The Baltimore Bridge Collapse is a Story About Deregulation

From Baltimore to East Palestine, deregulation is killing working people.

Maximillian Alvarez

Wreckage from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge rests on the Dali cargo ship as efforts begin to clear the debris and reopen the Port of Baltimore on March 30, 2024. Scott Olson/Getty Images

24 hours after Max returned to Baltimore from East Palestine, Ohio, the shipping vessel Dali slammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, collapsing it into the Patapsco River. The catastrophic collision and collapse of the bridge claimed the lives of six immigrant, non-union construction workers who were working the night shift at the time, filling potholes on the bridge. In this interview on The Valley Labor Report, Alabama’s only weekly union talk show, hosts Jacob Morrison and Adam Keller speak with Max about The Real News Network’s coverage of the bridge collapse, the connections between Baltimore and East Palestine, and about the conspiracists and anti-woke” grifters who are trying to capitalize on this tragedy for their own gain.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. 

Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today, brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. If you’re hungry for more worker and labor focused shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network. And please support the work that we’re doing here at Working People because we can’t keep going without you. Share our episodes with your coworkers, leave positive reviews of the show on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and become a paid monthly subscriber on Patreon for just five bucks a month to unlock all the great bonus episodes that we publish exclusively for our patrons. And please support the work that we do at The Real News by going to the​re​al​news​.com/​d​onate, especially if you want to see more reporting from the front lines of struggle around the US and across the world. 

My name is Maximilian Alvarez and I just wanted to pop in really quick to let folks know that yes, I am alive. I appreciate the messages. I know folks were a little worried with me announcing in the last episode that I was finally going to East Palestine to be there in person, and then there was no episode from us the following week. But if you’ve been following my updates on social media last week, or if you happen to catch my face or voice on outlets like Democracy Now, Breaking Points, The Nation, and The New Republic, then you know that I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off covering this catastrophic shipping vessel crash that brought down the Francis Scott Key Bridge here in Baltimore.

And that literally happened 24 freaking hours after I got home to Baltimore from East Palestine. And I’m still trying to work with filmmaker Mike Balanick to get our documentary reports from East Palestine ready to go too. And Jules and I will be putting out a compilation episode later this week that will include some of the voices from that incredible gathering that we had in East Palestine about a week and a half ago now. It was just such an incredible experience, you guys, and I have so much more to say about it, but I’ll save that for the next episode. For now, I’m just going to link to some of the interviews and pieces that I put out over the past week in the show notes of this episode. And instead of a new episode this week, we are going to share with y’all today, an interview that I did with our brothers, Adam and Jacob, at the Valley Labor Report this weekend.

And just a huge shout out to the Valley Labor Report. If you guys aren’t listening to them yet, what are you doing? That’s Alabama’s only weekly union talk show right there. And we need them doing the good work that they’re doing, so please go support them if you aren’t already. But yeah, this was the first interview that I got to do after this insane two-week stretch from East Palestine to the Baltimore Bridge. And I got to just reflect a bit on the story, the dimensions of tragedy, and the layers of societal failure that are wrapped up in this bridge collapse, the connections between Baltimore and East Palestine. And I also have a special message for all of these jack off and right-wing grifters who are trying to make this tragic story fit their dumb DEI or anti-DEI narrative.

And in doing so, they are showing just how bankrupt their message is and how little they have to offer the working class when it comes to addressing the sources of the pain here, let alone addressing the larger issues that we need to deal with to stop stuff like the East Palestine train derailment and the Baltimore Bridge from happening in the first place. These guys are modern-day snake oil salesmen. And I have no time, these families of these workers who died on that bridge have no time, our city has no time, and working people have no time for their bullshit. Anyway, we’ve got lots more important coverage on Baltimore, East Palestine, Ohio, Palestine, the elections, and the fight against the corporate destruction of everything. We’ve got all of that coming your way here on Working People and across The Real News Network. So stay tuned. And for now, here’s me speaking with Jacob Morrison and Adam Keller on the Valley Labor Report.

“They are showing just how bankrupt their message is and how little they have to offer the working class.”

Jacob Morrison: Maximillian Alvarez is the editor in chief of The Real News Network, host of the Working People podcast, friend of the show, voice of the show. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Maximillian Alvarez: Thanks for having me, brothers. It’s great to see you, as always.

Jacob Morrison: Great to see you. It’s unfortunate that it is under these circumstances because the circumstances are not great. There has been just a genuinely catastrophic accident in Baltimore that has, by all accounts, taken at least six lives and six lives of immigrants. And I’m not sure if there are expectations that the death toll is going to be rising at this point. But on top of that, the obvious and the thing that should be at the center, and we want to put that at the center, there are, of course, huge other ramifications because this bridge was really kind of the connecting artery to the Baltimore port. That’s one of the largest in the United States. The Longshoremen’s Association there said that they are concerned that their 2,400 members are going to be out of a job soon. These cargo carriers are anchored outside of the port, unable to dock because they can’t get their stuff, this is just a huge, huge situation with really serious ramifications for the entire city of Baltimore.

So just let’s start there, and then we can dive into some of the specific aspects and maybe some of the reactions to it. Generally, from a 30,000 foot view, how is this feeling to people in Baltimore as a resident of Baltimore yourself?

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, I’ll walk through the timeline of this week. And just to kind of let folks know, it’s been a very long week, and I just got more than five hours of sleep for the first night in a week and a half. So it’s kind of all hitting me now. I was just, along with our team at The Real News, racing all over the city, doing everything we could to meet the moment and lift up the voices of the people who were going to be quickly forgotten in all of this. And the workers who perished, their families, their community, our community, as you said, the workers on the port, the workers on that ship who are probably going to be stuck there for weeks. 

If we’re talking about invisible workers, like these immigrant construction workers who were filling potholes on the key bridge when the ship, the dolly hit the load-bearing pylon and collapsed the bridge, the workers on that ship are also incredibly exploited, and we don’t know a whole lot about them, but what we do know is that as Maritime Trades Union folks here in the States have told me, you have a lot of these ships that are effectively, and I quote, Floating sweatshops” that workers from the global South are living on and working in and have no escape from months on end. So there’s a whole lot of horror tied up in this story that we’re going to need to unpack for the weeks and months to come.

But as you said, Jacob, the very fact of the bridge collapsing in the Port of Baltimore is going to have huge ramifications for working people in the Baltimore area, but beyond it too. It’s going to have ramifications for our economy after workers have been battered for years by COVID, by inflation, and so on and so forth. So this is going to be a very devastating event for the city and for our people for a long time to come. I got back to Baltimore myself at 1:30 on Monday morning after driving six hours back from East Palestine, Ohio where I had been for the previous five days, running around, filming for The Real News, participating in an event that we helped put together along with just this incredible coalition of folks that have come together and came together, talking to East Palestine residents whose lives have been turned upside down by the catastrophic Norfolk Southern Train derailment on February 3rd of last year.

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That too was a preventable catastrophe. And the workers there, the people there, these are current and former union members, like Chris Albright, one of the residents that I’ve been working most closely with and have gotten close to, and his family. He’s an incredible guy, with a beautiful family. He was a gas pipeline worker, he was a foreman, he was a LiUNA member, is a LiUNA member. And then a month after the derailment, we can almost completely surmise, but because of all the legal deniability, doctors are even afraid to say for sure, but a month after this derailment, a healthy able-bodied pipeline worker was experiencing congestive heart failure that developed into severe heart failure, and he can no longer work. His medical bills are piling up. As of this year, he’s lost his health insurance.

So these folks are in an incredibly dire situation, and we were there, along with residents, railroad workers, residents from other sacrifice zones like Piketon, Ohio, where they’ve been getting poisoned by a nuclear plant for 40 years, residents living near other rail lines saying, We don’t want this to happen to us, and we’re coming here to stand in solidarity with you.” Striking journalists from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, environmental groups, people from West Virginia, California, Baltimore coming in to assemble there to answer the call in East Palestine and say, We’re not Trump voters. We’re not anything but fellow workers, fellow human beings who are fighting for our families and our communities, and we are here to help you. And we want to stand with you, but we all need to stand together if we’re going to stop this crap because it’s happening all over the country.” It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Democrat or Republican state, corporate America is poisoning, exploiting, and taking advantage of all of us right now.

And we are the forgotten victims of this 40 plus year reign of corporate oligarchy and neoliberal crap that has contributed to the decades long process of the Wall Street takeover of vital industries like the railroads, the profit obsession, leading to an obsession for juicing short-term profits, while stripping away long-term maintenance and safety provisions, stripping away staff, cutting costs, cutting corners every year. And the railroads are more profitable than they’ve ever been, and yet communities like East Palestine and workers like those on the railroads are the ones paying the price. I promise I’m getting to Baltimore, but the point is, that’s what I was doing this weekend. And I drove back on Sunday night, got home late Monday morning thinking about all of this, thinking about those conversations, thinking about our brothers and sisters in East Palestine.

And then the first thing I did on Tuesday morning was I went on Flash Ferenc’s show, America’s Workforce. Shout out to Flash and the great folks there. I know you guys got a phenomenal regular spot there too. Chris Albright and I went back on Flash’s show Tuesday morning at seven in the morning to talk about the East Palestine Conference. And as soon as that was done, I started learning about the bridge. And the first text that I started getting about the bridge were from East Palestine residents who felt really connected to Baltimore right now. And there’s something really powerful in that, but we can return to that later. But they were seeing a lot of eerie resonances with what they had been through. I couldn’t help but see them too. And I want to be clear, as I said in the piece I wrote for The Nation this week, Baltimore is not East Palestine. These situations are not exactly the same, but they do, I think, reveal common issues that working people around this country are feeling, and the sources of those issues we also have in common.

I’ll get to that in a second. But as we know, around 1:30 on Tuesday morning, this ship, the freight ship that was leaving the Port of Baltimore, had left some 30, 40 minutes prior to experiencing a catastrophic propulsion failure. They issued a mayday call when they experienced that failure, letting the emergency dispatch know that there was a chance that the ship could hit the bridge. And then they had about 90 seconds to respond. And so police, you can listen to the police scanner, the folks responding to that call racing to the Key Bridge, blocking traffic. So more people didn’t drive onto that bridge before it collapsed, and credit to them, they saved lives. But the workers, the construction workers who were filling potholes on that bridge in the middle of the night, were working for a contractor in the city named Brawner Builders. It’s a non-union contractor. They did not get a warning. I mean, by all accounts, we have not found any evidence that they got any warning. And that’s kind of where my reporting in this came in is after the America’s Workforce interview, I went to The Real News Network.

I was talking to our colleagues, our team about what we knew and what we could do — two of my amazing colleagues, Kayla Rivara and Jocelyn Dombroski, our chief of editorial operations and our managing editor. We got in the car, I grabbed my podcast stuff and I said, Let’s go and try to get as close as we can.” And so we ended up at this Royal Farms gas station. It’s a really famous kind of Maryland chain. Justin Tucker, the kicker for the Baltimore Ravens, does the commercials for them. So I was standing there with my colleagues and seeing media run around at this Royal Farms that is right next to one of the entrances to the bridge. And we were racing there because we had seen on social media that a man named Jesus Campos was there. Jesus also works for Brawner Builders, is also an immigrant worker, a construction worker who was saying that he knew the men on that bridge.

So we were racing primarily to meet him, and we did. And I got to interview Jesus for between three and four minutes. But it was really troubling to me because the whole time we were racing there and I was trying to find out everything I could about the situation, I was looking at the posts and articles from other journalists who had spoken to Jesus. And when we got there, I asked him a question that I felt I hadn’t heard anyone else ask up until that point. I’m not saying no one did, but I hadn’t heard it, which was, Did the workers get a warning before the bridge collapsed?” And he told me pretty point-blankly, No.” That to me is an egregious injustice, and there’s so many questions that are wrapped up in that. 

“Corporate America is poisoning, exploiting, and taking advantage of all of us right now.”

So far, what I’ve heard from other construction folks in the city is that Brawner doesn’t have the worst reputation. So I don’t want to speak out of turn and blame the company for everything before I can do more investigating, but the facts are that it’s a non-union contractor that the state of Maryland, like states around the country, uses these contractors, and those contractors subcontract workers out. And that very well could have been the situation on Tuesday where some of these workers were subcontracted, being paid under the table, possibly even undocumented. Again, these are the questions that we’re trying to find out. But right now, first and foremost, we’re trying to give the family space because they are grieving an incredible and impossible loss. Some of these men just welcomed new children into their family in the past year and now those families have a hole in it that’ll never be filled.

So anyway, I’ll wrap this up. The point being is that I interviewed Jesus Campos. I posted about the fact that according to one of the co-workers of these men who died on the bridge, they did not receive a warning. If they were city workers, if they were union workers, would they have had a direct line to emergency dispatch? If not, why the hell do we have a regulatory regime that allows workers to be marooned on a ship like that in a clearly potentially hazardous environment doing that vital work? And let’s not forget, construction’s already one of the deadliest jobs in America, and they had no direct line to emergency dispatch in case something like this happened. That in itself is an egregious injustice. And the only other thing I’ll say, just tying it back to East Palestine is, again, these situations are not the same, but a lot of the common questions are coming up with Norfolk Southern and the train derailment.

When that derailment happened, immediately you had all of these well-to-do pundits in the United States saying things like, Well, we can’t rush to conclusions. All we know is that it appears to be a bearing failure that caused the derailment. So that’s all we can say on it right now,” just like the same folks today are saying, Well, all we know is that it was a propulsion failure, so we can’t rush to conclusions.” And I’m not rushing to conclusions. We need to do the investigative work. That’s what journalism is supposed to do. But, again, the point that I’m making here and the point that seems so obvious to not just me but folks in East Palestine and folks who’ve been paying attention to things like East Palestine, to things like Boeing, right, to things like BP, right, to the railroads, right?

I mean, what we are seeing is a fracturing of the basic social contract in this country, which was supposed to be between the citizens, labor, business and government to say like, Look, all of this dangerous crap and machinery that is operating in our backyards, in our communities, these railroads that are running through our backyards in our towns.” These massive shipping vessels that are passing by our homes and over the water that we use in this city, the social contract is that we need to have layers of protection and maintenance in place that are not driven by profit but that are there and exist solely to ensure that things like this don’t happen.

So the very fact of the bridge collapse, the very fact of the Norfolk Southern train derailment, the very fact of the two Boeing planes that went out of the sky and killed hundreds of people with them, the very fact of the BP oil spill, and I could go on and on and on, that is the problem. If we had a healthily functioning regulatory system, if we actually had a society that did not allow corporations to do whatever the hell that they want, those things would not happen in the first place. That is the problem.

Jacob Morrison: Right, right. I mean, some of the echoes, The Lever has been doing great reporting, and they were really great on the East Palestine stuff as well. They found that the company that chartered this cargo ship also was sanctioned by the Labor Department for retaliating against an employee who reported unsafe working conditions. In its order, the department found that Maersk had a policy that required employees to first report their concerns to Maersk prior to reporting it to the Coast Guard or other authorities. And it seemed like, I can’t find it right now, but was that same ship involved in another accident?

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. So I believe it was in 2016 in Antwerp. The ship didn’t have a catastrophic accident, but it did… You can see pictures of it online where it ran into a concrete siding in the Port of Antwerp. And then the other detail that is worth looking at was, I believe it was last year, the ship was sited in a port in Chile for having propulsion issues, right? But what the company and what people of a certain disposition will point out is that the ship did also receive a passing grade here in the US. I believe the last one was in September, right? So again, there’s a lot to unpack here because, again, one side is going to try to kind of do what they always do, what they did in East Palestine and everywhere else is they’re going to try to say that this is a contained freak accident that couldn’t have been avoided, or if it did, here are the unique circumstances that led to this contained and unique catastrophic incident.

But we know better, right, because if you actually spend your time interviewing the working people who live and work around these sites, right, whether they be railroad lines or whether they be ports or whether they be just folks living in the city, and know what goes on there and are affected by it, there’s a larger question here about how we ended up in a situation where something that should have been caught, a ship that never should have been able to leave port, especially carrying as many hazardous materials as it was, some of which are reportedly, according to Business Insider, sitting in the water right now in the Patapsco River… That’s what folks in East Palestine were also saying, is like, How many of those containers fell into the water?” Again, they are going through something similar where they’re being told by Norfolk Southern, by their own government and government agencies like the EPA, Everything’s fine. You guys are fine. Go back on to your regular lives and stop bothering us.”

Meanwhile, myself and Mike Balonick, this great working class director and videographer who I was shooting in East Palestine with, we were standing in the creeks behind people’s houses in East Palestine with Christina Siceloff, a single mom who lives in the sticks in Pennsylvania who is also getting all these health ailments. She’s been out there like a creek ranger with a few other folks documenting the fact that those waters still are not safe. Those chemicals that we saw on top of the water a year ago, they’re still there. And so obviously, East Palestine folks are telling us, You need to find out what was in those containers and you need to get them out of the water as soon as possible”. So that’s another issue. 

But again, the whole point is that this did not happen overnight. The chickens are coming home to roost after 40 plus years of corporate dominance, deregulation, disinvestment, the devaluation of labor and life itself. That stuff starts to add up. And all of it plays a role to the point where we don’t care enough about the workers on that bridge to even ask, Do they have a direct line to emergency dispatch?” We don’t care enough about the workers in that port to ask, Are you guys getting enough time to do your job properly?” We don’t care enough about the workers on those ships to ask, Are you guys getting enough time and are you getting paid enough? Are you getting what you need to ensure that you are navigating these vessels as safely as you need to be when they are passing in our own backyard?”

I mean, to say nothing of what’s on the ships, the amount of regulation, the kind of security checks, there are so many resonances here with what I’m seeing in other industries. I’m not jumping to conclusions and saying I know exactly the source of this failure, but again, you can’t do the work that we do and talk to people around this country who are experiencing similar things and not see the connections here. So that’s kind of where we are right now. I mean, again, everyone’s sort of racing to talk about what this is going to mean for the economy. There’s just a rash of conspiracy theories floating around there. People are already kind of racing past the six men who died on that bridge. Eight fell into the water that we know of, two were recovered that morning, one of whom went to the hospital. 

The other reportedly refused emergency services. And I immediately… Because if you know undocumented people in construction worke, your conclusion when you hear that is like, Oh, they were uninsured or undocumented or both.” But I was watching white anchors and newscasters here in the city say, Oh, I guess that person must’ve just been fine and walked away.” And that’s the kind of situation we’re in, where these workers who were already basically invisible to our society have only become momentarily visible in death.

And this is happening at a time when Donald Trump, one of the two leading presidential candidates in this country leading one of the two major parties, he’s out there saying that immigrants are poisoning the blood of this country and people are believing it. I went on Democracy Now! and made a passionate plea to people to please see us as human beings, for God’s sake. Because while you’re out there saying that we’re criminals and rapists and we’re coming to destroy the country and we’re sucking all the government money out, this is what we’re actually doing. We’re working at night filling your potholes so that you can have a good drive to work and we can put food on the table for our families.

I just had an incredible podcast conversation yesterday in a Mexican restaurant in town, El Taquito Mexicano in Fells Point, where I met with an incredible group of heads of different Latino and immigrant justice community orgs in the city. I mean, these are folks who the media and the city barely ever talks to or acknowledges at all. So they themselves are also operating in the shadows and they are doing their best to fight for a community that is basically invisible, not just here in Baltimore, but around the country. And they are also working people who have families, who have multiple jobs. Some have children with special needs.

And yet I was sitting at this table of superheroes talking in English and Spanish about how they have been mobilizing to support the families, what this says about the way that our community is treated, and what we were all feeling as people who are being vilified in this country, even though we’re just trying to make a life for our families, and even though even in death we can’t achieve the dignity that every human being deserves. That’s kind of where it is right now.

Jacob Morrison: Yeah. That is really indicting on those reporters that assumed and said on the air that, Oh, that means they’re okay.” I mean, that’s wild to me that they would believe that and say that it’s…

Maximillian Alvarez: Well, it’s an even bigger indictment on our country, right? Because again, we want to learn more details about the family. But what I was told was he had no health insurance.

So in this fucking country, just sit with that… Sorry for swearing. In this country, imagine being a worker, a construction worker, filling potholes at night, a bridge collapses beneath your feet, you fall into the cold waters of the Patapsco River, your coworkers are dying around you. You don’t know if you’re going to make it out alive. And reportedly one, if not both of these workers could not swim. We know that one of them could not. You’re rescued from the water. And you refuse the offer to go to the hospital because you live in America and you don’t have health insurance. After going through what I have to imagine is one of the most traumatic experiences of your life, you are worried about the cost of that healthcare that you desperately need. That is an indictment of our country.

Jacob Morrison: Right. Absolutely.

Maximillian Alvarez: And East Palestinians right now don’t have healthcare. That is an indictment of our country. That’s why we’re trying to get Biden to invoke the Stafford Act and guarantee these folks government funded healthcare, because their ailments and bills are piling up. What a horrendous state for our country to be in, and when are we going to band together as a class across political lines, union, non-union, whatever? When are we going to start banding together and say, This is not good enough. We will be forgotten no more. We deserve healthcare. We deserve to be able to drink our water and for our children to breathe the air without getting nosebleeds or cancer.” I mean, this is how bad things have gotten.

So hopefully that kicks us in the ass enough to stop pitting ourselves against each other and seeing one another as the enemy, whether they’re the Trump voters in East Palestine or immigrant workers like the folks on this bridge. If we can get past that crap, we can actually make change happen. We can be the change that we’re waiting for. But I don’t know what we’re waiting for right now because look around you. Things are really dire, and people are suffering.

Jacob Morrison: Right. And it’s absurd to not kind of look at the state of things for an answer as to why this happened in Baltimore, just like we did as things initially started breaking in East Palestine. Just because the boat passed an inspection, doesn’t mean that everything was great. I mean, we’ve seen the state, through multiple examples, the state of our regulatory system and how it’s kind of falling apart at the seams, and it is not catching the things that it’s set up to catch. And so-

Maximillian Alvarez: That was the defense of Norfolk Southern, who were like, We were within all regulations.” And then you have a decision to make there. You could either say, Oh, okay. Well, then I guess it was fine.” Or you say, How bad are our regulations if that was okay?” 

And not only that, but I mean, again, the hotbox detectors that picked up the ambient rise and heat of the bearing miles away from East Palestine. Those hotbox detectors are not regulated by the government, they’re regulated by the companies. The company decides what the threshold is: if it gets above this heat, then we’ll relay it to the dispatch office and they’ll relay it to the crew on the train.” That’s another example of what deregulation looks like, where those layers of security are stripped away and the company’s profit motive is driving the decisions that are made, and this is what happens.

So you’re absolutely right, Jacob. One of the many problems with East Palestine and with this is not that this ship or that train we’re up to code, it’s that the code is not up to the right standard. I mean, because those codes have been watered down and government negligent, government officials have let companies do it for years on end. Democrats and Republicans have participated in this.

Norfolk Southern were like, “We were within all regulations.” And then you have a decision to make there. You could either say, “Oh, okay. Well, then I guess it was fine.” Or you say, “How bad are our regulations if that was okay?”

Jacob Morrison: And it’s like the FAA paying Boeing employees to do the FAA’s job in certain instances. I mean, it’s all just a mess.

But that’s a good segue to East Palestine and your conference or convention that y’all had last week to ask Joe Biden, to call on Joe Biden to invoke an act that would give people in East Palestine healthcare.

Tell us the act and the authority that Joe Biden has there and the event that y’all had last week and how it went and what are some of the next steps?

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, I appreciate that. And by way of bridging the two, I want to let folks know, again, I talked to these incredible organizers and pillars of the Latino community here in Baltimore last night. They were the ones who started the original GoFundMe, that was the Latino Racial Justice Circle. Which again, these are all volunteers, but they started that GoFundMe for the families of the six brothers that we lost this week.

But I think one silver lining, one ray of hope, is that they were quickly overwhelmed by the response. So even though part of the country is demonizing us, the response from people wanting to help, wanting to show solidarity, from East Palestine to around the country, the fact that the Latino Racial Justice Circle had to close the GoFundMe because they were getting so many donations that they were worried… They wanted to be fully transparent. They wanted to make sure that the families got every ounce of that money. So they made the decision to essentially work with the city to offload that fundraiser, and now that fundraiser is being run through the city.

So if folks want to donate to that fund for the families of the Key Bridge 6, it is there on the Baltimore City website. I’ve also posted it online. I can share it with you guys after this interview. But if you want to help, that is one way that you can.

Same goes for East Palestine. This coalition that’s formed called Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers, this has come out of a year’s worth of folks like me. But not just me, there’s the East Palestine Unity Council. There are residents across East Palestine who are not part of the Unity Council. There are railroad workers. There were union reps, mainly local and regional, including local presidents who came there and were not permitted to speak on behalf of their unions, but who were saying, I’m here anyway because this is what’s right.”

And therein lies another issue. Labor needs to get off its ass and start helping East Palestine. These are your brothers and sisters. Again, Jami Wallace from the Unity Council, she’s a former SEIU member. Chris Albright is a LIUNA member. Daren Gamble, who I’ve also interviewed, is a retired bricklayer. I mean, these are our brothers and sisters, and they are dying. Their families have been poisoned by this crap.

And again, they were exposed to chemicals in that unnecessary and catastrophic derailment and the decision to vent and burn five cars worth the vinyl chloride, which the manufacturer of that vinyl chloride said was not necessary, but what we all suspect is that Norfolk Southern pressured local officials to make the decision to vent and burn those contents. Not because the contents were going to explode and there was going to be shrapnel going for miles around, but because they wanted to clear the way and get those rail lines open again, because they’re a massive moneymaker. I saw those trains going through every 20 minutes when I was standing in East Palestine.

So I mean, again, I say that that exposure to those chemicals, even if those chemicals have dissipated since then, a lot of it is still in the soil, a lot of it is still in the water. I could taste the metallic taste in my mouth when I was standing near Chris Albright’s house. It got worse when I stood next to the derailment site. You get a sort of mouth numbness. People are still in their homes racking up bizarre ailments, really unique ailments. It has all the hallmarks of an industrial poisoning accident, like Three Mile Island or anything like that. And we’re going to see the effects in the bodies of these people over the coming years.

And yet, again, the country’s just moved on. Biden finally got there in February of this year and basically said, You’re welcome for delivering for you, bye.” Norfolk Southern is out there telling people, You’re not going to get another dime from us.” They’re cutting people off from this aid. What they’re doing there is so despicable, and I need people out there watching this to care about it. Because what I told people in East Palestine is, and what our coalition really represents is that it’s — and again, I know this because I talk to workers around the country, as you guys do — I said, It’s not that working people have forgotten about you, it’s that so many people feel just as forgotten as you do.”

I mean, I just interviewed Brett Cross, another fellow worker, another gas worker in Texas, who was also a father. And his son, Uzi, was one of the children murdered in the school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. His community feels just as forgotten as East Palestine does.

I interviewed one of the workers, Leo Linder, who was on the Deepwater Horizon when it blew over 10 years ago in the Gulf. That community feels forgotten. It feels like the devastation from that feels as forgotten by the country as anything else.

We need to band together as a coalition of the forgotten. The forgotten workers on strike, like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers or the Warrior Met Coal strikers, who we both tried to cover throughout their two-plus year strike.

I mean, like the Latino organizers told me yesterday, a lot of immigrant workers in this community are still and are going to keep being impacted by Covid. I mean, people are dealing with long Covid because they were working in conditions where they didn’t have the kind of protections. And if they were undocumented, they did not have access to the stimulus checks and the unemployment benefits. So they had to go to work. They got sick. A lot died. A lot are still getting sick. They feel just as forgotten as East Palestine does, and as we’re worried Baltimore will be. And Baltimore has been forgotten for so many years. I mean, this city’s been losing population for decades. We’ve been disinvested from. The police have been brutalizing us. And again, we’re all kind of feeling this stuff.

And yet the people who are ripping us off, the people in the 1% whose wealth has grown by astronomical amounts in the past 10 years alone from Donald Trump’s tax cuts to the ways that we essentially handed the economy over to billionaires throughout the course of Covid, the bosses are winning, the oligarchs are winning. And they are busy pitting us against each other and telling folks like the working people in East Palestine that people like me and the men on that bridge are their enemy, instead of the people like me and the men on that bridge are their enemy instead of the people like Alan Shaw who are raking in profits from all of the cost-cutting and corner cutting that they’re doing on the railroads, right? That’s where the work that we do, that’s where the work that all of us does has to come in. We have to fight back. We have to find each other on the basic human levels, not as socialist, Republican, union, non-union, Democrat, Republican, whatever, right? We need to find each other on that level of just basic humanity, right? Human beings, fellow workers, fellow neighbors, people who want to provide for our families, breathe clean air, drink clean water, be left alone so we can enjoy our one time around on this earth with our family, not have to work every day, every hour of our day just to put food on the table, right? I mean, things have gotten so bad that those are the most basic common foundations upon which we need to unite, but if we do, I promise you all, we can actually win and we can make real change happen.

Jacob Morrison: Right. And just to wrap it up — I was going to say that this may be a lighter note to end on because it’s just so, so stupid, but also it’s kind of a dark note because you alluded to some of the propaganda that’s been going around around the situation, and that’s the attempt to shoehorn the kind of anti-DEI stuff into this Baltimore Bridge collapse just like they have been around the stuff with Boeing. And every time now that you see a story about corporate malfeasance and the destruction of the regulatory state that results in totally preventable disasters and accidents and deaths and injuries, there’s some crazy conservative commentator coming out and saying, well, that’s what happens when you hire Black people. And it’s astounding that they’re able to just come out and say that. I mean the mayor of Baltimore, and I don’t know how you feel about the mayor of Baltimore.

I have no idea anything about him because I know how you feel about politicians generally, I’m sure probably you’re not a fan, I don’t know, but he came out and did a press conference and there were people on Twitter talking about, This is Baltimore’s DEI mayor.” They’re just saying the N word. That’s just what DEI means now. And then Charlie Kirk has been doing this thing about, Oh, well, I’m not saying it was DEI, but I’m just saying it’s important that we get rid of DEI as I’m talking about this.” Dave Rubin did the same thing by saying that we need to hire the best people to build our stuff,” and that once you allow wokeness in, bad things happen. And it’s just astounding their willingness to shoehorn this stuff in where it clearly reveals their bigotry. And so I’m just interested in how you’ve been taking in the reactions like that as you’ve seen this unfold.

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Maximillian Alvarez: You saved this one for the last question. I’m about to yell for another hour. I mean, I just want to say before I go on this rant to anyone out there listening, because I know we got a lot of union brothers and sisters listening to this great show, please support the Valley Labor Report. We need shows like this because you guys are not unconnected from what we’re talking about here. It’s because the contracting and subcontracting relationship and the way that profit-seeking businesses and sleazy contractors exploit that is the exact same reason we find brown children working in Hyundai parts distributors over there in Alabama or cleaning bone saws in meatpacking plants in the Midwest, or working in slave conditions and farms and picking the tomatoes for our Wendy’s cheeseburgers in places like Florida, right? This connects all of us, and if you are in a union, you need to do what Laborers’ Local 79, a construction union in New York is doing. Not seeing their fellow workers, immigrant workers returning citizens from prison, undocumented people, the people that non-union contractors target and exploit the most.

They are not taking your jobs.” Again, they’re like the men on these bridges. They’re like people working around you so often, they’re trying to make a life for themselves. They’re living in the shadows and they’re being exploited and abused because they do not have the full legal right to representation. They do not have a union contract. They need your help. They are not your enemy. That is what Laborers’ Local 79 has realized, and that’s why they are working to organize those folks. They are reaching out to them. They helped start a COVID relief fund for undocumented people who couldn’t get benefits from the state. Because if you organize them, you take the bosses’ leverage out of their hand where they always have a cheaper form of labor. You guys were just rattling the bars here at The Real News Network talking about how corporations and government agencies are exploiting slave prison labor to undercut costs.

They’re doing that to all of us. If you’re a working person, these companies, these corporations, and even our own government, are the ones who are creating this multi-tiered system where you have prison slave labor at the bottom, undocumented under the table labor… I mean, they’ve created so many layers of labor that create resentment within our own ranks that make us see each other as the enemy. That’s how they’re winning, guys. Please don’t take the bait. Please see this in the larger picture. And also if you are listening to this and you want to get involved in the coalition that is growing out of East Palestine and you want to join the campaign to pressure President Biden to invoke the Stafford Act, issue a federal disaster declaration for East Palestine, because that’s the kind of thing that presidents do when there are hurricanes — Governor Westmore just declared an emergency here because of the bridge collapse, right? You unlock a lot of resources, federal and state, that people in East Palestine desperately need right now. And in fact, governor Mike DeWine has finally, last year, sent a request to President Biden to issue a disaster declaration and Biden won’t do it. It’s only going to happen if a rank-and-file movement of people, union, non-union, environmental groups, and everyone else, pressure him and join this call to say, Invoke the Stafford Act, declare East Palestine a disaster. Get these people healthcare.”

I suspect one of the main reasons Biden won’t do that is because if he does, then there are going to be a whole lot of communities around the country that are like, Hey, we’re in the same boat.” I mentioned Piketon, Ohio, where the nuclear plant is, they should get… I mean, they have a different situation, but there are communities like that that still need help.

People are still dying of cancers and weird ailments. That’s what we’re fighting for in East Palestine. Now, to quickly jump to the morons and cowards who are out here spinning their BS conspiracy theories amidst this tragedy here in Baltimore, I mean, I went on Breaking Points yesterday to make this point. I’d said it on Democracy Now. We’re not going to reach those morons like Charlie Kirk. They are disinformation and division merchants. That is the whole point of what they do, right? I’m not hoping to reach them. I’m hoping to reach the fellow workers who are being poisoned by that crap and the people who are again, being led by their most cowardly impulses to fabricate these ridiculous explanations when the reality is much more horrifying and it’s staring you right in the face. We can confront that together. We don’t need to shy away from it.

We don’t need to come up with these ridiculous boogeymen to try to explain what should be patently obvious, which is again, the regulatory capture, the corporate capture of our entire system, the speed-ups, the relentless thirst for profit, the stripping away of safety and maintenance, the devaluation of labor and life. All of this is creating the conditions where things like the Baltimore Bridge collapsing and the East Palestine derailment are going to be happening a lot more. That is the problem. But what I would just say as someone who grew up conservative, as someone who used to think people like Charlie Kirk think, I used to buy into that. If I had not gone the way that I have to end up being the lefty nut job I am today, I would probably be out there saying the same things right now. I have right wing Latinos yelling at me for pushing a narrative” this week, and I’m like, Bro, I used to think like you. Your mentality is nothing new to me. I hope you see the light someday.”

But a lot of people are too far gone into that thing. But what I would just say as someone who has made that journey from conservative, deep red conservative to deep red lefty over the course of my life is that when I see that, what I see is that they are playing you. Republicans, the Right, have been the ones since I was born, pushing for all this deregulation, all this disinvestment, all of this, Oh, we’ve got to let corporations serve their shareholders and not the public because then the invisible hand of the market will bring us prosperity. We’ve got to keep cutting the taxes of the rich and the wealthy. We’ve got to keep stripping away these regulations. We’ve got to keep disciplining labor and breaking unions.” And now that same right is trying to turn around 40 years later and say, Oh, diversity’s the problem. DEI is the problem. Immigrants are the problem.” 

Fuck you. I grew up listening to your lies. I grew up believing the crap that you were pushing, and now all of you on the right, especially people like Charlie Kirk and even people I work with, I mean, I’m not even going to call out more names. Again, I went on Breaking Points yesterday. I mentioned Saagar by name. I want to have a conversation. I’m not saying Saagar is Charlie Kirk, but there’s a whole right-wing discourse machine here that is contributing to this crap, and it is not going to help working people. And I believe, and I think it’s patently obvious having grown up in this world and this ideology, that the Right is just trying to cover its ass. The Right is trying to distract us from the fact that they have helped create, and in fact, they have been the driving force creating the conditions that are leading to our communities being in this dire state over 40 years.

They don’t want you to know that. They want you to think that they’re the populace on our side and that the problem is DEI. That’s not the problem. DEI for corporations like this, it’s just another money making scheme. That’s why corporations lean into DEI so hard because it’s a way to pretend like they’re doing something to satiate calls for diversity. It’s a low lift, low budget investment that can make companies seem more woke, more conscientious, but it really doesn’t require them at all to change their business or their labor practices in the least, right? They can keep doing what they’re doing while pretending that they’re more conscientious employers. That’s why so many companies just lean into the DEI stuff because they take very little risk in doing so. What you’re actually mad at is not the diversity. You’re mad, again, at the corporate oligarchs who are playing you and playing us and trying to cover their own ass for what they have done to our country for 40 plus, 100 plus, 200 plus years.

Eventually we’ve got to wise up to this, otherwise, they’re going to destroy everything we hold dear. They are in the midst of destroying the very planet that we live on, and we don’t have time to waste fighting about DEI right now. Get serious, get involved, or get out of our way.

Jacob Morrison: Hell yeah. You were talking about this has been going on for 10, 20, 30, 100, 200 years. You might even say something like, the history of all Hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Maximillian Alvarez: You might. You could say that.

Jacob Morrison: You might say that. Max Alvarez, really appreciate it. Always great. People should subscribe and read The Real News Network. Listen to the Working People podcast, watch The Art of Class War on Breaking Points. Max, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Maximillian Alvarez: Thank you, brothers. Always a pleasure. Love and solidarity from Baltimore.

This story originally appeared in The Real News Network.

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Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe​se​Times​.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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