the State Won’t Test, We Will
create the opportunity for their neighbors to be tested for
In less than two years, Elyse Grif fin and Elyse Kunz, the
founders of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, have succeeded
in doing something that New York State has failed to do for
decades. Over the weekend, CASE hosted scientists from the
Harvard School of Public Health, as they gathered data on
the potential health effects of living in the shadow of Lafarge
cement plant’s toxic plume of heavy metals and carcinogens.
This will be the first widespread testing to examine of the
impact of living next to the cement plant ever conducted.
The researchers spent Saturday and Sunday at the Coeymans
Elementary School gathering blood and hair samples from well
more than 100 people. According to Kunz, 90 people had preregistered,
and “we had an excellent turnout at the door.”
Harvard will conduct an analysis for every individual who
supplied blood and hair samples, and will inform the individuals
directly of their results. The collective data will be released
to the public. Kunz said that Harvard is anticipating that
some early results will be available by the end of June, and
that the group analysis will be available in three months.
These results will give the public its first hard look at
the possible health effects of cement production. “So little
is known about the environmental effects of cement plants,”
Kunz said. She pointed out that Harvard is hoping to extend
the studies that they have begun in Ravena into a nationwide
exploration of the health costs associated with living near
a cement plant.
is just the beginning of what could be a very extensive study,”
Kunz said. “Nobody has ever really looked at this in this
way. This is actual scientific data. As opposed to when you
are talking to our state officials, who are talking about
projections and models and estimates.”
is what we wanted the Department of Health to do,” Kunz said.
CASE hasn’t had much luck with the state agencies that are
charged with protecting the public’s health.
When CASE initially formed, it reached out to the DOH and
asked the agency to conduct a health study. DOH told CASE
that the agency wouldn’t conduct a proper health study. Instead,
CASE was told that the agency would conduct a Public Health
Later, DOH revised its plan, telling CASE that it would “initiate
a Data Review Collection and Summary.”
That didn’t happen, either.
Finally, DOH told Griffin and Kunz that the agency would seek
CASE’s “input on ways to solicit individual community members
concerns during [an] initial public meeting.”
According to CASE, that too never happened. Since August of
last year, say Griffin and Kunz, DOH has failed to respond
to any further requests for information from CASE.
CASE hasn’t received much help from the Department of Environmental
Conservation, either. Last year, its state wildlife pathologist,
Dr. Ward Stone, submitted a request for funding for a $2,000
study of the soil and wildlife surrounding the plant. The
request was denied, and CASE was forced to raise funds to
pay for the testing.
In October of last year, Stone announced that, through his
testing, he had uncovered conclusive evidence that the land
and wildlife near Lafarge was contaminated by high levels
of heavy metals, including mercury.
Stone’s study served as a wake-up call for many people, said
Kunz. “What’s so great about what Ward has done, and what
Harvard is doing, is that they haven’t just talked about it.
They have put their feet on the ground, and now they are doing
something about it.”
was heartbreaking for us because there were some families
that came in with obviously sick children,” Kunz said. “One
family came in who had a son who was severely autistic. You
could see the desperation. They just wanted answers.”
state has been down the furlough road before, and learned
the hard way that contracts are not meant to be broken
Loses Furlough Bid in Court—State Workers Prevail.” It sounds
like a headline from last week, when four unions representing
state employees obtained a temporary restraining order in
federal court against Gov. David Paterson’s attempt to trim
$30 million a week from New York’s $9.2 billion budget deficit
by idling 100,000 workers on Fridays.
But this was 1986, when the Governor’s Office of Employee
Relations lost an 11-year legal battle that had begun when
some campuses of the State University of New York ordered
nonessential personnel to take a holiday, that was in effect
unpaid, on the day after Thanksgiving. Although the circumstances
of the previous case differ from those of the present imbroglio,
at least one of the unions may invoke it as a precedent in
the unfolding dispute. At the minimum, the SUNY case serves
as a cautionary tale to the long odds the state faces when
it tries to circumvent a binding agreement it has reached
with those who serve it.
The brouhaha got started in 1975, when in order to save money
on energy costs, SUNY furloughed employees on the Thanksgiving
weekend. In most cases, the university paid the workers but
deducted a day’s wages from their accrued leave time. Representing
UAlbany employees, the Civil Service Employees Association
filed a contract grievance with the state demanding arbitration
as provided for by state law. The unions then tried unsuccessfully
to get SUNY to pay for the absences without any deductions.
But they did not demand negotiations with SUNY over whether
the university had failed to bargain in good faith by changing
a term of employment without mutual agreement. That oversight
would cost CSEA years of legal headaches.
In 1976, the arbitrator found that SUNY’s order had not violated
the CSEA contract and denied the grievance. The university
then continued the furloughs through 1978. Meanwhile, CSEA
escalated the dispute by filing improper practice charges
with the Public Employee Relations Board. The board decided
that CSEA, because it hadn’t negotiated over SUNY’s right
to make a contractual change, had waived its right to challenge
the state on the issue. The matter then went to the courts,
with the Public Employees Federation joining the suit in 1979
PERB lost in the New York State Supreme Court, which ruled
in 1982 that the board had “improperly imputed to CSEA the
intent to waive its right to negotiate by virtue of its failure
to demand negotiations.” PERB’s determination, the court added,
was not supported by the evidence. PERB appealed without success
and the matter was sent back to the lower court.
In a seemingly ironic twist, PERB then took the unions’ side
against the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, which
supported the university’s position. PERB won in 1986, and
after more than a decade of legal wrangling, the workers’
back pay was restored.
Now, CSEA, PEF, and two other unions, United University Professions,
which represents the SUNY teaching staff, and the Professional
Staff Congress, which represents faculty and staff at the
City University of New York, are in federal court maintaining
that their constitutional rights under the impairment of contracts
clause have been violated by the furloughs, the holdup of
the April 1 4-percent raise and the elimination of other contract
benefits. Ruling in the unions’ favor, Judge Lawrence E. Kahn
issued a temporary restraining order on May 12 halting the
furloughs and reinstating the salary increases. Arguments
are slated to begin on May 26 or shortly thereafter.
Ronald Dunn, an Albany attorney with expertise in state labor
matters, explained that the case is in federal court because
the Legislature passed the governor’s budget extension bill
containing the furlough provision.
last time the state attempted to furlough without legislation.
This time the wrinkle is there is a legislative act, and that’s
why there is a constitutional violation,” Dunn said. “Clearly
the principle of law is the same. One side or another cannot
unilaterally impose its will. It’s that simple.”
In addition to the federal litigation, CSEA, PEF and UUP have
filed either grievances, improper practice charges or both
with the state over the furloughs, pay raises and other contract
It’s in these proceedings that the SUNY matter could arise
as a precedent, even though it revolved around the technicality
of a waiver. Reached for comment by phone, PEF spokeswoman
Darcy Wells said their lawyers are aware of the earlier case
and “will utilize it in the appropriate forum.”
UUP spokesman Don Feldstein reported that the state has denied
their grievance because the federal restraining order has
effectively prevented the union from claiming any injury.
Asked about the SUNY case, he said “As of this time, it’s
not on the radar screen.”
CSEA spokesman Steven Madarasz did not know if it might figure
in their legal maneuvers.
Calls to the governor’s press office seeking to confirm that
his counsel, Peter Kiernan, knew of the SUNY case and its
possible relevance to the present furlough fight were not
loose ends this week-