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C.L.E.A.N.- Community, Labor, Environmental Action Network

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The best ideas emerge unexpectedly from the grassroots in seemingly unlikely places. One of those ideas is an organization called C.L.E.A.N. which stands Community, Labor, Environmental Action Network. The story behind the creation of this group is both enlightening and interesting. The concept is very sound. I hope C.L.E.A.N. chapters will eventually be in every state.

C.L.E.A.N. resulted from a Delaware UFCW Local 27 organizing drive. While organizing, the UFCW realized that workers were being exposed to dangerous chemicals in the work environment. As they explored the worker safety issue, they realized that adverse health effects impacted workers, their families and the surrounding community. As a result, the UFCW reached out to other unions, churches and community groups to build a coalition. C.L.E.A.N. was born. The growth has exploded in just 4 months.

Among the unions and other groups who have joined in Delaware are  A. Philip Randolph Institute, AFSCME Local #640, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 842, Christiana Presbyterian Church, Sprinklerfitters Local 669  , Delaware Ecumenical Council on Children and Families, Delaware State AFL-CIO, Community Services , Democratic Talk Radio , Interfaith Coalition Building Block for Wilmington, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees- Local 284, IBEW Local 313, LIUNA Local 1029, LIUNA Local 199, Methodist Action Program, OPEIU Local 277, Pacem in Terris, Progressive Democrats for Delaware, St. Paul's Church, 23rd RD Committee,  UAPP Local #74, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27, USW, District 4, Voices Without Borders and Young Democrats Movement. C.L.E.A.N. is actively seeking new member organizations.

Here is their story. While looking into the connection between worker safety and the health impacts of pollution in the larger community, the UFCW discovered some shocking facts.  Below are just a few examples:

The rate of asthma among adults in Delaware is 11.7% while nationally it is 10.8%. In the most populous county in Delaware (New Castle), the American Lung Association graded them F for pollution.

Delaware’s 1999-2003 overall cancer incidence rate was 5.3% higher than the national estimate. There were a shocking 20,793 cases reported during this period.

919 total cases of urinary bladder cancer were diagnosed among Delaware residents during 1999-2003. A 1195 study found that “A total of … 21% to 27% of bladder cancers are estimated to be related to occupational exposure.”

Luckily, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in Region 2 had many top notch leaders, organizers and staffers on the job when these facts came to light. UFCW Regional leadership under Director Alvin Vincient, Jr. and his Executive Assistant Pat Burgwin had long emphasized the need for unions to reach out to the community and get more involvement in organizing drives.

Fortunately, UFCW Local 27, under the enlightened leadership of President Buddy Mays and Organizing Director Tim Goins, placed union resources at the disposal of the larger community in order to get C.L.E.A.N. started. Buddy Mays truly understands the significance of the problem. He stated, “We realize that the problems are not just local issues. The problem is a national one. Employers often knowingly place the health of both workers and the community at risk by exposing them to dangerous chemicals. It is our obligation and civic duty to expose these situations when we discover them.”

In Delaware, the UFCW had help from the International in the form of organizers Gina Swinea and Courtney Foley working closely with UFCW Local 27 Business Agent Donna Smits. As a member of the Delaware State AFL-CIO Executive Board and head of the UFCW political effort in Delaware, Donna Smits helped broaden the coalition by identifying and recruiting key players in labor, politics and community organizations.

Samuel Lathem, President of the Delaware State AFL-CIO stated that they “are fully in support of the C.L.E.A.N. effort and applauds the UFCW for their lead role in getting the group started. The Delaware State AFL-CIO wants to work with allies in the larger community on a variety of issues.”

Delaware State AFL-CIO Executive Director and state legislator Gerald Brady was an early supporter. Courtney Foley said, “Gerald Brady was very instrumental in getting labor onboard.” She cited many other leaders, both inside and outside organized labor, as very helpful including President of the Delaware Building Trades Council Harry Gravell, Executive Director of the Interfaith Coalition Building Block of Wilmington Ed Klinge, Mark Brunswick from A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and Reverend Dr. Greer of the Ezion Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church to name just a few.

Courtney Foley was given primary responsibility for building the coalition because of her deep background in community organizing. Although still very young, this young lady from Mississippi has extensive experience. She started her efforts organizing on behalf of Congressman Jim Moran in Virginia. In 2005, she worked for Paul Hackett in the Ohio Congressional special election that received so much national attention. She was working for Sherrod Brown in 2006 in his successful bid to become a US Senator from Ohio.

Early in 2007, Foley was helping in New York with SEIU in their successful public relations effort to stop a proposed billion dollar cut in health care that politicians in Albany were pushing. In New York, she realized “how powerful and important the faith-based community can be in rallying public support to promote progressive change.”

While the original mission statement of C.L.E.A.N. reads:

It is the mission of C.L.E.A.N. to promote a safe and healthy environment for families in Newark and the surrounding areas.

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Stephen Crockett is co-host of Democratic Talk Radio and author of the Democratic Voices opinion column.
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