Celebrate May Day: Support Workers, Defend the Earth

Caroline Griffith, EcoNews Journalist

As we’ve often reported in EcoNews, there are many ways that workers’ rights and environmental rights intersect. In celebration of International Workers’ Day (May 1) we wanted to highlight some of the work being done by our friends in the Labor Movement, locally and around the country. 

John Frahm, President of the Humboldt and Del Norte Central Labor Council

What union/workers do you represent? 

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 5, which represents retail food and drug employees, Cannabis workers, Wholesale Meat Processing, and Agriculture.

 What are the big issues that you are following? 

  1. The proliferation of food delivery and mechanization impacts on the grocery and drug industry. 
  2. Rising worker organizing efforts and the brutal retaliation of employers in response to worker demands for a voice in the workplace.

How do they affect the environment? 

  1. The myth of convenience by getting everything delivered has increased miles driven to deliver products as drivers cross each other making multiple deliveries that could be done much more efficiently. Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at fulfillment centers use a ton of carbon and water to run the computer systems, and rare minerals to produce the technology. 
  2. Employers would rather replace workers than agree to living wages, benefits and terms  and conditions of employment. Employers suppress wages while the cost of housing forces many retail workers to work in communities they don’t live in, so they have to drive long distances to get to and from work.

Do you have any call to action for our readers? 

  1. Legislation: Support the PRO Act. 
  2. Companies to boycott: Starbucks has broken a ton of labor laws in retaliation to organizing drives across the country. However, Starbucks locations inside Safeway stores are Union, so those ones treat their workers better.

Firefighters File Lawsuits Against Fire Retardants and Forever Chemicals

A U.S. Air National Guard C-130J equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) 2 drops a line of Phos-Chek on the Thomas Fire in the hills above the city of Santa Barbara Dec. 13, 2017. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Nieko Carzis.

The dumping of fire retardant made of ammonium phosphate has ramped up in recent years, with 52.8 million gallons dumped in 2021, more than half of which was dumped onto California forests. Ammonium phosphate is essentially fertilizer, and many environmentalists have questioned if it does more harm than good. Not only is fighting fire by air very expensive, but it is also not clear how effective it is. Timothy Ingalsbee, a former wildland firefighter and executive director of the nonprofit Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, said in the LA times, “The Forest Service feels pressure to do something, as much for public relations as any operational benefit…. But it’s just a big airshow.”

Now a lawsuit has been filed by the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) that accuses the Forest Service of violating the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters without a permit. FSEEE is an environmental nonprofit led by current and former Forest Service employees. Executive Director Andy Stahl is quoted as claiming: “There’s no scientific evidence that it makes any difference in wildfire outcomes…. This is like dumping cash out of airplanes, except that it’s toxic and you can’t buy anything with it because it doesn’t work.” 

Matt McFarland, a firefighter with Humboldt Bay Firefighters Local 652 said, “The NFPA is highly regarded as the industry standard for safety rules and recommendations. As a firefighter, it comes as a shock to discover that the very equipment that we rely on to protect ourselves, that allows us to protect you, and to get us home safe, is causing harm. Firefighters already have higher rates of cancer than the general population, and the discovery of PFAS chemicals in our safety gear is very concerning. I fully support our parent union, the IAFF, in their efforts to have these chemicals removed from our turnouts.”

In similar news, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) has filed a suit against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for its testing standards that require the use of Per- and Polyuoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in firefighter protective gear. The suit seeks to hold the NFPA accountable for not removing the test, which requires that turnout gear be exposed for 40 hours to UV light without degrading, essentially necessitating the use of PFAS, from its Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (Standard 1971).

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” have been used in manufactured goods since the 1940s. PFAS break down slowly over time, accumulating in water and soil, and are known to lead to adverse health effects including hormone disruption, increased risk of certain cancers, decreased fertility and developmental effects and delays in children. 

According to the EPA, there are numerous ways that people are exposed to PFAS, from eating foods packaged in plastics that utilize them, to drinking contaminated water or being exposed to contaminated soil. At the top of the list of ways to be exposed is “Working in occupations such as firefighting or chemicals manufacturing and processing.”