Teamsters respond to water crisis in Flint, Michigan

In 2015, the city of Flint, Michigan, saw one of the worst health crisis’ the US has ever faced. In an effort to save money, Flint government officials made the decision to switch the city’s water source to the Flint River rather than renewing their contract with Great Lakes Water out of Detroit. The water of the Flint River was polluted from natural biological waste, treated industrial and human waste, untreated waste intentionally or accidentally dumped into the river and contaminants washed into the river by rain or snow. Due to the pollution of the water, less than six months later, 40 percent of Flint homes showed elevated lead levels, coliform bacterium, and bacteria buildups in pipes. The water was contaminated with so much lead that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified it as hazardous waste—a waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment. On December 14, 2015 Flint declared a state of emergency.

With that declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the EPA stepped in to provide crisis response and recovery. However, given the magnitude of the catastrophe, it was volunteers like union Teamsters who played an immediate and valuable role in helping the city of Flint and its residents.

Members, not too unlike local cement mix driver Tanya, bought supplies, loaded their trucks, and descended on Flint, in conjunction with locally based union members, to meet the needs to residents, offer a friendly and sympathetic face, and lend a hand. Many building and construction trades unions responded to Flint, and here’s a snapshot of what the Teamsters did:

  • Local 135 out of Indiana delivered more than 1,000 cases of bottles water to Flint.
  • Local 773 donated time to haul water from the Nestle plant to Flint, a job that would normally cost $4,700.
  • Local 370 donated hundreds of hours of time replacing lead lines throughout the city.
  • 300 Union members of Plumbing Manufacturers International donated their time to the residents of Flint to install faucets, water filters and other needed plumbing fixtures.

At times of crisis, it’s good to know your union friends and neighbors, whether down the street or a state away, are ready, willing, and able to respond, often times in partnership with their private sector partners, and always with their commitment to service in mind. It’s these hardworking, blue-collar building and construction trades workers who build our state and our communities.