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A New Coalition Demands Healthcare And Justice For East Palestine

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This Saturday, March 23, unionists and labor leaders, environmental justice groups, community organizers, community members from other “sacrifice zones,” and supporters from around the country are coming to East Palestine to join residents as part of the newly formed Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers coalition. The coalition has come together in recent months and mobilized around the core objective of pressuring President Biden to invoke the Stafford Act and issue a major disaster declaration for East Palestine. If Biden does this, organizers say, it will immediately unlock a whole suite of federal resources that residents desperately need and have been demanding for a year, and it will also immediately guarantee every resident emergency healthcare. For residents like Chris Albright—a former pipeline worker and LIUNA member who has been disabled by the toxic fallout from the derailment, is now experiencing severe heart failure, can’t work, and has subsequently lost his health benefits—this is a matter of life and death, and we are racing against the clock.

This episode is a compilation of voices from across the growing Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers coalition. Speeches in the first half are from a panel cohosted by Steve Zeltzer and Penny Logsdon and recorded by the Labor Video Project on Feb. 3, 2024, the one-year anniversary of the derailment; speeches in the second half are from another panel cohosted by Steve Zeltzer and Penny Logsdon and recorded by the Labor Video Project on March 9, 2024. Speakers include: Steve Zeltzer (Labortech); Penny Logsdon (Lee County Labor Chapter); Chris Albright (East Palestine resident, LIUNA member); Jami Wallace (East Palestine Unity Council); Steve Mellon (Pittsburgh Union Progress); Jeff Kurtz (Lee County Labor Chapter); Maximillian Alvarez (The Real News Network); Mike Stout (protest musician); Charlie Wishman (Iowa AFL-CIO); John Palmer (Teamsters, San Antonio); Bob Anspach (BLET-IBT 391); Vina Colley (Portsmouth Pikeston Residents for Environmental Justice).

From the Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers organizing committee: “We will be hosting a National Conference for the people of East Palestine along with supporters in Ohio and throughout the country to build this campaign for healthcare on Saturday, March 23, 2024, where we will bring community members, labor, environmentalist and allies together in our urgent campaign. This Conference will be held from 12-5pm ET at the East Palestine Country Club. To contact the Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers organizing committee, reach out to Steve Zeltzer: labormedia[at]gmail[dot]com or Penny Logsdon: onecent7921[at]gmail[dot]com. In solidarity.”

Additional links/info below…

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Featured Music…

  • Jules Taylor, “Working People” Theme Song

Studio Production: Maximillian Alvarez
Post-Production: Jules Taylor


Transcript

Maximillian Alvarez: All right, welcome everyone to another episode of “Working People.” A podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and the Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. If you’re hungry for more worker and labor focused shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out all the other great shows in our network there are so many and please support the work that we’re doing here at “Working People” because we cannot keep going without you. Share our episodes with your coworkers, leave positive reviews of the show on Spotify and Apple Podcasts and become a paid monthly subscriber on Patreon for just five bucks a month. If you subscribe for 10 bucks a month you’ll also get a print subscription to the amazing, In These Times magazine delivered to your mailbox every month. Just head on over to patreon.com/working people. That’s patreon.com/workingpeople, hit the subscribe button and you will immediately unlock all the amazing bonus episodes we publish every month and all the bonus content that we put out for our patrons over the past seven seasons of the show. 

My name is Maximillian Alvarez and first things first I just want to apologize for the slight disruption in our publishing schedule the past week. We still got a great bonus episode up for our patrons, that was an episode where I talked to writer Julia Doubleday about COVID-19 policy and how much workers have frankly gotten screwed since the pandemic began. So you guys don’t want to miss that. But today’s episode was delayed because to be honest I am dealing with some really heavy family and personal news while working overtime at the Real News Network, so I appreciate y’all bearing with us. But brothers and sisters believe me when I say that the wait is worth it and the substance of today’s episode is so damn important and frankly, I think it’s a testament to the fact that what we’re doing with this show and what you’re doing out there.

All of the big and little things that we’re doing to fight for each other and to leave this world better off than the one we’ve inherited, it all matters. It all has an impact even if we ourselves never get to see what that impact is and most of the time we won’t. But right here, right now we are getting I think a rare chance to see that impact in motion playing out in real time and we are all a part of it. As you guys know, for the past year while we’ve been reporting on other critical struggles around the US and around the world, we have committed ourselves to lifting up the voices and stories of working people living in and around East Palestine, Ohio. People whose lives have been turned completely upside down ever since a Norfolk Southern train derailed in their town on February 3rd, 2023. And ever since the disastrous, despicable decision was made soon after to vent and burn five rail cars worth of toxic vinyl chloride. 

I mean, we’ve recorded podcast after podcast with residents and railroad workers. Jules and I hosted a 12-hour live stream fundraiser for East Palestine before the holidays in December, and I’ve done multiple breaking point segments on East Palestine. I’ve hosted multiple real news live streams, I’ve written about it, done interviews about it. And along with a handful of journalists and indie media makers like Steve Mellon at the Pittsburgh Union Progress, Joy Marie Mann and Status Coup News. I mean, we’ve just simply refused to give up on this story and on these people. But it has been frustrating to say the least and frankly emotionally devastating to report over and over again on the pain our neighbors in East Palestine are feeling. On the hell that they are going through and half the time we were publishing episodes there was always a kind of doubt in the back of my mind that anyone was really listening and that’s just the nature of doing this kind of work I guess. It can be very lonely and quiet talking into a microphone or a camera never really knowing who’s listening on the other end.

But here’s the thing, people are listening and they’re doing something and that is why after a year of covering this I will finally physically be in East Palestine later this week. Because this Saturday, March 23rd, unionists, environmental justice groups, community organizers, community members from other so-called sacrifice-zones and supporters from around the country are coming to East Palestine to join residents there as part of the newly formed Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers Coalition. 

Now, you’re going to hear from members of that coalition in today’s episode and I think you’re going to recognize a lot of familiar voices from East Palestine and from the labor movement. But you’ll also hear lots of new voices and you’re going to hear about how this coalition has come together and how they have mobilized around the core demand to pressure President Biden to invoke the Stafford Act and issue a major disaster declaration for East Palestine. If Biden does this according to the organizers, it will immediately unlock a whole suite of federal resources that residents desperately need and have been demanding for over a year now and it will also, this is really important.

It will immediately guarantee every resident emergency healthcare and for residents like Chris Albright, whom we’ve interviewed many times on the show and whom I’ve developed a close friendship with. Chris is a former pipeline worker and LIUNA member, who has been disabled by the toxic fallout from the derailment. He’s now experiencing severe heart failure, he can’t work and he has subsequently lost his health benefits at the worst possible time. This is a matter of life and death for him, and we are frankly racing against the clock. But that is why we do what we do, this is why we are all here on “Working People” at The Real News [Network]. We don’t just report on the many, many injustices that our fellow workers face in this corporate dystopia we call a society. We report and we keep reporting until people get justice, we report and we keep reporting to give people like you what you need to get involved in the struggle for something better. To stay committed to that struggle and to be part of the solution.

Because like the residents of East Palestine we know that the change we need and the world we deserve will not simply be handed to us from companies like Norfolk Southern and it sure as hell will not be handed to us by the feckless government officials enabling their corporate destruction. We have to band together as a class to force the issue and make it happen ourselves, and more people in more parts of the country are beginning to realize this. And I think the justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers Coalition shows that they understand what needs to be done and they’re out there doing it. If you want to be part of that coalition, if you want to join us in East Palestine this weekend, if you want to endorse or donate to the event through any organizations that you are a part of then you are needed. The main event will be an organizing and informational conference in the East Palestine Park which is going to take place from noon to 5:00 PM on the 23rd, and like I said I will be there filming for The Real News.

But the very fact that we’re going to have fighters for justice from around the country there physically in East Palestine together standing side-by-side with residents, that is special and we need to make the most of it. We need to keep connecting our struggles and keep building this kind of working-class power, because this is the way forward. 

We’ve included info in the show notes about how you can connect with the Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers Coalition, register for the event and all that good stuff. So check out the information in the show notes to this episode right now. And just on a final note, even though this is an exciting and an important development that we have all been fighting and hoping for over the past year. And even though it is a rare ray of hope in a really dark and dismal time in our world, the real work is only just beginning. We need you to help us get the word out, we need you to be part of this. Listen, I don’t know for sure how big the event on Saturday will be. I don’t know for sure whether or not the Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers Coalition will achieve its primary goal of getting Biden to declare East Palestine a federal disaster. Because that depends on us, what comes next depends on what we all do… A better world is possible, stand with East Palestine. Don’t wait until it’s your community that is the next one to get poisoned. We can stop this if we fight together and I promise you, if we do, a better world is possible. 

Penny Logsdon: My name is Penny Logsdon and I’m a proud member of the International Painters and Allied Trades, Public Professional Maintenance Employees Local 2003. I serve as president of the Lee County Labor Chapter. When brother Jeff Kurtz BLAT Local 391 member brought the opportunity to collaborate with, Steve Zeltzer to organize a national campaign with goals of bringing the story and struggles of the residents and workers of East Palestine, Ohio to the attention of all union members and allies across the nation and demand that President Biden issue a major disaster declaration for healthcare for all victims under the Stafford Act, we were all in. It is incredible that it has been a full year since the Norfolk Southern Freight train derailment and the residents and workers are still struggling and left with many unanswered issues, including lack of accessible and funded healthcare coverage. February 3rd, 2023, a Norfolk Southern Freight train derailed and chemicals including vinyl chloride, a known cancer-causing chemical along with other dangerous chemicals were released into the air, ground and waterways. Today we will learn from our outstanding panel speakers about the consequences the residents and workers are facing, and how this catastrophic derailment has been addressed by the Norfolk Southern Railroad CEOs, EPA, the US Senate, the National Transportation Safety Board and others. 

Today we are letting our union brothers and sisters know that they are not alone nor forgotten. Through our union brothers and sisters solidarity, we will demand justice and dignity. We will bring the solution to the forefront just as our union brothers and sisters always do and we will not quit until our work in East Palestine, Ohio is complete. It is my pleasure and honor to introduce my co-host, Steve Zeltzer. He is a long-time labor community activist and leader in the fight for justice, he is the producer of Work Week Radio and Pacifica.

Steve Zeltzer: Thank you Penny, and thanks for really being an important part of helping to bring this movement together of working people, union, non-union, all working people and their families to fight for justice. That’s what we’re really talking about. As you said I’ve been a labor journalist for decades on radio and TV. My documentary, “Halfway to Hell,” was on the workers and unions that built the Golden Gate Bridge. So I’ve been covering the issue of health and safety, injured workers, workers’ comp, workers fighting for healthcare in this country and covering as well the disaster man made catastrophe in East Palestine and I think that the lesson of this struggle, one of the lessons is that we really don’t have any real regulation. The EPA and OSHA and the Department of Transportation, which should be doing the inspections, which should be protecting us, have failed or been captured by the very companies they’re supposed to regulate, that’s been my experience. 

But when I found out that some of the workers there in the community were not getting healthcare … I believe that we need to find a way to get healthcare to them, it’s a human rights issue. It’s not only a resident or worker issue, it’s a human rights issue. So we found out about the Stafford Act and the fact that it can be used to declare an area a mass casualty incident. And under that act everyone, the residents and workers in the community will get healthcare and if we can do that I think that that’s an important thing. So that’s really the focus of our committee, which is called Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers. In order to do that we need a united front, we need to bring working people together, community people, residents and the labor movement as a whole. And we found out a few days ago that President Biden will be coming, after a year he is going to be coming to East Palestine.

So we feel that this is an opportunity for us to really put the heat on, to get him to declare East Palestine an emergency mass casualty site when he arrives in East Palestine and let people know that they’re going to be able to get healthcare. I mean, I have interviewed many workers, their families and the most frightening thing is if you’re sick, if your kids are ill and you don’t have healthcare, that’s a tremendous, stressful thing and it’s something we have to fight for. Everyone should have healthcare as a human right. But I think if we can start with East Palestine and get healthcare for the residents, the community and workers that would be a big step forward in my mind. 

So without further ado we can introduce our guests, our panelists. The first one is Chris Albright. Chris is a member of LIUNA 1058, and he’s a resident of East Palestine, a half mile from the accident. And also, he was a pipeline worker and he and his family have been contaminated and he’s fighting to protect them and protect the other people in the community. So welcome, Chris.

Chris Albright: Well, I’m definitely glad to be here and I definitely applaud everybody for joining this. Me personally, after the train derailment I got diagnosed with congestive heart failure which turned into severe heart failure. Basically my heart grew to almost double the size and was barely pumping any blood. From that point on I have been unable to work. Being that I’ve been unable to work, I’ve lost my health benefits. With the heart condition I have right now and the medications that I have to take, one of them… I’m taking like 10 different ones. One of them is over $2,700 for just one, I have no income and I have no health benefits now. 

My wife has developed high blood pressure, my one daughter’s been getting nosebleeds, my other daughter has gotten rashes before. We don’t know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to be able to pay for things, we’re scrambling right now just to pay bills let alone whenever I have to have any kind of my medication refilled. We don’t know what we’re going to do, and this was all through no fault of our own.This was something that was a complete overlook on safety regulations that should have never happened and nothing’s been done about it and it can happen anywhere else in this world at any time. But because of that, like I said I have no healthcare benefits right now. 

I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know what happens when my medications run out or if I were to get sick again, and since I’ve had this heart condition I have been put in the hospital twice now. Last time was on Christmas day and I went into critical care, so things can happen at any time and I have no idea how we’re going to get through all this. So I’m hoping that everybody listening and watching can definitely help and understand and have some sympathy and some compassion for fellow workers, fellow people and we can get President Biden here to make this a mass casualty site and get us healthcare.

Steve Zeltzer: Thank you very much Chris. One of the issues that we’ve faced in this country is getting coverage of these stories. I was looking at CBS, some of the reports of the news on the one-year anniversary and not one of them that I saw talked about the residents who fight for healthcare. Chris is not the only one. Residents are losing their healthcare because in this country you have to work to get benefits, to get healthcare. So this is an issue for all working people and I think we have to make the media pay attention to this. One of the people that can do this is Steve Mellon, who is a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He went on strike for a contract, for basic rights and he is now a reporter for the Pittsburgh Union Progress, PUP they call it. And he’s been covering it and he’s written some very good stories and spent time doing the story, so welcome Steve.

Steve Mellon: Thanks, Steve. It’s interesting, Chris, to hear you talk about your healthcare concerns and that’s an issue all over the place. When we first walked out on strike on October 14th, 2023, I got a phone call right before the strike. It was the president of our local and he said, “Steve, we need you to chair our health and welfare committee.” And I’m like, “What the hell does that mean?” And he said, “You just need to make sure everybody has healthcare.” And I said, “No big deal.” I spent the next three months making sure people had healthcare, and you’re talking about people who some of our striking members had pretty serious health issues. This is a big deal in this country—not having adequate, decent healthcare.

This issue is especially acute in instances like East Palestine. Chris can speak about this much more eloquently than I can. I come in as somebody from the outside, I try to get there every couple of weeks, sometimes a couple of times a week if I can, and what I see are people who are suffering real health consequences from this. All those things that Chris described, everything from the bloody noses, the crushing headaches, the coughs, the rashes. All those things and many others, and there’s no clear answers. There’s just way too many unknowns here for folks, some people feel like their bodies are a ticking time bomb. 

It is like, “What did I ingest during that time? What am I continuing to ingest that’s in here? What compounds am I breathing in? Am I absorbing? And am I going to get sick in a year? Am I going to get sick in five years, 10 years? Are my kids going to get sick? What’s my responsibility as a parent, as a spouse? Do I stay? Do I take this huge financial burden of taking out another mortgage if I can and moving out?” These are terrible decisions for people to have to make, and this is through no fault of their own.

As Chris said, nobody asked for this. They were enjoying a leisurely Friday evening when in an instant everything changed for these folks. In addition to all these very real health issues that people are facing, we have the economic consequences. I keep hearing that there’s a lot of division within the community, so the sense of community has kind of collapsed. I saw this happen in the Mon Valley in the 1980s when the steel mills collapsed. These people saw all the institutions, the churches, the social clubs, their friendships fall apart. So there was a sense of isolation and then you have some people suffering very real PTSD from what they experienced that day and the succeeding days after the derailment when they had that vent and burn process. 

This is an incredibly complex story. One of the reasons I like to go back to it over and over again, is this is not a story that can be told in a two-minute TV take. There’s a lot going on here, a lot of people are dealing with a lot of issues as a result of what happened at 8:54 PM on February 3rd of last year. And I think anything we can do as fellow workers, as organized labor to ease some of this burden. First of all I think it’s our duty as fellow workers, as fellow human beings with empathy to try to help people where we can. We’re in a unique position because we are organized, we know how to bring people together, we’re all organizers and I think this is a moment for labor. We just had the summer of strike where labor got a lot of attention. This is a way for us to show that we know how to look beyond our own self-interest and to reach out to other workers and to do something very real, very concrete to help ease some of the burden that these folks in East Palestine are having to face.

Steve Zeltzer: Yeah. I want to thank you very much Steve and everyone should go to the Pittsburgh Union Progress, PUP and look at his articles. And despite being on a shoestring, they’re still covering the story and we’re going to try to get the labor movement to support that strike newspaper so people can get the real stories out. So our next speaker is Charlie Wishman, he’s president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. He’s a member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 716 and with Machinist Local 254. Welcome, Charlie.

Charlie Wishman: Thank you very much, Steve. First of all brother Chris, just know that the labor movement across the country has been thinking about you and your community and all the members there, everyone who’s been affected. Just because you don’t hear about it on the news as much as you did, it’s top of mind for so many folks and I want to give hats off to the Lee County Labor Chapter. And like Carrie Duncan who kind of floats in between Des Moines, Henry and Lee and all over Southeast Iowa. But they are a small but mighty group that has been really working on a lot of these issues that don’t just affect Iowans. This is a national issue. And the reason why I say it’s so much bigger, I know we’re talking about rail, but this is so much bigger when it comes to health and safety.

There’s plenty of lessons to take away from the pandemic, but especially after watching what I sometimes refer to as the meatpacking plant horror show that went across the Midwest here during 2020, excuse me, and during the pandemic, I think that one of the things that we needed to learn from that and short discussion before this is that community health and safety and worker health and safety are inseparable. What happens at work doesn’t necessarily… health problems, workplace safety problems that happen at the job site, at whatever your job is, whatever your work is, it doesn’t stay there; it affects the entire community.

And what is so disgusting to so many of us about all of this, so when it comes down to it, the common thread that goes through, whether it’s Norfolk Southern or any of the rail companies or whether we’re talking about say, Tyson and the meatpacking in the example that I’m using here right now. It’s corporate greed. And that’s what it all comes down to. Corporate greed is absolutely not just putting workers in danger, but corporate greed is what is putting the entire country, our communities in danger.

And a couple of Iowans have heard me tell this story before, but at the height of the meatpacking plant outbreaks here, we at the state fed here in Iowa, along with the UFCW, we met with our governor and we probably, for at least a half hour, if not longer, laid out, and this was late April of 2020, so it was just getting going, and we laid out every single possible thing that we could think of knowing the information that we knew at the time to help make things safer inside meatpacking plants. And not only did our governor ignore us, probably told Tyson and the other packers to do pretty much the opposite. And then, maybe about two days later, flew out to Washington and asked President Trump to invoke the National Production Act to send those workers back into the plants.

I can take you to a spot in a parking lot where somebody came off of their shift in Waterloo, Iowa and collapsed and died. It doesn’t need to be this way. I don’t care what industry you’re talking about, whether Chris, you’ve been doing really, really dangerous work and tough work as a pipeliner, whether we’re talking about, like I said, working in conditions and pandemics, a total disregard for the working class of this country, and it’s all for just so billionaires can make more billions. So I want to say thank you to everybody on this call who is working in whatever capacity they can.

I’ll just end with this: the legislation that was referenced, when I called our national AFL-CIO to see, okay, where are we at? Do we support this or not? And they actually said, “Yeah, we do support it, but we think it needs to be better. There are some issues with it that we think need to be better for workers.” Now, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t want to see the Stafford Act passed, don’t get me wrong, but we need to fight as hard as we can because that Worker’s Memorial Day list seems to get longer every single year on April 28th. So thank you brothers and sisters, appreciate it, and I’ll be around.

Steve Zeltzer: Great. Thank you. And I’m glad you connected what’s going on in East Palestine to workers in the packing plants. Every industry in this country, I mean I’m from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley has toxic plants, electronic plants. People are getting contaminated in these plants and in their homes and they’re not getting the protection they need, and that was supposed to be a clean industry. So it’s all over this country.

One of the ways I found out about Chris and what’s going on is through Maximillian Alvarez. He had a live benefit for the people of East Palestine during Christmas, and we have a Labor Radio Network, which he’s a member of, I’m of, of about 170 radio programs around the country, podcasts, and he is fighting for getting the word out to working people about labor, working issues, union issues, and we have to build a movement, a labor media movement, and Max has been involved in that. So thanks for joining us, Max, and participating in this. Really appreciate it.

Maximillian Alvarez: Thank you so much, Steve, for bringing us all together, everyone here for all the work that you’ve done to bring us together. It’s a real honor to be here. I am still in COVID quarantine, so apologies if I’m not at the top of my game, but I’m feeling a lot of things right now because, like all of you, this is very personal to me. I have a lot to say, but I’ll try to condense it into just a couple minutes here because I want to be gracious to everyone.

First off, just to pick up on some of the things that have already been said, like Steve mentioned, I am the Editor-In-Chief of The Real News Network here in Baltimore. I’m also the host of the podcast “Working People,” and I host a labor segment on the channel “Breaking Points” called “The Art of Class War,” where I try to lift up the voices and struggles of our fellow workers, union and non-union alike.

I came to the story of East Palestine a year after spending just about all my time interviewing railroad workers, the vast majority of whom were warning in some way or another that something like East Palestine was inevitable if we did not substantively address the issues that workers across the 12, 13 different unions representing over a hundred thousand workers on the freight rail system were screaming about during the high stakes contract fight that was mentioned earlier.

And lo and behold, both parties in Congress, including Joe Biden, like Bush did in the ’90s, anyone who’s in power is going to do the exact same thing. They’re going to invoke the Railway Labor Act. They’re going to force contracts down workers’ throats. They’re going to side with the industry and effectively give the industry the thumbs up to keep doing what it has been doing. And what it has been doing is destroying our supply chain by destroying the people who run it.

And so, again, I was talking to those people from my show all throughout the year last year, and some in really harrowing pointed detail were warning that the longer these trains got, the fewer people we had on those trains, the fewer people we had checking the track, the fewer people we had checking the cars, the more we were automating different essential functions, maintenance, safety, dispatchers in the dispatch office, the more that we were essentially cutting corners, cutting costs so that they could make record profits, juice the bottom lines of executives and shareholders, something was going to give. And we, our people, our neighbors, people like Chris and his neighbors, we are the ones who are paying for that corporate greed.

And I want to impress upon everyone here, anyone who’s going to listen to this afterwards, kind of two things that I try to impress upon people whenever I’m asked to talk about this.

The first is that the catastrophic derailment of the Norfolk Southern train this time last year, and the subsequent decision to “do a controlled burn” of five cars worth of toxic vinyl chloride, even when that was not the recommended action by the people who make the vinyl chloride, that whole mess is one of the greatest industrial accidents in our country’s history. And a catastrophe of equal or greater proportion could literally happen again tomorrow because we have done nothing to substantively address the conditions that led to the catastrophic derailment in East Palestine, to the lack of regulation and enforcement from the government side that is given not just Norfolk Southern, but all the class one freight rail carriers, the license to do whatever the hell they want with our supply chain. Again, the contract fight showed the government’s not going to incentivize these companies to act differently, so we got to be the ones to force their hand.

So that’s the first thing. This could happen again tomorrow. We haven’t done shit, pardon my French, to really address the root causes. The Railway Labor Act has gone nowhere, even though a number of politicians have made political hay out of it. And then when it recedes from the news once again, it gets dropped. Meanwhile, families like the Albright’s are boiling in this hell that they have been left with that they did not ask for, that they had nothing to do with, and the country has forgotten about them. This is supposed to be the greatest country on earth, and this is what we do to our people. This is what we do to our neighbors. We abandon them. We just draw a circle around them and say, “This is a sacrifice zone now. You could stay here and die and get cancer and watch your town slowly die, or if you have enough money you can move, but we’re not going to do anything to help you.”

This is happening not just in East Palestine. This is happening across the country. This is happening in Flint. This is happening in the Navajo Nation where uranium mining has been giving people cancers for decades. This is happening in Red Hill in Hawaii where people can’t drink the water because the army has been poisoning it. This is happening here in Baltimore near a CSX terminal that has also been declared a sacrifice zone because it’s getting coal dust everywhere. There aren’t going to be any zones left to sacrifice if we keep going down this road and not standing and fighting against the relentless onslaught of corporate greed and the destruction of all that we hold dear. 

That’s what I really want to emphasize coming back to this, is that for families like the Albright’s, and they’re not alone, as we’ve already mentioned, I’ve been interviewing residents and families in this community, not just in East Palestine, but also want to mention how important it is for folks in the surrounding area, people in Pennsylvania, it’s not like the gas from all of that vinyl chloride just decided to stop at the Pennsylvania border.

That has been poisoning people’s land, air, and water. People are feeling health effects for miles beyond the crash site. But for Norfolk Southern, if you don’t live within a one-mile radius of that crash site, you’re basically on your own. And even a lot of people have been on their own.

Sorry, I’m talking a lot. I’ll shut up.

Steve Zeltzer: That’s okay.

Maximillian Alvarez: But this is a national outrage. Sorry, just the last thing: that we did not address the issues on the railroads that workers themselves have been warning was going to lead to a catastrophe for years to anyone who would listen, that we did not address those years ago is a national tragedy; that the community of East Palestine has been so thoroughly abandoned by Norfolk Southern, by the government, by the media, and by our country is a national disgrace, an absolute national disgrace.

We should, yes, be empathetic, we should care for these people, but we should be mad. We should be angry that this is happening in our country. We should be angry that we are going around telling people that we have the right to tell other countries how to run their societies when this is what we are doing on our own. We need to stop this. We need to actually band together and fight back. Otherwise, they’re going to take everything from us and leave us in just as much of a hopeless situation as the folks of East Palestine have been left in.

So I’m here to help however I can. I’m trying the best I can on the media side, but we’re an independent nonprofit outlet. Only so many people listen to us. And I really, really want to emphasize how incredible it is that out of all the national media, a strike newspaper run by striking journalists for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who have been on strike unpaid for a year and a half have done more coverage on this than most national media. That is insane.

But also, thank you, Steve, and thank you everyone at PUP for doing that work. It’s an honor to be in the struggle with you and everyone here. Thank you for having me. Sorry for talking so much.

Steve Zeltzer: I think we need more outrage in this country about the conditions of working people and the lives of working people and their families. That outrage has to be combined with political activity and work, but we need the anger. I hate what’s going on. It really has to stop.

So also joining us is Bob Anspach. He’s a retired member of the BNSF Railroad, which is owned by one of these billionaires, Warren Buffett, who apparently needs more money for his coffers rather than protecting the health and safety of working people and communities in this country. And he’s a member of BLET IBT 391. So welcome, Bob.

Bob Anspach: Thank you, Steve. I just have a couple of quick stories on a couple of, if you will, trips on a train that I actually was on. It was shortly after, I’m talking probably in the ’80s. I’m going to give away my age here. But we came out of Kansas City on a UPS train, changed crews in Marceline, Missouri, and then the train continued to depart Marceline. When the rear end of the train came by the depot, we were required by the railroad to give it a row by inspection. Four cars ahead of the rear end, over half a wheel was gone.

What got my attention was sparks flying and fire flying, and I stopped the train because when I looked up to the north, a Westbound train was coming into town. So I was thinking, “Uh oh, we’re going to have a derailment and I’m going to watch it all happen.” But that train was a 70 mile-hour train that went over a hot box detector or mechanical inspection site. And the mechanical detector did not go off or warn us that there was a problem.

And then the second story is… Well, I’ll back up a minute, because at that particular time, we were trying to save the cabooses through our UTU unions efforts in Jeff City, Missouri. I personally had a meeting with our representative of our community and would even travel to Jeff City to testify. And he said, “Oh, you don’t need to do that.” I should have done that. Because on the day of the vote to get this caboose bill out of subcommittee, we lost five votes after the lobbyists made his rounds with campaign money. So the old verbiage of “Money talks and BS walks,” that’s how we lost our cabooses.

The second story is kind of similar, where we were on a vehicle train, an entire train that hauls vehicles. And there again, we had an axle that failed, 70 mile-an-hour again, and we drugged that axle. We got a notification over the radio that we had a hot journal. We stopped the train as soon as we could and got a stop so we didn’t block the city of Carrollton, Missouri Main Street. And 15 cars back the bearing had already failed, and we only went six miles from when we heard the detector notify us until we stopped.

So these derailments can happen in a split second anywhere at any time. And if you’re in between the electronic scanning devices and you have a car that fails, you don’t have any warning. The train derails, separates the air hoses, you stop abruptly. But here’s one instance where we drove a failed wheel across this detector with no… It did not sense all that heat. So I put no faith in the detectors. The faith was, as Charlie alluded to earlier, corporate greed. Take the cabooses off the trains. No, now we got five people riding the engines up front. Let’s take two brakemen and a fireman off the trains. And they’re still not happy. They want to take the conductor off the train. So yeah, it’s corporate greed through and through. 

Steve Zeltzer: And it’s been reported that there’ve been over 1,500 derailments in the last year after East Palestine, which tells you that in fact, it’s the wild, wild west and there’s no accountability for these executives.

Bob Anspach: It is. And your section crews today that work on the maintenance away, you have a truck driver and a foreman. In some cases you might have one laborer, but that’s it. That’s the size of your section crews.

Steve Zeltzer: Now, one of the issues that we’re addressing in this issue of healthcare is that the toxic dump sites, and as Max alluded to and others, are a problem all over the country.

I live in San Francisco. We have a nuclear radioactive dump site, Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in Treasure Island where people are being contaminated on a… They spent over a billion dollars to remediate the Hunter’s Point Shipyard and to build condos in it. And people are getting sick in the community. Workers, whistleblowers, residents are getting cancer and they’re having to fight for healthcare. And the same situation is going on in Ohio, where there are many other toxic dump sites and radioactive dump sites. And joining us is Vina Colley. She was an OCAW electrician and she’s co-founder of the National Nuclear Workers for Justice and President of the Portsmouth-Piketown Residents for Environmental Safety and Security. Welcome, Vina.

Vina Colley: Thank you for having me. We’ve been here for thirty-some years and still not getting recognition from our politicians. When they come to town, they have a meeting. They go on the plant site, the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plants, which is a DOE, Department of Energy and a DOD, Department of Defense site. We had OSHA and we have NIOSH, but they’re not on site. And actually, they don’t have NIOSH or OSHA. They just go by their rules. So it’s the government watching themselves. It’s the fox watching the hens.

And NRC, they claim they have nuclear regulatory status, but they do not have any way to do any testing on radioactive components. Piketon has been declared number one in the state of Ohio for cancer. Joe Mangano did two studies here. He said that we are the worst site that he has seen that he’s been to in his 40 years of research.

We can’t get the media to come here because they’re so far away. We’re a hundred miles away from the main media like Columbus and Cincinnati and the local media, maybe they report stuff every two days in a week now. We don’t have regular media here. I found out that we had plutonium at Piketon. And in 1999, we broke the story that we had plutonium. And so that’s when the workers’ compensation bill comes in, of 2000.

And if you have, and the government’s admitted, if you have one of these 22 cancers, then you will get compensated. Piketon is an SEC site, which means a special exposure cohort site. We’re not supposed to have to prove our exposures because they destroyed our records. They never kept records and they never tested us. And so they’re not supposed to fight us if we have one or these 22 cancers and some of these toxic chemical illnesses. But they continue to fight the workers today. And this bill has been in effect since 2000.

They treat us as if we’re human guinea pigs. We broke every story with the company documents, and they deny their own reports. We had a school that was shut down here off of 32, two miles from the plant on the west side. They shut the school down. They’re building a new school for the kids. And we have three or four other schools around this community that have never been tested. I have an air monitor. I work with Dr. Ketterer, and we’re taking samples, and I have an air monitor, and this air monitor has picked up Uranium 236, which comes from the plant. You couldn’t get that someplace else.

And so I’ve been doing this for 35 years. There’s just no end to it. The EPA is supposed to be taking split samples from the company. And what that means is the EPA does not take samples. They don’t have any way to test these samples. The company gives them this paperwork and they go by whatever the company gives them in the paperwork. They are not testing this site whatsoever. We have plutonium, neptunium, beryllium, and americium. We have americium 14 miles off site in another direction where there’s a high school and grade school. And these two schools have never been checked. AnnMaria, who worked for the Department of Energy in Washington, DC, wanted to help the community, and she went back to DC and they fired her.

So we’re all fighting a bunch of criminals. I don’t know how we’re going to help the people of Palestine if they don’t get some type of healthcare. I don’t know how they’re going to get healthcare because the government just fights it. The railroad is not going to help them. The railroad even has workers, and we’re getting ready to be a hub for nuclear waste all over the world. They’re going to reprocess, they’re putting in two power plants they announced yesterday. These two power plants will feed small modular reactors. And what that means is all these sites have transuranic waste settings on their sites, and we’re going to be reprocessing this transuranic site. So that’s going to make us a hub for the largest nuclear waste facility in the world. And Piketon is one of the largest facilities in the world when they were processing highly enriched uranium.

And the other thing that we were doing back from the ’50s, we had been reprocessing reactor fuel.

All these years and the workers didn’t know, so we weren’t suited up for it. Well, now, they’re coming back and they want to do the very same thing again, reprocess reactor fuel, this transuranics, it’s got plutonium stuff at all these sites and bring it in here for us to reprocess it for small modular reactors. It’s really sad. I listened to all of you talk about your illnesses and the community there up here in Ohio, and I don’t know how you’re going to get unless you keep the media pushing it and your people stick together. It takes numbers. It takes a lot of people to get them in Washington DC to pay a lot of attention to us. It’s hard for me to talk. I mean, I was a worker and I’ve been sick. I was a healthy worker and I think it was Chris maybe, I never had any problems whatsoever.

Now, I have congestive heart failure, chronic beryllium disease, chronic bronchitis, neuropathy, you name it, I have it now. And so, I struggle every day with my health issues and I do the best I can and I help a lot of these workers who are having trouble getting their claims through. But I don’t have the answer because I know with our struggle, unless you can keep people working together and fighting, it’s not going to work. Hopefully, you can get these people compensated and make your representatives pay attention, keep it in the media, keep it gone. I don’t know if you would be able to get any insurance or anything through Social Security and the welfare of the SNAP program and Medicaid or not. I know it’s hard to get it because you probably still own your own home or if you own your own home, then you’re not eligible for any of this stuff, and the government doesn’t care about you.

Steve Zeltzer: Okay, well thank you, Vina. Obviously, that’s another issue that has been left out of the media around East Palestine and that is Ohio. There are many toxic dump sites, many sites where people are getting sick and this is a government site, so it’s not just a private employer, it’s the government itself is bringing in radioactive material and poisoning people and their families, their children and they’re not getting protected. So this is an issue for all the people of Ohio and obviously all the people of this country. So our next speaker is Carrie Duncan. She’s with the Lee County Labor Chapter Vice President. She’s with the IAM, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 1010 Machinist Production Chief Shop Steward. So, welcome.

Carrie Duncan: It’s an honor to be here with all of you today. We’ve started a spark that’s going to lead to a fire of assistance to these people to bring awareness. Our country, our people face many battles throughout their lifetime. Our people in this country should not be facing these battles alone. It is time that people in our country and the country’s leadership comes to the mutual aid for all of the people and workers of whom have been adversely affected by mass casualty such as the East Palestine train derailment site where residents and workers should be granted healthcare, full coverage, given freely by our federal government as a human right to be taken care of since this horrific tragedy one year ago tonight.

One second, one moment, all the residents in East Palestine, Ohio had their lives forever changed, and a tragedy such as this could happen elsewhere at any time along the railroad tracks across the United States of America. Corporate greed has no compassion. The workers of whom were called upon to clean up the horrendous mess were not even given the proper personal protective equipment to protect themselves from acquiring long-term health issues. This is a travesty. This is 2023 we were talking.

This country’s leadership needs to be taking care of its people for we are called the United States of America. We call for them to be accountable now. Why is the leadership not hearkening to the call of distress for the residents and workers in East Palestine, Ohio? Are they a forgotten people by their elected leadership in this country? When our brothers and sisters in our country are in need of support, we rise to the call no matter how many miles may separate us. For you see, there is no amount of distance that will lessen the compassion in our hearts nor weaken the thoughts of hope in our minds to prevent us from reaching out and helping humankind.

We are the labor movement in the United States of America where we assist people and workers down in the valleys to rise up to the mountaintop again. It is just and right that we do so just as our forefathers did so many years ago to enhance the lives of residents and workers and their families in villages, towns, and cities everywhere. We ask that you take a few moments in your lives today to reflect upon what has been witnessed during these discussions and hope that you will pass along to others the spark that has kindled the fire in our hearts to bring awareness to our leadership in this country for the residents and workers of East Palestine, Ohio.

All of us working together can make the impossible possible. That will be all of our efforts to get the EPA and President Biden to declare the area of East Palestine, Ohio, a mass casualty incident site under the Stafford Act. This would allow all residents and workers who were sickened to get healthcare coverage from the government. An injury to one is an injury to all. That is our motto that labor lives by. We live it and we breathe it. We’re here for you. And with that being said, your people and the workers in East Palestine, Ohio are our people.

Penny Logsdon: Friday, February 3, 2023 at 8:55 PM, a Norfolk Southern freight train pulling more than 150 cars derailed, including 36 tanker cars carrying vinyl chloride, a known cancer-causing chemical. Sunday, February 5, 2023, there was a mandatory evacuation warning, residents of potential toxic gas release. They were told to evacuate now because if you need help later, we will not come back to help you.

Monday, February 6, 2023, after the catastrophic derailment, responders conducted a controlled burn, which released hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air, ground, and water. Phosgene is a colorless gas. Exposure may cause irritation to the eyes, dry, burning throat, vomiting, cough, foamy sputum, breathing difficulties, and chest pains to name a few. These are especially dangerous to little lungs.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023, a mandatory evacuation order was lifted after air and water samples taken the day before were deemed safe, officials said. Friday, February 10, 2023, ABC reported the EPA reported in a letter to the Norfolk Southern that vinyl chloride and other toxic chemicals were released during the incident and have been detected in samples from several creeks near the derailment site.

Monday, February 13, 2023, in an open letter, Norfolk Southern Railroad President and CEO Alan Shaw stated that the company was committing $1 million to a community support fund as a down payment on its contribution to rebuilding the village. “I hear you. We hear you,” Shaw said. “My simple answer is that we are here and will stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and East Palestine recover and thrive.”

Omaha, Nebraska AP reported Norfolk Southern’s costs related to the East Palestine derailment have grown to nearly $1 billion and its insurance companies have started to pay their share of the cost. Of the crash in Eastern Ohio, the Atlanta-based railroad reported third quarter profits of $478 million. Without the derailment costs, they said the third quarter profits would have made $601 million. February 3, 2024, the first anniversary of the catastrophic derailment, the newly formed Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers campaign hosted a Zoom panel with experts including Iowa Federation of Labor President Charlie Wishman, who spoke about worker safety as community safety. It is incredible that it has been a full year since the Norfolk Southern derailment and the residents and workers are still struggling and left with many unanswered issues.

Think for a moment. Unless you have been listening to a podcast, how long has it been since you’ve heard anything regarding East Palestine? Today, we are again letting our brothers and sisters know that they are not alone nor forgotten, just as we made great changes happen in the language of NAFTA 2.0 through united unions across the nation in collaboration with Pacific Public Citizen’s Trade Group and others, we will succeed. We are calling on all unions across the nation in collaboration with allies to stand together in solidarity and demand access to and medical funded mental and physical healthcare to all victims of the catastrophic Norfolk Southern freight train derailment in East Palestine. This is our time to step up. We will educate, we will bring the solution, and through our solidarity, we will succeed.

Steve Zeltzer:Thank you, Penny, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. And as Penny said, it’s been more than a year since this catastrophic accident with vinyl chloride and people are suffering in the community, workers are suffering. That’s why we formed this campaign to really take up this issue not just in East Palestine but nationally, so working people can organize, get educated, and fight to get healthcare for the people of East Palestine and other people around this country who need healthcare. I mean, East Palestine is not unique. There are millions of Americans, and particularly even in Ohio toxic dump sites who need healthcare and live in conditions of fear and trauma over not being able to have healthcare. Our next speaker is Jami Rae Wallace. She’s the East Palestine Unity Council President and also she is a past union activist in the SEIU and other unions and has been fighting to mobilize the community and labor. So welcome, Jami.

Jami Wallace: Thank you for having me, and thank you for creating this awareness. As Steve said, my name is Jami Wallace. I was an executive board member of SEIU 1199 for 10 years while I worked at Cleveland State University. I loved my union work there. When I started, we had maybe four or five delegates. By the time I left, we had 34 delegates. Probably one of the most humbling experiences in my life was having a employee of Cleveland State who had not signed her membership card with the union in 34 years, walk into my office with a signed card and tell me that she felt that now was the time, that she had never believed in the strength of the union on her campus, and that I made her feel that strength.

I decided to move back to East Palestine, Ohio in 2018. I honestly thought that I would retire from Cleveland State University. I had tried to have a child my entire life, but was never blessed with a child. At 42, I found out that I was going to be having my first child. My first thought was, “I want to go home.” I have 47 immediate family members that live within the one mile of the derailment that happened last year on February 3, 2023. I wanted that family support to be able to have my niece to stop by and pick up their little cousin to go to the park or have that luxury of family watching my child while I worked. Like Chris says, up until the derailment, I was living my happiest life. I was going to work. I was coming home and enjoying time with my family, time in nature. My life has changed so drastically since then.

Right away, the EPA was telling people it was safe to return home. My husband and I even had a little argument. He said, “What are we going to do when they lift this evacuation?” I said, “Well, we’re going to go home. If the EPA says it’s okay, it’s okay.” I pulled in my driveway the next day to grab some prescriptions. As soon as I pulled in my driveway and I was overtaken by a chemical smell, immediately my chest started burning. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My lips were tingling, throat burning, eyes watering. I didn’t need a scientist to tell me that things weren’t okay. My own body and my gut told me that things were not okay.

I quickly started organizing, trying to get true answers, and I actually started the Unity Council for the East Palestine train derailment because I couldn’t handle all this on my own. You almost needed a couple of full-time people just to watch what the EPA was doing, just to watch what our politicians were doing, to watch what Norfolk Southern was doing, to deal with people with mental health issues. There was just relapse. People were relapsing from drug and alcohol addiction. So I organized the Unity Council exactly how I’d organized my union. The first thing is we had five unions on campus. So we would have what was called a Unity Council meeting where we’d bring all those heads of the union together to talk about what needs overlapped. Because I ended up with so many delegates, I divided them into executive committees and they would each focus on an article on our contract.

We had an executive committee for healthcare, one for wages, grievances. So that’s exactly what I did with the Unity Council. I organized this into politics, human health, media. It wasn’t until actually a reporter brought this to my attention. He said, “Did you ever have past organizing experience?” And I said, “No.” And he is like, “Well, it’s funny, you almost organized like a union.” And I was like, “Wow. I did organize this after my union. I guess I had just never realized what I did and was organizing.” I know that seems strange.

When I saw the need to get more unions involved was actually when a reporter came into town. His name is Charlie LeDuff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but he is a Detroiter. He is a union guy. He’s just like you and me. And he wanted to do a story on the industrial Midwest for Labor Day. Through a friend, he contacted me, and he created this amazing video. What he did is he started in East Palestine, and from there he went to Youngstown, Ohio. He went through Warren, Akron, Cleveland, Toledo, to all of these areas that have been working class neighborhoods built off of the industry in the area, mostly steel. All you see are these dilapidated rundown homes.

Just from the experience that I’ve had with our government, with corporate greed, with all the things related to East Palestine and seeing that video, it was like something smacked me straight in the face. What smacked me in the face was that the laborers built this country. We built this country with our blood, our sweat, our tears, those of our ancestors, and this great country that we built is now being controlled by money and corporate greed. Our government adorn things that I don’t feel like any red-blooded American would be okay with or accept. And now, that it’s this far into the hands of money, I mean that’s what it all comes down to, all of our issues come down to them trying to save on costs, how do you take that back?

East Palestine can’t take that back. Individual unions can’t take that back. But I strongly believe that if all the workers in America come together, we’ll get what we need. The workers in East Palestine were exposed to chemicals. Norfolk Southern did not want them wearing PPE because it gave the appearance that something was wrong. OSHA came in and helped those workers. But if you look at the industrial jobs across the country… Four days ago, my niece’s husband passed, 31 years old. He had liver cancer. It didn’t hit me until I read his obituary that ever since he was 18 years old, he had been working at the same place and he was a supervisor. It was a plastic factory. Never before would I have thought twice about seeing that. But the first thing I thought was, could he have possibly been exposed to something?

When you look at the working class people, these young men, young women that they’re putting into these positions, they’re doing it because they have families to take care of. My stepdad, now 60 years old, was a union bricklayer his whole life. They used to walk in and take asbestos out of places with no PPE, but he was also making $60 an hour and had a family to feed. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice our lives to make a living in the United States of America.

This is not just an issue with East Palestine. This is a systemic issue. This could happen tomorrow in any one of your backyards, and you would be treated the same way that we’re being treated. We’re being ignored, our health issues are being ignored, and I feel like the only way East Palestine is going to get help is awareness with the people because I refuse to believe that any human being would be okay with children having bloody noses, children having seizures, rashes. I don’t think anybody can look at this in East Palestine and say, “This is okay.” I appreciate you for creating this awareness today and allowing me to speak.

Steve Zeltzer: Thank you, Jami. This is an issue for the people, the residents and workers of East Palestine, but all the people of America really who face this kind of danger in their communities. One other point I wanted to make is I live in San Francisco, but we have a radioactive dump site there, Hunters Point and Treasure Island, which are former Navy military bases, where they trained people on how to survive a nuclear war. They brought ships from the Marshall Islands that had been contaminated by radioactive blasts and they sandblasted them, putting the radioactive material all over the place, not telling people the danger of that. As a result of that, for decades, people have been getting sick, cancers, and Treasure Island and Hunters Point, and they themselves are still fighting for healthcare right here in San Francisco, and they’re developing condos. They want to build condos on top of a radioactive dump site, which is the height of insanity.

Jami Wallace: There’s one more quick thing if I could, Steve.

Steve Zeltzer: Sure.

Jami Wallace: Even the people that have health insurance now in East Palestine, the thing that we’re fighting with is most health insurances will not cover chemical testing. So even the people that have health insurance are not able to use the health insurance to get the help that they need medically. With so many people losing their jobs due to illness, due to mental health issues from the derailment, and losing their insurance, it shouldn’t be a choice of feeding your family or taking care of your health for any American worker.

Steve Zeltzer: Absolutely. One of the things that’s happened, which is a very positive thing, is there’s a labor radio network around the country of about 170 labor radio shows. There’s a rank and file effort to get the media out to break the information blockade. One of the most important organizations that’s doing that is Real News and Maximillian Alvarez is the executive director of it, and he’s covering these stories and helping to break the information blockade. So welcome, Max.

Maximillian Alvarez: Thank you, brother, and thank you, Penny. Thank you, everyone, for making this happen. It’s a real honor to be here amongst all of you warriors, love warriors as Brother Cornel West would say. I couldn’t say anything better than Jami just did. I mean, I think that whether we are in unions or not, we need to take that message to heart because I feel like everything is so dark right now that we need to follow the light when we see it. I think that in what Jami was saying is the light shining the path forward? Because as Penny said, we are over a year after this avoidable, impossibly reckless, destructive thing that happened to these people who did not ask for it, did not cause it, did not bear any responsibility whatsoever, but have borne all of the costs of corporate greed and government negligence. And just a complete inability on the side of our public officials to actually stay committed to something and follow through for the people who are electing them to do so, long enough to at least push through some stronger regulations or anything besides just dropping the issue, maybe coming back to East Palestine a year later to say, “You’re welcome for delivering on everything. Goodbye.”

As people like Jamie, people like Chris, people like so many that I have been interviewing month after month after month ever since this happened have said, there is simply no way that you can look at what’s happening here and talk to folks living in and around East Palestine, as we all have been doing. And as I’ve been doing at the Real News [Network] the past year. There’s no way you could have a heart and do that work, and then just say, “Okay, good luck. Bye.” That’s why even if I am still trying to get people to actually watch and listen to the stuff we’re putting out, I’m not going to stop doing it until we get some justice here, until these people get more help.

I felt the same way about the railroad workers I was interviewing the year prior to that, throughout the whole contract fight. When no one cared about the issue, when it was months before anyone was even hinting that there may be a railroad shutdown, a strike, or a lockout. I was there talking to people like Jeff Kurtz on this call. I was there talking to conductors, to engineers, to signalmen, to carmen, to dispatchers, to all the folks who make the railroads happen, who were screaming that they too were getting beaten down and run into the ground by these greedy companies for the sake of their corporate profits and massive shareholder dividends.

And they were warning me time and time again that something like this was going to happen inevitably, because you can’t keep cutting staff, cutting costs, cutting corners, automating everything that you think you can, removing all the layers of protection that were put there to prevent catastrophes like East Palestine. But these Wall Street brain disease executives and shareholders, all they see is parts to be stripped for short-term profits. Even if we are the ones, working people living in places like East Palestine, who are going to bear the long-term costs.

And that’s what I really want to underscore here is as Jami said, I feel like we’re all in unique positions to see what she’s saying about how this is not just a one-off thing in East Palestine. This is happening in so many areas. It is happening in San Francisco, Steve, it’s happening here in Baltimore, in whole swaths of the city that have just been sucked dry of any investment over the past century of places like Curtis Bay that are being sacrificed for coal, because coal dust from CSX terminal is getting everywhere and in people’s lungs.

But it’s not just that, as I mentioned on the last time we did this call, it’s in places like Flint, it’s in places like Jackson, it’s in places like Navajo Nation in Puerto Rico. It’s everywhere. It’s like everything’s being slowly digested by these oligarchs who are draining everything they can before what they know is coming actually gets here. Because this is just a prelude to what they’ve got in store for all of us as the planet heats up, as wildfires burn more of the places we live, and the waters rise and we have to recede.

It’s going to get a lot tougher in the 21st century. And they’re already telling us, the politicians, the oligarchs, they’re not going to help us. They’re just going to leave us with the bill and let us deal with all of the catastrophic damage. And I promise I’m wrapping this up, but I’ve been talking to folks in places like Uvalde, Texas who feel just as forgotten as East Palestinians in Ohio do.

I’ve been talking to people in Cancer Alley, Louisiana who feel just as forgotten as the people in East Palestine do. I’ve been talking to Pittsburgh Post Gazette strikers who are in 17 months on strike who feel just as forgotten, as so many working people in this country do. And we need to stop looking around and waiting for someone to save us. As Jamie said, we are the ones who are going to do that. And I feel like, while everything is dark and feels hopeless, and we’re not even talking about all the other awful stuff in the world that I have to report on every week, so I really feel how dark and depressing things are.

But I tell you right now, I’m inspired because I am on this call, because I see labor and community members coming together. I see different unions coming together and saying, “Hey, this is that moment in the movie. This is the Avengers part, where it’s just like we’re facing a great evil. And we are facing really dire conditions that are only going to get worse if we keep waiting for someone else to come save us, or if we keep trying to fight him on our own.”

We can’t take on Norfolk Southern on our own, let alone the rest of these pieces of shit who are destroying our planet and ruining our economy and our community, so on and so forth. But if we band together, if we bring our struggles together, if we build solidarity together through common struggles around the things that matter, like life and family and community. And the right to live free lives where we can meaningfully pursue our happiness and not be poisoned by the very companies that are buying off the politicians to not do anything about it.

What I’m saying is that this is our Avengers moment, and everyone has a superpower to bring to the table. Whether it’s Jami bringing those old organizing tactics to her community, or people like Chris using his powerful voice to keep spreading this story. Or people like Jeff, using his abilities, his talkative eyewitness. And he’s like, “I want to put cool people together and bring us all together.” Steve, Penny, it’s like, this is it. It’s only going to get worse. I cannot promise that we’re going to win any of these fights, but if we don’t fight, I promise you we will lose. And this is what the fight has to look like. So thank you. 

Steve Zeltzer: Thank you, Max. The exciting thing is workers are coming together in this country. Workers are learning the lessons. And that’s what we have to expand on. There’s no way of getting around that. Education and unity are key to making changes, and we’re going to do that. And nothing can stop us. So that’s very important. We can win. And working people have won, the gains in this country. By organizing, by educating, and by mobilizing, and that’s what we’re talking about doing here.

So our next speaker is going to be Jeff Kurtz. Jeff is a railroad worker, was with BNSF. Owned by Warren Buffett, this guy, a billionaire who owns a lot of companies in this country and around the world. And one of the things about the billionaires, they’re not held accountable. If a railroad worker makes a mistake, they get canned, they get fired, they even get criminally charged as they were in Canada in an accident.

But it seems that the billionaires who own these companies that are stripping them of health and safety, they’re never criminally prosecuted for the damage that they do to people that are now killing and causing cancer in East Palestine. He’s a member of the BMWE, which is part of the Teamsters Union, and has been taking up this fight for health and safety for the railroad workers and to protect communities all over this country who are the recipients of a disaster because of the lack of health and safety protection on the railroad. So welcome, Jeff.

You’re muted.

Jeff Kurtz: Max and I were together on Wednesday, we ate supper together. And one of the things we talked about was cooperation versus capitalism. And so after that conversation, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We have a mutual friend, Max mentioned Curtis Bay. There’s a woman down there by the name of Niki Fabricant that teaches at Towson, isn’t it? Yeah.

And so I called her yesterday, and I said, “You would probably have the most access of anybody that I know to people that have actually studied how cooperation works.” So she sent me a couple of links that I’m going to do some research on, but it’s how we can get together, how we can cooperate. We are separated by people like Warren Buffett, like the hedge fund operators that come in and buy up these railroads. These people can find something that maybe affects us 1% of the time or doesn’t affect us at all, but gets people all riled up and divides us.

And it keeps us divided so that we can’t get together and cooperate and fight something like this. We all know how bad this is, but it’s just these petty differences that keep us from getting together. So that is one of the things hopefully within this next week, I’m going to be looking at what Niki sent me. Niki will be coming, she informed me. In fact, she was there. I don’t see, Chris is not on with us anymore, is he? Oh, okay.

Yeah, Niki and a couple of people that she knew went to East Palestine and met with people last weekend. So I think we’re going to have a really fine representation of people so that we can begin this process of cooperation and begin fighting these people. Like Max said, maybe we won’t win, but we certainly aren’t going to win if we don’t at least try to fight them.

And one thing I want to say about the railroads, NS in particular, what people don’t understand is the thing that happened in East Palestine has happened time and time again since East Palestine. The only thing is it happens in places, we’ve been lucky, we dodged a bullet. It happens in places where we haven’t had population centers, but we have actually had more derailments since East Palestine than we had before East Palestine. So the problem’s getting worse and nobody’s addressing it, and all you hear from both sides is them yelling at each other. They don’t tackle the problem.

And so I think that’s one of the things that we have to bring to light at the conference, that there’s things that they can do. It really is a complex problem. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not, but the major parts of it are very fixable. And there’s a lot that we can do to prevent this while we hash out the more complex issues. So I think that’s the thing that we really have to focus on.

Steve Zeltzer: Thank you, Jeff. And one of the things that we have in San Francisco actually every July, the month of July, is called LaborFest. And we have it to commemorate the San Francisco General Strike in 1934, which in the 30s there were general strikes, not just in San Francisco, they were in Minneapolis. There were many strikes and occupations of workers around the country, and that’s one of the ways that workers really were successful in organizing unions, industrial unions in this country. Auto, General Motors, Ford, by occupations, by taking over factories.

And I think we have to look at that, a mass organizing campaign at Amazon, at all these non-union companies. FedEx, there are many non-union companies in this country where they misuse the law, they manipulate the NLRB rules to prevent unionization. And one of the people that we had come out to LaborFest was Mike Stout from Pittsburgh, because he is a leading labor troubadour. And has been organizing around these issues, worker rights, from the steel mills to environmental issues and uniting working people. So why don’t you talk about this struggle, Mike, and how we have to build it up nationally and internationally.

Mike Stout: I just want to tell everybody that spoke, all you’re doing is you’re making my fire inside me bigger. And I’m getting angrier and angrier and more pissed off. And that’s going back 55 years. I was the grievance chairman at the Homestead Mill, and one of the main issues I dealt with for 10 years at the mill before it shut down was the issue of safety and health, both on the job and off the job, and in the community. And we filed numerous lawsuits.

And we had a situation back in those days in the ‘70s where there was no separation between the environmental movement and the labor movement and the unions. There was no separation. It was a different front, same battle. What’s happened that corporations have done successfully, which Maximillian, my brother, just told you about, was they’ve divided us up now. So you got hundreds and hundreds of environmental groups, who all do stuff around the environment. And then you got the labor groups who are dealing with the safety and health issues over here. And then you got a wall between them that the companies and the government have put down, and they pitted the two against each other. And they pitted them both against the community.

We have a very unique situation here. We have a situation where I’ve been doing this safety and health stuff, environmental stuff for a long time, for many decades. For those of you who don’t know, Steve said, I’m a singer-songwriter for 12 years, 13 years in a row. I actually was tasked and wrote a safety and health song for the Allegheny County Labor Council for Workers’ Memorial Day every year on April 28th. And what I can tell you is what the brother just said I want to amplify, because every year, every single year in the United States, somewhere between five and 6,000 workers die on the job. And that’s not even counting the ones like in East Palestine that die off the job from cancer and whatever diseases that these manufacturing processes cause.

And we have a very bad situation here. I wrote a song one time, I said, “Well, people got all riled up when 3,000 people as they should have died on 9/11. Why aren’t we getting riled up when that many or more workers die every single year. And nobody holds these corporations accountable.” 

I would really like this conference to be geared… It’s one thing to get the troops whipped up. It’s another thing to do something about it. And a lot of us have been dealing with this stuff for many, many years, and we’ve gone down a lot of rabbit holes and a lot of dead end roads. Because I think what we need, which Penny and others have so eloquently stated, is we need solidarity. And we need to come together as a group.

And by a group, I mean communities, I mean labor unions, and I mean the environmental groups. There is no separation in East Palestine. All those issues are right there on Main Street all in the same place, and there can be no walls put up. And I would like to propose to this group several things. I really hope that on top of educating and entertaining at this March 23rd gathering, that we see this as an organizing conference. That we put our heads together and figure out how we’re going to get out of this morass.

And by this morass, I mean not just what everybody’s talking to about the issues going on, but the fact that we are all siloed. Everybody is siloed and separated into all these different little struggles that are all important, but we never come together for the big one. And I think East Palestine gives us the opportunity to come together for the big one. It puts all the disasters and all the diseases and all the struggles in one pot. And I think we’ve got a golden opportunity to take that pot and take it across America, and hold these corporations accountable.

And I would really like to suggest secondly, that my experience in these struggles is there’s a lot of people who say we always gotta do it from the bottom up. And I agree with that 100%, and that’s what I’ve been doing most of my life. But that doesn’t mean you don’t also deal with the top down. And I’d like to suggest that we get a group of East Palestinian citizens that have been affected by this, and people from this group, and we demand a meeting with the state AFL-CIOs in Pennsylvania and Ohio. And that we go right to the head of the AFL-CIO and Washington, D.C., and plead our case.

And I defy these union officials to offer any excuses or any reason why this struggle can’t be taken up and blasted out across this country. I don’t know anybody in the United States of America that’s going to stand for this if they find out what’s going on, number one. And number two, I want to say this. There’s not hardly anybody in the United States that’s not affected or going to be affected by this directly. I have, we call them the bomb trains, the black trains, cars that are painted, and they have chemicals and what’s inside them. I have those train tracks right behind my house, right behind my house.

Every day, two or three of those trains go by. And they go through the city of Pittsburgh, they go through Allegheny County, and I guarantee you they go through the majority of counties in this state and Ohio. And it’s time for us to get those people aware of what’s going on, aware of what dangers they face, and do something about it. And I’m suggesting we’re dealing with militant companies, militant corporations, and it’s time for us to get militant.

We’re not going to go with our hat in hand begging. I think it’s time for us to start demanding. And I want to say one last thing. I spent a lot of time, and I told this to Steve, I belong to an environmental group called the Izaak Walton League. And we’re not a liberal environmental group, we’re a conservation group. And most of our chapters across the country are rural, and that most of the people I deal with are rural.

And when my wife and I go on trips, we take long trips and we stay in small towns, and stay at bed and breakfast. And we’ve talked to people in probably 25 or 30 towns in just the last month or two. And I want to tell you, everybody on this call, people in this country are pissed off that we’re pouring billions of dollars into wars with no end in sight, pouring billions of dollars bailing banks out, and we can’t put money up to bail these people out, our own people in the United States, our own people next door, our own people down the block. And I think it’s high time that we organize those people and that anger into action.

Maximillian Alvarez: All right gang, that’s going to wrap things up for us today. I want to thank all of the incredible speakers who were featured on this compilation episode. All of the incredible organizers behind the Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers Coalition, Steve Zeltzer, Penny Logsdon, Chris Albright, and everyone else who is doing the work to make this happen. You guys are real-life superheroes, seriously.

And as always, I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to thank you for caring. Remember, this event in East Palestine is happening this Saturday, March 23rd. So time is of the essence here. Reach out to the coalition, get involved, help spread the word. And if you’re in East Palestine or going there this weekend, then I’ll see you there.

And I’ll see you all back here next week for another episode of “Working People.” If you can’t wait that long, then go subscribe to our Patreon and check out the awesome bonus episodes that we’ve got there waiting for you and our patrons right now. And also go explore all the great work that we’re doing at the Real News Network, where we do grassroots journalism that lifts up the voices in stories from the front lines of struggle.

You can sign up for the Real News newsletter so you never miss a story, and you can help us do more work like this by going to therealnews.com/donate and becoming a supporter of The Real News today. I’m Maximillian Alvarez, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Solidarity forever.

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