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Yes to Unions, No to Mariner East 2

One of the tactics used most frequently by Sunoco to garner community support for its Mariner East 2 pipeline is to repeat a one word mantra: “Jobs”. And, let’s face it, it’s an effective strategy. Who wants to be against jobs for their neighbors? This tactic also has the added benefit of dividing up communities, pitting union workers against activists concerned with public safety, water quality, and other issues, framing anyone who has concerns about the pipeline as “anti-industry”, “anti-union”, and “anti-jobs”.

This is a false dichotomy.

A little background: I come from a union family. My father’s father worked for a battery factory in Philadelphia. My father once told me a story of his father coming home one night, tucking him into bed, covered in blood. The company had hired thugs to break up the picket lines of the striking workers, of which my grandfather was a part. To his dying day, my grandfather was union through and through. My father was a teacher and I remember him being one of the leaders of a teachers’ strike when I was a child. As I grew up and learned about the great struggles of the labor movement in America, it kindled a feeling of admiration and respect, as well as an appreciation for all that struggle had contributed to my quality of life, as well as millions of others.

None of which is to suggest I have the slightest idea of what it is like to be a union pipeline fitter. From all accounts, it is a difficult and demanding job. I suspect I would be lucky to last one day doing it. My point is not that I know what it’s like to be in their shoes, my point is that they deserve our utmost respect. And we should not lose sight of that fact, whatever emotions may flare as we confront Sunoco Logistics. Especially today, as unions face some of their most difficult and hostile conditions in 80 years, they deserve our support and solidarity.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Mariner East 2 pipeline, I find myself in uncharted and uncomfortable territory, on the opposite side of the union workers. I’m not opposing unions, but rather this particular project, a project slated to bring dangerous materials in industrial size quantities through our community each day- in close proximity to schools and homes, in some cases only 20 feet away. In densely populated Delaware County, this means that thousands of residents and visitors can be in a potential blast zone at any given time.

I have heard union workers get up at township and borough meetings, defending the quality of their work, attempting to reassure nervous residents that everything will be fine because the work they do is top notch. And I do not doubt their dedication, commitment, and quality of their work, not for a second. But the key here is, their work-as good as it is- cannot mitigate the risks posed to our community by Sunoco. The pipeline route through residential areas is insanely reckless. It is misclassified for regulatory purposes, and it lacks some basic safety measures such as adequate steel thickness in a class 4 high consequence area.

Let me provide a historical example. The United Auto Workers (UAW), has, for years, represented some of the most skilled auto workers in the world. Virtually nobody disputes this. And yet, for every Corvette or Mustang that has ever been produced by UAW workers, there has also been an Edsel, or a Corvair. Or the Pinto.

For many of us above a certain age, the Ford Pinto was a car synonymous with disaster- a gas tank waiting to explode in the right circumstance, the right circumstance in this case being a rear end accident. Ford was well aware of its fatal design flaw- not having a properly reinforced rear end- but the company’s bean counters calculated that it would be more expensive to fix the problem than to pay out to victims of their negligence.

The problem with the Pinto was never the quality of the work done by the UAW workers constructing it. The problem was in the design of the car and the cruel calculations done by management that allowed it to be produced in the first place. The problem was a large corporation that favored profits over public safety.

The objections that so many of us have with Mariner East 2 have nothing to with its workmanship. Rather, we take issue with the way Sunoco Logistics has stealthily and at times callously gone about securing the rights to the pipeline, as well as in its design and what looks like potentially fatal cost cutting measures. We take issue with Sunoco’s abysmal safety record averaging 2 leaks per month every year for the past ten years. We take issue with the fact that Sunoco’s rate of HVL (Highly Volatile Liquids) leaks is actually increasing, with 2016 being the highest year for leaks on record. And we take issue with the route- only a corporation that cares nothing for the hard working residents of Pennsylvania would take their land by eminent domain and install a potentially deadly pipeline within the blast zone of homes and schools.

I am sure the union workers slated to build the pipeline are the best, and believe that they can protect the public through their quality work. I support unions, stand by them at every turn, and will especially do so over the coming months and years as the current administration and state governments aim to dismantle union rights one by one.

But I cannot stand by Mariner East 2. It is the Ford Pinto of pipelines. And it has no place in our community.

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