United Workers Association
United Workers, composed of low-wage workers, organizes to promote human rights and fair development in Baltimore City. In 2012, members began a campaign against the installation of what would be the nation’s largest trash burning incinerator, located within a mile of a high school in Curtis Bay. The incinerator would burn more than 4,000 tons of trash a day in a low-income community, which ranks among the top ten zip codes for the highest quantity of toxic air pollutant releases. United Workers’ organizing efforts to promote community awareness and garner support from various businesses, school systems, and governmental agencies led to a postponement in the project. Members continue to take steps in the incinerator campaign to decrease air pollution and protect public health.
United Workers’ fight for healthy and sustainable community policies around energy and waste has led to other environmental endeavors. The organization hopes to bring in Zero Waste companies, which re-use waste materials to create more green jobs in Baltimore. One prospective company is a paper mill recycling company that would bring in more than 120 livable wage jobs and provide an in-house day care facility. Two other potential companies work to deconstruct discarded material such as mattresses or E-waste, and resell parts, effectively minimizing the waste stream. United Workers is in dialogue with the Department of Planning and the Baltimore Development Corporation about vacant land that is zoned industrial for these projects.
Another environmental initiative that United Workers hopes to realize is a solar panel farm where communities can own the land and solar panels collectively. United Workers is in conversation with the city’s Department of Energy to see if solar panels can be placed in low-income communities where residents could either get a dividend at the year’s end or defray costs on energy bills.
Todd Cherkis, the lead organizer, refers to United Workers as a leadership development organization. United Workers’ core curriculum focuses on poverty awareness, human rights, economics, and power dynamics. This is augmented by Bible studies where members reflect on Biblical texts and how the faithful are called to address the needs of the poor and vulnerable to move towards a just society. United Workers recently led a group study on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.
According to Todd Cherkis, United Workers values its long relationship with CCHD, stating, “We really appreciate CCHD’s long-term vision and patience that allows us to focus on leadership development. Social change takes time. CCHD puts their faith in what we’re doing and that’s encouraging to us and to our members to continue to build.”
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