AFSCME Hosts Third Annual Environmental Conference
Nearly 100 AFSCME activists from around the country gathered just yards from the U.S. Capitol to share stories and discuss policies at the International’s Third Annual “Stewards for the Environment” Conference, October 13-15.
Welcoming the participants was Indiana Council 62 Exec. Director and International Vice Pres. Stephan Fantauzzo, who also serves as Chair of the AFSCME Environment Advisory Committee.
Fantauzzo led the discussion on privatization of environmental protection. He talked about the current fight against privatization, especially in waste water treatment management, and urged participants to “decide on your strategy early. You’ve got to find a way to activate your membership. They have to understand that this fight is real, and that their jobs are on the line. All too often,” he continued, “it doesn’t hit home until the layoff notices arrive, and then you’ve got 30 days to turn it around.”
He said of the multi-national privateers, “They’re coming in with a lot of money, a lot of promises, and they play by a different set of rules. We’re used to vendors buying off politicians—these guys just buy off city councils.”
Harold Crooks, Canadian author of Giants of Garbage, spoke on environmental racism. “The waste traffickers must find willing communities in order to achieve their objectives.” These communities—also called willing hosts—almost always turn out to be the most politically weak. “Certainly, if race isn’t going to be a leading predictor of where a waste disposal facility is going to go, then poverty is,” said Crooks.
Also speaking about privatization was Carl Dworkin, former principal administrative hearing litigator, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. He said that the results of a recent survey revealed that Americans approve by a 75 to 90 percent margin the concept of strong environmental regulations. “What has happened,” he said, “is that the public has been given artificial regulations, mandates that don’t cost anybody anything in the long run.”
Conference participants also heard from California Local 2428 member Jack Kenny, who serves as the only labor member on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Local Government Advisory Committee along with 31 other environmental activists from across the country.
Kenny pointed out that the committee was established in 1994 to support efforts for restructuring the EPA to meet the needs of and improve communications with local governments and the public.
He advised the group to “educate yourselves on the issues, request information from the EPA and other sources, insist on being partners at the local level, establish labor-management committees, and build coalitions through political activity and with community groups.”
Keynote luncheon speaker Jessica Landman, director, Natural Resources Defense Council Clean Water Project and co-chair, Clean Water Network, said, “with little debate or public accountability, Congress is significantly weakening the nation’s landmark environmental laws.” She added that congressional leaders are using the budget process to deny agencies such as the EPA the funds and legal authority to enforce critical laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. She urged attendees to oppose this misuse of the budget process and examine the hidden land mines in the EPA spending bill.
AFSCME Assoc. Director of Legislation Ed Jayne talked about the hostile environment on Capitol Hill. “If you haven’t contributed money to the Republicans, they won’t even see you.” He talked about the enormous impact of funding cuts in environmental programs, and described Gingrich, Dole, and the Republican leadership, as anti-environment and anti-labor.
Guest speaker OMB Watch Exec. Director Gary Bass spoke about four different themes that have been thrown at the environmental movement: massive budget cuts, devolution involving the shifting of block grants and the dumping of federal responsibilities on the states, regulatory reforms, and defunding that involves stopping advocacy groups from receiving federal funding.
Project 95 Field Director Phyllis Cuttino presented examples of the union’s efforts around the country to put pressure on local jurisdictions via the media and ad campaigns about the issues of clean air and clean water.
International Union Area Director Kim Keller and Council 57 Business Agent Keith Uriarte conducted a panel discussion on organizing members around environmental issues.
Participants attended workshops, including environmental justice, environmental communications, pollution prevention, indoor air, and “AFSCME Stewards of the Environment: Our Job is to Protect the Environment.”