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.


Michigan poised to become 24th right to work for less state

Thousands of workers wearing red will gather Tuesday in Lansing, Michigan’s state capital, to try to head off an attempt by Republican governor Rick Snyder and a lame duck legislature to make Michigan a right to work for less state.

On December 6, Gov. Snyder, state senate majority leader Randy Richardville, and house speaker Jase Bolger, all Republicans, announced that they intended to make Michigan the 24th right to work for less state in the US. Within hours of the announcement, the state senate and house had passed appropriations bills that included so called right to work legislation.

There were no committee hearings and no chance for the public to provide formal testimony about the consequences of enacting such legislation.

The bills that came out of the house and senate still need to be reconciled, and a vote on a reconciled version of the two bills will to take place on Tuesday. Gov. Snyder said that he will sign the final version of the bill.

Labor unions and Working Michigan, a progressive coalition of community, religious, and labor groups, hope that a massive turnout of union members and supporters on Tuesday will convince the legislature and Gov. Snyder to reconsider their decision.

Under the federal Taft Hartley law, state’s have the authority to enact legislation that has commonly come to be known as a right to work law. So-called right to work laws allow employees who enjoy the benefits of union contracts and services provided by dues paying members such as grievance representation to refuse to pay union dues.

The purpose of these laws is to make it more difficult for union workers to bargain collectively and enforce contracts that have been negotiated.

According to Working Michigan, workers in so-called right to work states earn about $1,500 less a year than comparable workers in states that do not have such laws.

The right to work for less vote was the second big setback this year for Michigan workers. Unions in Michigan tried to pass an amendment to the state constitution making collective bargaining a right guaranteed by the constitution. A referendum on the amendment held on Election Day was badly defeated.

Sensing a weakness after the referendum defeat, Republican’s moved swiftly to make Michigan a right to work state before the next session of the legislature convenes.

The Michigan Legislature that passed the two bills is composed of members who will not be returning when the next session of the legislature convenes in January. Some lost re-election bids; some are retiring.

As a result, Republicans will have a narrower majority, and it will be more difficult to pass laws that make it harder for workers to bargain collectively, which has been especially high on the Republican agenda since 2010.

Union leaders thought that Republicans might try to pass some kind of anti-worker legislation during the lame duck session and tried to mobilize members in advance. But the swiftness of the lawmakers’ actions on Thursday, seems to have caught the union leaders off guard.

Over the weekend, opponents of the proposed legislation regrouped and called for Tuesday’s mobilization.

Should the proposed legislation become law, it will be very difficult for unions to repeal it. Lawmakers included right to work language in appropriation acts, which are not subject to a referendum vote.

Making repeal even more problematic is the fact that a recent poll found that 54 percent of Michigan voters support right to work legislation.

The United Auto Workers called the legislation  a “devastating blow to the middle class in Michigan” designed “to flatten wages and crush workers rights.”

Working Michigan said that

In the wake of this legislation, the only ‘freedom’ gained for Michigan workers will be the freedom to make less, the freedom to be disrespected at work, the freedom to struggle to pay their bills, and the freedom to be left out of the American dream. This bill is a blatant attempt by the richest in Michigan to silence the voices of working families in our democracy, build their own power, and make the growing gap between the rich and everyone else even bigger.

The proposed law will not affect contracts that are already in place; however, as contracts in the public and private sector expire and new contracts are negotiated, they will reflect the change.