layoff of 5000 teachers and other public school employees. CTU is negotiating with school district on a new collective bargaining agreement and is fighting the proposed layoffs.

The head of the school district was appointed by and reports to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A week earlier, CTU’s House of Delegates  overwhelmingly voted for a resolution calling for the resignation of Mayor Emanuel.

The resolution criticized Emanuel’s divestment in public education, which the resolution says “(has harmed) Chicago’s public schools and working-class neighborhoods” and his actions in trying to cover up the facts in the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17 year-old African American high school student shot and killed by a white Chicago police officer as McDonald was walking away from the officer.

In calling on the City Council to take legal action against financial institutions that sold the questionable interest rate swaps, CTU President Karen Lewis said that the union had strong evidence showing that Bank of America and others broke the law.

The interest rate swaps were essentially bets on the volatility of the auction-rate bond market, where the school district sold some of its variable rate bonds.

If the market’s interest rates increased, the swaps would protect the school district from paying higher interest rates. If, however, interest rates declined, the school district would owe the swaps’ sellers hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties

CTU has obtained internal e-mails from 2007 showing that Bank of America had knowledge that the auction-rate market was about to crater causing interest rates to drop precipitously. The bank, however, did not share this information with the school district putting the district on the hook for $450 million in penalty payments.

Furthermore, according to the union, Bank of America and other banks “illegally (colluded) to manipulate the interest rates.”

“We should take legal action to cancel the deals, get out of penalties and claw back losses,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “The standard industry practice was for banks to emphasize the potential upside of these deals, but downplay the risks. This is a violation of the ‘fair dealing’ rule that governs municipal finance.”

In addition to the $450 in swaps penalties, CTU wants $850 million in swap payments returned.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the swap deals “contributed to (the school district’s) ongoing financial troubles.”

In response to these financial troubles, Mayor Emanuel has closed 50 schools mostly in predominately African American and Latino neighborhoods despite the strenuous objections of parents and community members, laid off teachers and other school employees, which caused overcrowding in classrooms, and under funded wrap around services to students such as counseling, libraries, and psychological support.

The union in its resolution calling for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation said that Emanuel’s cuts to school wrap around services contributed to McDonald’s death.

While McDonald posed no threat to the officer who shot him, McDonald was a troubled young man.

He spent most of his life in foster care and suffered from severe psychological trauma.

According to CTU’s resolution, McDonald’s fate “may have been altered had his mental health needs been met both in and out of school.”

In addition to not adequately funding school counseling services, Emanuel also closed six of city’s 12 mental health clinics.

CTU’s call for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation and its call for legal action to recover more than $1 billion resulting from questionable swaps deals, comes at a time when the union is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the school district.

CTU is aiming to stop the proposed layoffs, improve teaching and learning conditions in schools, and improve the district’s wrap around services, especially in low-income communities.

Union members took the first step toward improving Chicago public education when 88 percent of the membership voted in December to authorize a strike unless the new collective bargaining agreement allows for investment rather than divestment in Chicago’s public schools.

After the vote, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey urged the mayor and his school CEO to “listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you: do not cut the schools anymore, do not make the layoffs that you have threatened; instead, respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs.”

“Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us,” added Sharkey.

Flint, MI residents poisoned by austerity.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has finally acknowledged that a decision by emergency managers who he appointed to impose austerity measures on cash strapped cities resulted in the poisoning of the water supply of Flint, Michigan.

Gov. Snyder apologized to the residents of Flint, but his apology seems to be too little too late.

After Snyder’s emergency managers decided to switch the city’s source of water from Detroit to the Flint River, lead seeped into the water supply exposing many including Flint’s children to the threat of lead poisoning.

According to the World Health Organization, lead is highly toxic especially to children. Children with elevated levels of lead in their blood can “suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system.”

In September, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, reported that in the last two years, the percentage of Flint’s children with elevated levels of lead in their blood has doubled. For children living in the poorer sections of the city, the percentage has tripled.

How did this public health disaster happen?

The events that led to the poisoning of Flint’s water supply began in 2011 with the passage of Public Act 4, which expanded the authority of emergency managers appointed by the governor to impose austerity measures on cities and other local government bodies under extreme financial stress. Gov. Snyder was a strong supporter of Public Act 4.

Flint like a number of cities in Michigan was under extreme financial stress because of the decline of the auto industry and cutbacks in state funding–$55 million over ten years.

Like almost all of the cities and other local governing bodies that had emergency managers appointed by Gov. Snyder, Flint is a majority African American community. Fifty-two percent of Flint’s residents are African American.

Gov. Snyder in 2011 appointed the first Flint emergency manager. He appointed three other Flint emergency managers one after another over the next four years.

Flint’s elected officials had no control over the decisions made by emergency managers, who fired workers, broke their collective bargaining contracts, cut retiree pensions and health care benefits, and reduced city services, so that Flint could continue to make timely debt payments to banks and other bondholders.

In 2013, the then emergency manager Ed Kratz, decided to save $5 million by switching the city’s source of water from the city of Detroit to the Flint River.

In 2014, another emergency manager Darnell Early declined an offer to reinstate Flint’s water supply contract with Detroit because doing so would cost too much.

Water from the Flint River began flowing into the city’s antiquated water pipes in April 2014.

By May, residents were complaining about the city’s water quality.

They wouldn’t know until later that the high concentration of salt in the Flint River was corroding the city’s old, lead-line water pipes leaching lead into the water.

E coli bacteria was also found in the water.

In June 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency started inquiring about Flint’s water problems, but the state ignored resident’s complaints..

There was concern by some staff in the Michigan Environment Quality Department, but a spokesman for the department in July 2015 made a public statement that Flint’s water was safe and told residents to relax.

In August a team of researchers from Virginia Tech tested Flint’s water and found that it contained 900 times the recommended maximum amount of lead. One of the researchers likened Flint’s water to a contaminated waste dump.

In September, Dr. Hanna-Attisha announced her findings about the high incidence of lead in children’s blood. Instead of acting on this information, state officials tried to discredit her research.

A spokesperson for Gov. Snyder said that Hanna-Attisha’s data was unreliable because it was “spliced and diced.”

Gov. Snyder ended the emergency manager’s term in April 2015, and in October the city switched back to using Detroit as its source of water, but it was too late to undo the damage.

In December, Flint’s new mayor declared a state of emergency saying that lead in the city’s water had done irreparable harm.

People are drinking bottled water to avoid drinking the contaminated water.

Outrage about the emergency managers’ original decision and the attempt by state leaders to cover up the fallout from the decision has continued to grow.

The documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is circulating a petition calling for the arrest of Gov. Snyder for poisoning Flint’s water.

The racist implications of the original decision and the subsequent cover up can’t be ignored. “We are left to wonder: Would this happen in a majority-white city?” write Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn in The Root.