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Environmental Unions: Labor and the Superfund
Craig Slatin
Work, Health and Environment Series, Series Editors, Charles Levenstein, Robert Forrant, and John Wooding

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Cleaning Up the 20th-Century Mess: Protecting the Workers Who Do It

"In the 1980s, diverse movements of labor unions, community organizations, public health professionals, and environmental activists took action to confront the tragedy of exposures to chemical and hazardous material waste sites, spills, emissions, and accidental releases. This loose alliance fought for reauthorization of the federal Superfund program and, as part of it, demanded the creation of a worker health and safety training program to prepare the workers who must clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and those on the front line of emergency response. In 1986, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences established the Worker Education and Training Program, now a network of more than 100 organizations Dr. Slatin, a key participant in the WETP for much of its existence, has written a fascinating and informative history of this effective union of federal resources with private and public nonprofit organizations. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the challenges and rewards of a unique and effective public health intervention. The WETP has had to adapt in dramatic fashion to address the growing levels of man-made and natural disasters and has saved untold numbers of lives. Slatin captures that history and, more importantly, relates how this network remains true to the principles that shaped it."
—Paul Morse, Project Director, The New England Consortium, University of Massachusetts Lowell

"Slatin's Environmental Unions offers readers all the fine details of the social and political events leading to safety and health protections for workers in the hazardous waste industry. But more importantly, he introduces us to the people and personalities who created and then sustained the WETP. Historians and students will love the book for its robust references. Public health and labor advocates will feel connected to the individuals who recognized a problem and formed diverse coalitions to solve it."
—Celeste Monforton, M.P.H, Dr.P.H, Assistant Research Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, George Washington University School of Public Health, 2008-2009 Chair, Occupational Health and Safety Section, American Public Health Association

"An impressive and important achievement. Dr. Slatin successfully blends the big picture with the details in reconstructing and preserving the history of the WETP. His unflinching account of the struggles to protect hazardous waste workers and emergency response workers from harm not only is a fascinating account of the recent past but will serve well as a guide to the future. The book is full of the kind of intriguing detail that only a skilled social historian can uncover-for example, the midnight maneuvering that explains why this worker training program has been directed by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences instead of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health."
—Michael Silverstein, M.D., M.P.H., Clinical Professor, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington School of Public Health

"The worker training program is one of the most far-reaching public health initiatives of the late 20th century. The education, training, and empowerment of workers to reduce workplace exposures will have a continued impact on improving health for years to come. This detailed chronicle of program development and the subsequent lessons learned is a credit to Dr. Slatin's diligence and is a valuable resource for the design of future initiatives by labor and government. The book documents history, but the content must not become history. Dr. Slatin's work challenges the nation to expanded education and training in health and safety so that health is preserved at work."
—Carol Rice, Ph.D., C.I.H, Professor, Department of Environmental Health, University of Cincinnati

"Environmental Unions: Labor and the Superfund is specifically about labor's multiple policy initiatives that led to the setting up of the Workers Education and Training Program, particularly during a time when labor's own power was declining. In a broader sense, it is a story about the strengths and weaknesses of labor, and how unions responded to the rise of the hazardous waste management industry, with its inherent dangers for workers, by pursuing both public and private sector measures to protect their members. The WETP exists because of labor's ability to perceive the need for worker protection strategies related to the state's responses to demands from the environmental movement. Dr. Slatin has provided a critical framework for understanding the historical relevance of movements as actors in the political economy of the work environment and occupational safety and health regulation. This story of how unions were able to develop coalitions with environmentalists demonstrates the potential for labor and other movements to join in promoting policies that may lead to a more sustainable future. It is an important model for anyone interested in changing traditional ideas and practices as we pursue new strategies for achieving the advancement of workers' rights and global democracy."
—Karla R. Armenti, Sc.D., Chief, Health Statistics & Data Management, New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services, Adjunct Professor, M.P.H.Program, University of New Hampshire

"A thoughtful, well written account of a unique collaboration (20 years and counting) of government, labor, universities and environmental justice to deliver excellent training to thousands of hazardous material workers."
—John S. Morawetz, Director, ICWU Health and Safety Department

"Craig Slatin tells an important story at the intersection of labor unions and environmental cleanup of hazardous materials. If organized labor is to grow again in the U.S., the labor—environment—clean energy nexus is one of the critical paths that such growth must follow. Slatin's focus on occupational health and safety education and training in the Superfund program brings to light a little-known history with valuable lessons for labor and environmental advocates and educators."
—Steven Hecker, Senior Lecturer, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington

"This book is both a comprehensive history of a significant occupational and environmental health success story and an analysis of how to make things happen in the complex setting of the real world. It is exquisitely detailed—even though I have been involved in this area since the beginning, I discovered an amazing number of important facts. It also places the main story in the larger sociopolitical context of the past several decades."
—Glenn Paulson, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Public Health

"Craig Slatin relates a compelling story here. As a chemical worker for twenty five years, I experienced firsthand the positive impact of the program he describes. But this telling is more than just an academic account of an important chapter in the occupational health and safety movement in this country. Slatin places his analysis within the framework of the political economy at play at the time, thereby grounding the events in a larger social context. This is important because these very forces continue to affect our ability to provide additional needed protections to workers, the community, and the environment we live in, from the toxic hazards that continue to surround us."
—Paul C. Renner, J.D., Associate Director, The Labor Institute New York

"Environmental Unions: Labor and the Superfund is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of health and safety training in the U.S. from the mid-1980s to the present. Slatin deftly details the interplay of political and economic forces that led to the establishment of and shaped the nation's most successful and enduring government-sponsored worker safety and health training program since the demise of the OSHA New Directions Program. Through interviews with key union leaders, government officials, and safety and health professionals, Slatin outlines the issues of public policy that were fought out in the legislative sphere, the compromises resulting from conflicting interests, and their implications for the health and safety of workers. Through case studies of programs instituted by the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers and the joint labor-management program of the Laborers Associated General Contractors, Slatin details how hazardous waste training empowered workers and affected these disparate unions."
—Joel Shufro, Ph.D., Executive Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health

"Environmental Unions is a fascinating inside look at the politics, science, and strategic decisions that produced an important workers' health and safety initiative—worker training for workers at hazardous waste sites. It situates the worker training projects in the political economy of the U.S. chemical industry in the late 20th century and the efforts by unions and health and safety advocates to reverse the poisoning of both the environment and the workers. The author was a participant and a keen observer of this work, who drew wise lessons that will have broad relevance for years to come."
—Richard W. Clapp, D.Sc., M.P.H., Professor, Boston University School of Public Health

During the 1970s and 1980s, a hazardous waste management industry emerged in the U.S., driven by government and polluting industry responses to a hazardous waste crisis. In 1979, labor unions began to seek federal health and safety protections for workers in that industry and for firefighters responding to hazardous materials fires. Those efforts led to a worker health and safety section in the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986. The legislation mandated regulation of hazardous waste operations and emergency response worker protection, and establishment of a national health and safety training grant program—which became the Worker Education and Training Program (WETP). Craig Slatin provides a history of labor's success on the coattails of the environmental movement and in the middle of a rightward shift in American politics. He explores how the WETP established a national worker training effort across industrial sectors, with case studies on the health and safety training programs of two unions in the WETP—the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers and the Laborers' Union.

Lessons can be learned from one of the last major worker health and safety/environmental protection victories of the 1960s-1980s reform era, coming at the end of the golden age of regulation and just before the new era of deregulation and market dominance. Slatin's analysis calls for a critical survey of the social and political tasks facing those concerned about worker and community health and environmental protection in order to make a transition toward just and sustainable production.

Intended Audience: Health and safety advocates and practitioners; occupational and environmental hygienists; public health and work environment policy and regulatory personnel; graduate students in work environment and public health policy, political science, environmental studies, American studies, and labor studies; labor, health and safety, and environmental activists; internationally, activists involved in the area of hazardous waste cleanup.

Craig Slatin is an associate professor of Community Health and Health Policy and chair of the Department of Community Health and Sustainability at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He is the co-director of the Center for Health Promotion and Research, through which he runs a New England region hazardous waste workers' health and safety training program and has conducted research exploring the political economy of the work environment in the healthcare sector. Dr. Slatin is a co-editor of New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy.

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Environmental Unions: Labor and the Superfund

Author: Craig Slatin
Paper ISBN:
Cloth ISBN:
ePub ISBN:
Page Count: 280
Copyright: 2009

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