Monday, March 20, 2006

Philadelphia, a union town for better and worse

Was interested by a story in the Sunday Inquirer taking a look at Philadelphia's next great skyscraper, the huge Comcast building going up just off Rittenhouse Square. Turns out that the designers would really like to make it a green-certified building, and the only thing between them and that seal of pride is a reduction in water usage. They'd like to install waterless urinals, a technology that I had never heard of, but which appears to be in use in many places already, and has been shown to be safe and durable as well as environmentally friendly. And what stands in the way? The local plumber's union opposes inclusion of these nonstandard urinals. Insiders say that the primary obstacle is that the waterless devices take less time to install, meaning less labor and thus a smaller plumbing contract. Not discussed is that installation happens one time, up front, while the efficiency would be a benefit to the entire local area for years to come -- in fact, the city has been looking for ways to reduce the strain on its sewer system, and decisions like this could make a big difference.

Are union managers that short-sighted (and/or selfish)? I'm sympathetic when the conflict with building planners is over use of union versus nonunion labor; I support the protections that unionization offers to workers in risky and undervalued jobs (or any job where management has unfair power). But this reeks of pettiness and does nothing to garner public support for union concerns over more substantive future issues. I hope that the plumbers will look at the experience of other users of these devices, update the local code as needed, and reconsider their opposition. The environment needs every break it can get, and if recognition is what drives building owners to use more low-impact technologies, then I'd hate to see them deprived of those incentives.


Anonymous phillydem said...

I'm with you 100%. The union needs to look past the end of its nose. Where one opportunity closes, another opens up usually. Sadly, some of the unions
don't see it that way. Otherwise, why would the Gillespie's building trades union have endorsed Santorum over Casey just because Santorum has been associated with, no matter how tangentially, with some increased building in Philadelphia?

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are some very important issues with the waterfree urinal system that needs to be looked at that clearly was not addressed at 1234 Market Street.
#1) A waterfree system needs to include some additional sanitary mechanism(s) to account for odor and other hygienic issues. Water washes away most evidences of urine as well as other things. I don't know how to say this tactfully, but I'm tired of looking at yellowish froth and pubic hairs in the bathroom.
#2) The shape of the urinals at 1234 Market St, more than any other urinal that I have ever encountered, causes urine to be deflected back towards the user. The floors at/near the urinals are downright disgusting. I realize that this has nothing to do with the system being water free, but since the system will be new it is likely that design issues like this will arise.
3#) The method of removing the waste product should be considered heavily. There should be no chance that this waste will spill anywhere that will be accessed by office workers. Our bodies have expelled this fluid for a reason. It is poisonous to us and very likely carries all manner of bacteria.

Look, I think it is a wonderful idea to save money and natural resources, but there have to be some limits to the sacrifices that will be made.
Should I walk around with urine spritz on my shoes and pants? Should I put up with an obnoxious odor? Should I be subjected to seeing my co-workers loose pubic hairs while trying to take aim?
I think that the answer to all of these questions is, "no". I also think that there has got to be a way to design a system that not only saves money and natural resources, but that is also hygienically sound.

2:31 PM  

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