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We can have good jobs and healthy communities

By SEIU Healthcare Minnesota’s Indian Healthcare Board* - Medium, October 28, 2016

In too many communities across our country, children and families suffer from exorbitant asthma rates and other respiratory ailments from air pollution caused by corporate activities that burn fossil fuels and contaminate our air. Toxins leeched into our drinking and bathing water from this same fossil fuel industry causes serious skin, digestive, and even cancerous impacts on young and old alike. As healthcare workers, we stand on the front lines of trying to help families deal with these life-altering impacts.

Our families and children deserve clean air and water and we must do all that we can to stop allowing corporations to corrupt our livelihood unchecked. Where possible, we must choose clean alternative options so that our economy and our families can thrive. It is not a one or the other choice. We can have good jobs and healthy communities by shifting away from an economy dependent on fossil fuels to one that creates jobs for workers through a just transition to a clean energy economy.

We can and must be the change we want to see in the world and we have the chance to do it right now. In North and South Dakota, construction of a crude-oil pipeline, known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, threatens the lives and livelihoods of the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The pipeline would pass under the Missouri River (at Lake Oahe) which is just half a mile upstream from the boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation and provides their drinking water.

Over the last three years there have been over 200 known pipeline leaks in the United States. A spill at this site would be a health, economic and cultural catastrophe for Standing Rock Sioux families. Further, the pipeline would pass through incredibly precious culturally significant sacred lands, like burial grounds, for the tribe and infringe on their freedom to practice and protect their culture and beliefs.

We are so proud that our union, the Service Employees International Union, along with other labor unions, didn’t stand idly by and let this injustice prevail. Instead SEIU along with like-minded good jobs and justice-focused partners have stood strong with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Not only do the Standing Rock Sioux deserve the respect and protection of their sacred grounds, but they deserve to know the water they are drinking is uncontaminated and safe. This is yet another instance where a low income, community of color is subjected to contamination at the hands of powerful corporations and an unresponsive government. It’s a scenario that’s all too familiar to SEIU members, having struggled through the water crisis in Flint, MI and the recent flooding in Baton Rouge.

We stand with our union and the people of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, as well as the thousands of others who could be harmed by the construction of the pipeline. As energy technology and transportation infrastructures change to reduce harmful emissions, so should the focus of the unions that fight for a better future for all families. We can let go of environmentally and racially unjust practices and look to create the good jobs and safe communities of the future.

From asthma to cancer, America’s workers suffer at the hands of big polluters. We have a choice. We can find a solution that protects people’s health and good jobs and wages. The time is now. Our government must stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, protect the interests of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and transition the jobs of those whose lives and livelihoods could be impacted by ending this pipeline to good family-sustaining jobs of the future.

*Eunice Deane, Reva D’Nova, Lori Dickenson, Marllory Jackson, Indi Lawrence, Ashley Lundberg, Toni Mahto, Donna Mazapeta-Firesteel, Leslie Monroe, Tom Murphy, Chelsea Moyle, Tish Rivera-Cree, Leslie Roberts, Citlaly Sanchez, Michael White Temple, Katie Turner, Donald “Richard” Wright, Hilary Wilde

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.