Environmental first responders in exile
From the October, 2019 issue
Union steward Keith Fusinski was worried. A toxicologist and head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Emergency Response Group, he'd learned that his seventeen emergency responders were being moved from Grosse Ile to Ann Arbor--and into an emissions lab where initial tests found dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.
The group, along with four EPA criminal investigators, had been based at the EPA's Large Lakes Research Station. But the agency had announced that it was closing the facility, saying it would save $500,000 a year.
"They built us a couple buildings" inside the EPA Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory on Plymouth Rd.," Fusinski reported by phone before the move. "They're both twenty-by-forty feet and two stories tall."
The union protested, but the agency--which had already imposed a unilateral contract--told them to show up anyway. "It's a 'you go in there and work or you lose your jobs' situation," Fusinski says.
He showed up. "I'm from the Marine Corps," he says, "so I'm used to adapting."
By the time the move took place in September, the agency had cut the projected savings to $350,000. But Fusinski says it's turning out better than he expected. The "air testing came back at acceptable levels," he emailed afterward.
"There were a lot of stupid decisions made by people in DC who have no idea what our responders do or what they need to do the job effectively, but we are dealing with those decisions as best we can," he adds. "We took an oath to protect the American people and we will continue to do so."
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