Put children’s well-being first

Cindy Estrada

My husband and our twin sons recently joined countless others to distribute water to Flint families dealing with the man-made lead poisoning disaster that has impacted so many, including thousands of children. We met too many people who are hurting and don’t know whom to trust anymore.

We met the grandmother who wept over the injury she had innocently caused her grandchildren when she followed Michigan Department of Environment Quality guidelines and boiled lead-laden tap water before giving it to them to drink. She bore a heavy burden that she never should have had to bear.

We met the elderly disabled woman without transportation who was down to her last bottle of water. She didn’t know how she would get more or where it would come from. In an effort to maintain her hygiene and dignity, she was forced to bathe in the poisonous water flowing from her tap — water that she said “hurt” and caused rashes.

On the drive home, I thought of the thousands of Flint children who were allowed to drink and bathe in poisonous water for over a year before state government officials admitted there was a problem and declared a disaster.

I thought about the Detroit children who live in homes that have had the water shut off because the adults in their lives can’t afford to pay the water bill. I wondered how the city could pay a contractor $5 million to shut off clean water for children and not find a way to fund a comprehensive water affordability program.

I thought about the Detroit schoolchildren who attend schools with buckled gym floors and moldy classrooms. I wondered how they could learn in that environment and what impact it was having on their physical and mental health.

I couldn’t figure out why we still have an emergency manager law on the books and how an undemocratic system could persist in our state. It hasn’t helped one child in Detroit have a better education or one person in Flint have access to safer drinking water.

We are living in a moment that requires us to do more than deliver water or remediate schools. Little boys and girls are being physically and mentally damaged because of the laws and policies passed and implemented by the elected and appointed adults they rely on to keep them safe. The emergency managers of Flint and Detroit Public Schools have shown us what happens when profits come before children.

That’s why we must be the voice and vote for children — our children. Our kids need us to unite, organize and act. They need us to demand that kids are put before profits and the bottom line. And they need us for the long haul because it will be years before the damage created by the emergency manager law can be undone.

We must work together to create a safe and secure future for all of our children. We must put the children of Michigan first. Not my children, not your children but all of our children. If we don’t, we have failed them.

Cindy Estrada is vice president of the United Auto Workers.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.