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The Silence of the Lambs: An Open Letter to the San Francisco Building Trades Council
Source Roland Sheppard
Date 07/07/24/21:03

The Silence of the Lambs: An Open Letter to the San Francisco Building
Trades Council

Roland Sheppard
San Francisco

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends."
Martin Luther King Jr.

The Silence of the Lambs
An Open Letter to the San Francisco Building Trades Council

July 19, 2007
Michael Theriault
San Francisco Building Trades Council
150 Executive Park, Suite 4700
San Francisco, CA 94134-3309
Phone: (415) 467-3330
Fax: (415) 467-3018
Send by Email and Fax

Re: Asbestos Removal Downtown and Hunters Point

Dear Brother Theriault and Brothers and Sisters of the Building Trades

AT THE TIME that I was a San Francisco Painters Union Local # 4, Business
Representative (1994-1997), a large, hardly visible construction process was
going on. Every floor of the high priced hotels and the high priced office
buildings were being remodeled -- they were undergoing asbestos removal.
Because of this work, that went on for several years, we became
knowledgeable of the dangers of asbestos.
As officers of the Building Trades, we all attended asbestos safety classes
based upon the OSHA scientific documents about asbestos. We learned that there were no safe
levels of asbestos to which workers could be exposed -- that we could not
rely upon OSHA regulations, for they were always a compromise between
Business and Science. We were taught to use the Precautionary Principle, and
to do our best to prevent asbestos exposures to our membership and police
those jobs for safety.
Safety First! was our motto.
Based upon the successful lawsuits on asbestos exposure and fearing
litigation, the owners of the downtown businesses, used the Precautionary
Principle, when it came to their pocketbooks!
All of the asbestos, that was removed was contained and prevented from
leaking into the rest of that building or the environment in general. The
men had special work clothes and Hepa masks and hoods to prevent any
personal asbestos exposure. They also has a 'clean room' to change from
their work clothes, shower, and dress so that asbestos would not get into
the environment and homes.
Which brings me to the Lennar Corporation and their work performance at
Hunters Point. Workers, the Hunters Point Community, and the San Francisco
Community have been exposed to asbestos due to excavation of serpentine
rock. This exposure has been continuous and ongoing for over a year. The
difference between this asbestos removal and the removal downtown is Black
and White -- very clear. Yet the silence of the San Francisco Building
Trades Council is deafening! Is it because the official consider themselves
to be in "partnership" with Lennar? And is this "partnership" more important
than the health and safety of the workers on the job and in the community
that were/are exposed to asbestos? I think not!
When I first became a union official, the Painters Union had formed a
partnership with the community and the of the Public Housing. Under our
leadership, a Building Trades project agreement was signed by entire
Building Trades Council, in partnership with the community, and the San
Francisco Housing Authority. The work was performed union and the residents
of public housing went to work and joined the union.
In three years, due to this partnership and community support, we doubled
the Painters Local 4 working membership and brought many people from the
community into the union in the process. We had gained political strength to
recapture the prevailing wage work that had been previous lost. (The entire
civic center and city hall renovations, that were scheduled to be done by
nonunion painters wound up being done union due to our joint efforts with
The 1934 San Francisco General Strike was what made San Francisco a union
town. It was won because those who were attempting to organize the ILWU won
the support of the majority of those that made up the San Francisco Working
Class and poor communities.
Rather than being in "partnership" with the employers (In bed with the boss)
we should return to what made us strong in our past. We should stand up for
all workers and the poor and in the interests of all workers and the poor.
We should be in partnership with our fellow workers and all those who are
being oppressed in the rush for profits.
Every Labor Day, the Labor Officials sing the old labor song "Solidarity
Forever" at the annual Labor Day Picnic. Instead of playing "lip serviceš to
working class solidarity, once a year, we should practice genuine Solidarity
once again and established Solidarity (a "Partnership") amongst all
workers, the oppressed minorities, and the poor.
We can begin by shutting down the asbestos excavation job at Hunters Point,
until such a time that their are no asbestos exposures on the job to the
workers and the surrounding community! And it is safe for all!

Fraternally yours,

Roland Sheppard
Retired Business Representative Painters Local # 4

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