Labor Voices: Go to Flint, Rick

Ron Bieber

‘I take full responsibility to fix the problem.”

That’s what Gov. Rick Snyder said about the Flint water crisis at his State of the State speech in January.

That was three months ago, and the people of Flint still can’t trust that the water in their homes will ever be safe for drinking, cooking and bathing again. Their faith in state government is completely shattered.

That’s because the governor hasn’t actually taken responsibility. He continues to blame “bureaucrats” in his administration, refuses to issue a comprehensive plan for replacing lead pipelines, and won’t meet in person with Flint residents.

Snyder hasn’t held a single town hall meeting in Flint since the crisis began. The governor only goes to Flint for press conferences and photo ops that aren’t open to the public. He didn’t even bother to invite Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to an event announcing the report from his own Flint water task force.

The governor’s only direct contact with the people of Flint has been through so-called “telephone town halls,” where he answers a few carefully screened questions by his staff from his Lansing office — without ever having to meet anyone face to face.

Since Snyder refused to meet with families in Flint, we decided to bring Flint families to him. The AFL-CIO paid to fly five families from Flint to Washington, D.C. last month while the governor was in town for his testimony at the Flint water crisis hearing in Congress.

The families included: Desiree Duell and her son, David; Nakiya Wakes; Keri Webber; Bernadel Jefferson, her daughter, Lewenna, and grandson Jaylon; and Laura, Iain, and Broghan MacIntyre.

“Many families still have questions and concerns that remain unaddressed,” they wrote in a letter to Snyder. “We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with you, along with what we learn at Tuesday’s hearing, while we are in Washington together.”

While the governor had plenty of time to do interviews with national media and write in these pages about his testimony, he didn’t meet with the Flint Five families. His spokesman said his schedule “didn’t allow for the meeting to happen.”

That’s a shame. Because these families have powerful stories to share. Some of their children have tested positive for lead exposure, and are suffering in school. Others have watched their loved ones struggle with debilitating migraines, loss of vision and hair loss. All of them talked about their sky-high water bills for their unsafe, undrinkable water.

Has Rick Snyder ever had to bathe himself with cold, bottled water? Has a relative’s skin broken out in painful rashes? Or has he had to watch a beloved child’s once-promising future slowly fade away? That’s the reality many Flint families are still facing.

Last week the governor said the water quality in Flint is improving. That’s good news. But to start rebuilding the city’s trust, he needs to go to Flint and face these families in person by hosting a series of open, unscripted town hall meetings.

The only way for Rick Snyder to really start taking responsibility is if he starts listening to the people of Flint.

Labor Voices

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