CSRHub Blog Research on ESG metrics and comments on sustainability best practice

Union Rats' New Focus: Asbestos

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 8, 2011 10:50:51 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Asbestos Rat.jpg
When a friend sent me this photo of a giant inflatable rat wearing a sign  “Asbestos Kills,” the first thing I thought of was Bahar Gidwani’s March 2011 post on CSRHUB blog (full disclosure: CSRHUB is my sponsor). Gidwani’s piece was inspired and also illustrated by a rat photo he’d taken near the Citicorp building in midtown New York, which in turn was inspired by the rat’s presence several years ago at a building next to his that employed non-union staff. Why had it reappeared?

Gidwani connected the return of inflatable union rats to the resurgence of union activism following the Wisconsin government union protests. Apparently, unions sense a change in public perception, a new acceptance of their role in maintaining worker’s rights. As union support grows, the huge inflatable rats, some up to 20 feet tall, have become somewhat beloved. According to the New York Observer, they even have a nickname, “Scabbies.”

Now the Scabbies have been adapted to bring awareness to a more pernicious issue, asbestos poisoning. By adding the sign “Asbestos Kills” around Scabbies’ necks, the Asbestos, Lead and Hazardous Waste (ALHW) Laborer’s Union 78 of NYC, Long Island and New Jersey is able to bring support for the Scabbies to their cause: only union labor is safe for asbestos removal.

Formed in 1996, ALHW has 4,000 members and 200 signatory environmental contractors, who remove about 90% of asbestos in the region. What they promise is safe removal of asbestos, in accordance with the maze of federal, state and local regulations.

But is the work the Asbestos Rats are protesting really sub-standard or just non-union? Or, as the Upper West Side blog asks, is this about a pissed-off union or a legitimate safety issue? The union arguments are the same at every protest location, that the landlord hired “a sub-standard company to perform deadly asbestos removal.”

The fact is, removing asbestos safely is incredibly complicated. New York State’s 221 pages of requirements include special training for workers, an engineering survey, assessments of worker exposure, plans for dust suppression, decontamination of all equipment used, a water tight dumpster for disposing asbestos materials, decontamination of workers (a three-stage procedure) — the list seems endless and the rules difficult to understand and follow.

And there have been scandals around asbestos removal, with some companies having a record of violations and fines. So yes, there are substandard contractors that will cut the enormous expense involved in asbestos removal, which can run more than the cost of demolition. But crooked contractors are only one problem. In 2010, a federal EPA investigation uncovered a New York City safety inspector who had falsified results for 10 years, giving a clean report to over 200 buildings that were never inspected, for which the data was faked. So focusing a spotlight on the issue is warranted.

Despite all the precautions, 10,000 people in the US are killed by the toxin every year – most but not all workers who are exposed daily. In 1964, the American Medical Association published Dr. Irving Selikoff’s group’s study showing that over twenty years, most insulation workers would develop asbestosis.

Government union workers raised issues that are important to maintaining a just society, such as the right to collective bargaining. Now, the ALHW union is raising an issue that is even more serious, the removal of asbestos in a way that doesn’t release its lethal fibers. Asbestos poisons not only the ALHM’s workers, but also the apartments, workplaces and schools of American families. There’s still a lot of it that has to be removed. Regardless of their motivation, ALHM is right to bring attention to the issue of its safe removal.


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHUB.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.
Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 2 Comments posted in corporate social responsibility, CSR, union, Wisconsin, Uncategorized, socially responsible investing, sustainability, Carol Pierson Holding, corporate responsibility, CSRHub, SRI

The Rat is Back: Union Activism Generates Strong Reactions

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 21, 2011 12:33:21 PM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

-1Years ago, the building next to my office tried to get rid of its union staff. A local New York building union set up a picket line and brought in a huge inflatable rat to help tell everyone who passed what was going on. The picketing (and the rat) seemed to work and the building owners backed down.
I hadn’t seen that big rat for years. But, guess what? The rat has returned to New York and he seems to be getting a lot of use. I spotted him recently on Lexington Avenue in the East 50s mearn n near the Citicorp building. The Daily News recently reported that the rat was down in the East Village at Grace Church.

I suspect the resurgent presence of the rat is related to the union-government conflict in Wisconsin. We’ve had more than a month of protests, arguments, and lawsuits, and we are now starting to see a lot of union-related corporate social responsibility (CSR) data published on the web. All sides in the discussion have something to say.

There are new sources (not yet in our system) on:

CSRHUB already has a list of 198 companies that support labor unions on our site. We tried, at one point, to ingest the AFL-CIO’s boycott list, but it didn’t have many public companies on it, and it wasn’t updated very often. We are happy to have more opinions on unionization, from a variety of viewpoints.

Many of our users will want to know where the rats are and take a stand either for or against union organization.


Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.


Inset Photo: Bahar Gidwani

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Bahar Gidwani, corporate social responsibility, CSR, Freedom Eden, Governor Scott Walker, labor unions, union organizing, unions, Wisconsin, Uncategorized, unionization, socially responsible investments, inflatable rat, Koch Brothers, New York, Scott Walker, Scott Walker Watch, AFL-CIO, boycott, CSRHub, Dykes for Dykes, The Daily News

Subscribe to Email Updates

Lists by Topic

see all

Posts by Topic

see all