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LISTEN: El’gin Avila on workers' health and the gig economy

LISTEN: El’gin Avila on workers' health and the gig economy

"There really aren't protections for gig workers. And a lot of companies who employ gig workers are really trying to find ways in which they don't have to bring along that additional liability."

El’gin Avila joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss how the gig economy has upended what we think of workers' health and rights.


Avila is a Ph.D. student studying industrial hygiene at the University of Minnesota, founder of Equitable Health Solutions, director of Environmental and Occupational Health & Equity at the Bluegreen Alliance, and a senior Agents of Change fellow. He talks about where he finds optimism in occupational health, and the importance of merging the labor and environmental movements.

The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.

Listen below to our discussion with Avila, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Transcript

Brian Bienkowski

Today's guest hanging out with me is El’gin Avila, a PhD student studying industrial hygiene at the University of Minnesota, the founder of Equitable Health Solutions and the Director of Environmental and Occupational Health and Equity at the BlueGreen Alliance. Avila is also a senior fellow, he was part of our very first cohort of Agents of Change fellows. He talks about how we got into occupational health, how the gig economy has upended what we think of workers’ health and rights and the importance of merging the labor and environmental movements. Enjoy. All right, I am super happy to be joined by El’gin Avila, El’gin, how're you doing today?

El'gin Avila

Can't complain? How about yourself?

Brian Bienkowski

I'm doing excellent. Excellent. So El’gin was part of our first cohort. I'm so glad to have him here today. And we have something in common. And that is you are from Detroit. So tell me a little bit about growing up there and when and how you became interested in science and environmental health?

El'gin Avila

Yeah, sure thing. So I'll try and make it relatively brief in that regard. But try to distill everything down. But growing up in Detroit was good. I didn't actually grow up for most of my life in Detroit, I grew up right outside of it. But I was born and raised up until I was about five in Detroit. And after that I moved to Oak Park, it was really interesting. Um, you know, first, the driver was to secure like, you know, a long term healthy, you know, job that could be like a physician. So I always thought science was really interesting to me, because it was about understanding, you know, who we are as people who, you know, or, I guess what also composes the world? And also kind of starts asking those questions that made you really think deeply and critically about the world, so, and about people too. And so that's kind of how I got into it. Just always been a naturally inquisitive person and curious person and not really liking you know, no, for an answer, and just really simple answers, I always liked the complex.

Brian Bienkowski

I'm wondering if this was the case for you, too. But so you're now, we're gonna get into this, but you're now looking at environmental and occupational health. I know growing up in that region, or me, it's been, family members, especially but the worker and labor rights aspect of Detroit with the automotive industry and thinking about how unions were embedded in my blood. When I was at family gatherings, everybody's talking about union deals and contracts. And so I don't know if that was your case at all. But I'm curious if that played at all a role in your interest in kind of workers’ rights and occupational health?

El'gin Avila

Absolutely. That's a fantastic question. Actually, it didn't play a role into it until I turned about 18. So I kind of have like a different background. So I actually graduated high school when I was 16. I got around to about 18, was when I really started looking into other fields besides just medicine, and started looking into occupational health a little bit more. And I started drawing those parallels as you're, as you're talking about, in regards to occupational health, safety, etc. And that kind of made me think, oh, well, I could just, you know, be an occupational health physician. You know, I thought that made a lot more sense for me, since I was still trying to go down that route. But I think I always had in the back of my mind that, you know, being involved in occupational health was somewhere that I wanted to go, it actually kind of relates to the job that you currently have now as the director of Environmental and Occupational Health and Equity at the BlueGreen Alliance. And, you know, essentially, that's a combination of labor and big green organizations, which will, I'm sure we'll talk about later on down the line. But this is funny that you mentioned it, it's always played like that background role in terms of where I ended up progressing. And you know, it makes sense. My mom was also working heavily with UAW. She also worked for Chrysler. So it makes a lot of sense that, you know, that's where we’d end up.

Brian Bienkowski

Yeah, if you grew up down there, it's like the automotive industry touches your life. There's no doubt about it. But you you glossed over something really fast that I'm not going to let you gloss over. You graduated high school at 16. What? What did you do?

El'gin Avila

Yeah, so that's actually a really, like, interesting conversation. This is one of the things that my mom was actually really supportive of, she knew that I always she knew that I could get easily bored in class. And she knew, you know, kids just inherently when they're bored, they get disrupted, right. So third grade came around. And I was just sitting there in class. And, you know, I just got really bored, I just got fed up. And so when my mom picked me up from school one day, she was like, what did you learn? I told her nothing. And she was just like, what? I was like, yeah, didn’t learn anything. And so she was just like, well, that's not normal. You should, you should always learn something. She was like, well, you go back to school for a week. See, if you learn something, if you don't, we going to figure this out. And I was like, okay, so I went back to school, and lo and behold, I didn't learn anything. And that's not to say that I had a bad teacher, I had a fantastic teacher. I can't think of her name right now off the top of my head, but I loved her. She was so supportive. And then I went to fourth grade where I had another supportive teacher as well. And that, they had me do a bunch of tests to make sure that I was, you know, not just lying about like, I didn't learn this stuff. I already knew it. And I ended up getting promoted. So I got promoted to the fourth grade, middle of the school year. And yeah, this, I was lucky, I guess, because my mom was really supportive in that regard of allowing me to kind of push, push the boundaries when it came to education. So yeah, and I also had a late birthday. So yeah, that's how I…

Brian Bienkowski

Well, good on your mom for recognizing that. I wonder how many kids are bored in class and either act out or just aren't paying attention and chalked up to, to misbehavior instead of advanced? I mean, you were just, you're just advanced, so good on her for recognizing that. So. So fast forwarding a little bit. So you went down the road, to Ypsilanti there for undergraduate work at Eastern Michigan University, and you were introduced to research helping PhD students collect data on childhood obesity risk factors. So tell me a little bit about the research that you helped with there. And what do you take from this early introduction to research? And what spoke to you about it made you want to pursue it as a career?

El'gin Avila

Yeah, sure thing. So at the time, I was actually doing two intern, two research internships. One was heavily lab-based, I really didn't like that. I thought it was far too disconnected from you know, the community. And so this project seemed right, more like, right up my alley. I was always interested in nutrition. Some of that came from, you know, just me playing sports, wanting to really learn a little bit more about it. And one of the things that I didn't expect to, you know, take place from this project, was just my understanding of the process of research. I thought just maybe, maybe I could, you know, possibly pursue a PhD. But, you know, I was still thinking like, oh, maybe medicine. But this was really an opportunity that I found to really fall in love with research, and to really see the, the impact that it could possibly have. So with this project, we're going to Detroit homes, we're talking to families, we're figuring out, you know, what are their typical exercise routines? How does weather play a role into these multitude of factors, really changing the way that people not only perceive their own health, but also the way in which they interact with their built environment. So that really kind of groomed me into this, this space of public health. Although this wasn’t necessarily a public health project, it had those elements of it, looking at, you know, health from a population standpoint, looking at the most vulnerable populations that really gave me a great introduction into public health, and is really shaped, who I am now as a researcher and as a practitioner.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent, excellent. And before we get to where you're at now, and how you've kind of taken that experience there, tell me about a moment or event that shaped your identity,

El'gin Avila

A moment or event that shaped my identity. That's really tough. There's like so many in life, right?

Brian Bienkowski

Yeah, it's a big one. It's a big broad question that, that sometimes people really like to answer, and sometimes I have to edit these because they take 40 seconds of silence to think about it. So yeah, anything, you know, personal or professionally, really. Just something that stands out that helped that helped shape you?

El'gin Avila

Yeah, sure. Thanks. I think I would say it would be me actually graduating from the master's program. I don't think…I think a lot of people could understand why this could, you know, be valuable, but I don't think people understood what it necessarily meant to me as a person. First off in my family, like my immediate family, I was the, yeah, I was the first person to get a degree. And I'm the, I'm the youngest. And that's not to say that my siblings aren't capable, but that just it pushed me over this mental barrier that I really had, in terms of, you know, collecting degrees or, you know, reaching my achievements, right. So the first one was really helpful, but the graduation from George Washington University that really got me because, you know, all of us, we walk out with debt. But the fact of the matter is, is I, El’gin Avila, a Black kid from Detroit was able to not only go to George Washington University, but actually graduate, and like, actually get that master's degree from that, that was huge. That's huge. I don't know too many people from Detroit, let alone people who live in Detroit, or who are even around my age, who have a master's degree, and are able to actually come from the exact same environment that I was. And there's, obviously, I just want to be some type of catalyst for other folks, but also like that resource to kind of push other folks along and experience, you know, reaching their dreams to some degree, and to continuously rebuild and recreate new goals, you know, once they meet those goals.

Brian Bienkowski

Yeah, you're, so you're doing that, so you haven't, you didn't stop at the masters, and that's a, that's an excellent moment. You know, I can, I can imagine. Was your family there? Were they able to be there for you?

El'gin Avila

Yeah, yeah. And Dr. Ans Irfan, my, my brother, he's, he was able to be there as well. He also graduated in the same class as me. So it meant a lot.

Brian Bienkowski

That's, that's great. And fun fact, that Ans was the very first guest I had on this podcast, and we fumbled our way through figuring this out together. So yeah, a little, little callback there. So now you're focusing on disparities in environmental and occupational health. And like I said, you're, you're continuing to work on this research. And you're pursuing a PhD, right?

El'gin Avila

Yes I am, yep.

Brian Bienkowski

Right. So, tell, tell us just kind of broad strokes, you know, 10,000 foot view. Tell us a bit about occupational health disparities. What are some of these vulnerable jobs that you're looking at? Walk us through some of the health disparities in these fields?

El'gin Avila

Sure thing. Yeah, so occupational health is a really interesting place. So you get to, you get to experience a really like, a wide gamut of issues when it comes to, you know, the way or what people are being exposed to, on a daily basis. So let's look at this, for example, occupational health. Heat stress right now, that's one of the main things that we're talking about at this moment. Because federal OSHA issued an advance notice, you know, about two, maybe three months ago, so heat stressed, so, so climate change issues. So we get to really look at those, those complex, but also connected issues. And so who are most likely to people who are going to be affected by this? Most of the time, people think outdoor workers, but in reality, indoor workers are also at risk for this exposure. So, I think about the folks not only who are farm workers, think about the pesticide appliers, but also think about those manufacturer workers who are working inside, and are also being exposed to extreme heat indexes. And typically, those are lower wage workers. Sometimes they're union workers. But think about those folks who work at those bottling plants. Think about those folks who work in Detroit, who are a part of unions sometimes, but sometimes they're also not a part of those things, or those union relationships are not nearly as strong as some of our other counterparts. So they really lose out on a lot of opportunities in which they can advocate for themselves, protect themselves a lot more effectively. And that really, that really makes it really difficult for folks to want to engage. So then we also think about folks who are undocumented. We also think about those folks and how their relationship with, with being in a workplace, and especially for someone that is in a non-union workplace, how their, their fear, their very reasonable fear of retaliation from an employer can really impact them as well. So there's a lot of vulnerable, or there are a lot of vulnerable populations in the workforce. And it's kind of my job to kind of expose that. That's how I kind of see it.

Brian Bienkowski

Yeah, that's excellent. And I think I would be curious to hear your thoughts about this, that the last two years in my mind, this has become a little more crystal for folks with COVID because we had meat plants that were being forced to stay open. And that was kind of obvious. I mean, you're talking about a largely immigrant workforce that has very few labor rights. So I think more people kind of knew about that. But now I'm thinking too, about cashiers and these essential jobs. I shouldn't use air quotes. They are essential jobs and while the rest of us that work from home, were able to kind of comfortably get through the pandemic workwise, maybe not comfortably otherwise, but folks were forced to go in. So I'm wondering if you think these issues are kind of more on the radar? And if you're seeing, if that's a good thing. Are we seeing some positive movement because now people are forced to reckon with this with COVID?

El'gin Avila

Yeah. I always think anytime you shine a light on an injustice, you're doing something positive. The issue is, is how do we make sure that that spotlight stays on the issue, and it doesn't become something that falls to the wayside? Right? And by that I mean, you know, how do we keep the momentum going around protecting these folks, especially those who are considered essential workers, right? Oftentimes, they are the folks who are forgotten, especially if they're in rural locations. Oftentimes, like media, they focus on the big city exposures, they focus on the big city injuries, et cetera, et cetera. So I personally think is a great thing that we're focusing on the everyday worker. For example, essential workers, we're thinking about cashiers, we're thinking about minimum wage workers. A lot of times people still aren't associating younger workers, such as people, myself, or people who are in high school, college, etc, with essential working positions, such as being a cashier, such as being a barista, such as being a cafeteria worker, such as, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So how do we make sure that we protect those folks, and I think this is their time to continue raising the issues that are present within their workforce and within their work environments. So that way we can, we can hopefully, you know, make change.

Brian Bienkowski

I'm glad you brought up the rural aspect, I live in a very rural area, and it becomes a more complex issue, because there's there now there's less health resources for folks who are forced to go to work, there's less public transportation. There's this whole, there's this whole new complexity of factors. So I'm glad you brought that up. I think we often are a little, this is my biased view, but I think we're a little urban, urban centric with these issues. But I'm really curious about your focus currently on the gig economy. And I, I am, I am not entirely sure what this term means. I immediately think of Uber driver. That's all I can think. So if you can kind of define what we mean by the gig economy, and then walk us through the ways these emerging workforces kind of face unique occupational hazards and disparities.

El'gin Avila

Hey, I would be remiss if I did not mention at this very time, no one fully understands who or what comprises the gig economy. So you're not alone. You're absolutely not alone on that one. So for the purposes of my dissertation, which is going to be on gig workers, I kind of narrowed it down to electronically mediated workers for this, but let's keep it broad. So folks understand really what or who really comprises gig workers. So essentially, the gig economy is anything, or, I like to describe it as, anything that really consists of those gig type jobs are those independent contractor type jobs. That is alternative or non-traditional in terms of a work arrangement. So let's break that down a little bit. So when I say non-traditional of a work arrangement, I mean, things that deviate from the nine to five or the eight hour a day, 40 hour work week. I mean different types of work arrangements than that. So let's say someone who has to work 12 hours, one day, they get three days off, and then they had to go back for 12 hours and is kind of geared towards their at-will or their task-oriented job or work schedule. So I like to think of that as okay, you're, you're really being hired for a job or a task, not necessarily to work for a company or for an organization long term. And your pay is based off of that task, it’s not going to be based off of how many hours you did it is going to be based off of the task. So that consists of anyone that literally can be shoveling snow, but who isn't necessarily a qualified or an employee for a company. That could be for could be rideshare drivers, it could be delivery drivers. It could be folks who are on Etsy, and there's they're creating items for folks. Really, it comprises of people, or it comprises of jobs that are considered gigs. Think about a gig, it typically only lasts for about a day. Sometimes it can be lengthened, but yeah, there's really no very clear crystal definition of it. So my apologies, I can't give you a beautifully concise one.

Brian Bienkowski

Actually, at the end, you did. I am embarrassed to admit I never thought about the word gig, as that's the reason it's called the gig economy. I was thinking like gig like a gigabyte, or some kind of digital term. But that, that makes a lot more sense. And so, so when we think about these folks, um, uh, my assumption is that that some of the worry is they don't have, they're not subject to some of the labor laws, because they're not going through traditional employers or something. Is that, is that the risk? Is that what you're looking at?

El'gin Avila

That's part of the risk, right? So there's always, there's always a, well it depends the answer that we can always give. But really, when it comes to this, it is about that, that potential risk, or those lack of protections that are associated with those jobs. So think about, you know, we can make this as simple as think about that person who's working gigs, they work for a band, that's kind of the typical gig thing that we're thinking of. That person is getting paid per show, they're not getting paid, per, you know, a set or so they have to account not only for their own taxes, they have to account for their own equipment, they have to account for their own resources that they use. And so as a result, they have to think about, okay, I need to account for 20%, roughly, of for our taxes. We need to account for, you know, this person's health care or shoot, if I can afford the health care, you know, how, what kind of arrangement do we have in place for this other person who's also working with me on this gig? So there, you're absolutely right, it really comes down to whether or not there are protections around those gig workers. And right now, we're seeing that there really aren't protections for gig workers. And a lot of companies who employ gig workers are really trying to find ways in which they don't have to bring along that additional liability. They want to, in some cases, continue to misclassify workers to avoid that extra expense.

Brian Bienkowski

And that was my next question that I think you just answered. So you're not seeing any kind of policy catching up to the fact, because this is exploding. I mean, during, I mentioned COVID, earlier, I know at the grocery stores, everybody's having shopping done for them. And you know, it started with Uber, and now it's kind of spider-webbing in all aspects of our lives. So basically, the policy is not keeping up.

El'gin Avila

Exactly. You're absolutely right in that regard. And that's kind of part of what I wanted to do in my dissertation was just to kind of show, okay, there's this peer reviewed, scientifically-approached method that was used in order to, you know, explore, and in some cases, analyze the data that we collected for these gig workers, right? So I wanted to kind of use this as more of an advocacy tool for folks who engage in this gig workspace. And you're absolutely right, the policy is not keeping up with it. We're having a lot of issues in regards to worker misclassification. Think about that California Assembly Bill it was back about two, three years ago, and which Uber spent so much money they devoted, I think it was tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars into a campaign in order to beat that Assembly Bill. And essentially eliminate this or prevent gig workers from actually being qualified as employees. Because they lose a lot of autonomy with their jobs. So for example, they lose autonomy when it comes to the hours that they or, I'm sorry, the wage per hour that they have. So say for example, they can’t negotiate with the, with the customer, whether or not they should be charged a little bit more, they have to rely on those tips, and just hope that a person really just you know, gives them a fair wage. So yeah, policy is absolutely not keeping up with it.

Brian Bienkowski

And I have to imagine in this field, and others, we often think about, you mentioned earlier, pesticide exposure. So when I think of occupational health, you think of very specific hazards to your health. I worked in a factory and there was multiple guys missing digits, you know, just cutting steel and missing digits. So there's just kind of the regular physical impacts. But can you speak to some of the mental health aspects of occupational health? I don't know if your research has gotten into this or if you've digging, dug into the research, the literature but what, what is going on on that front?

El'gin Avila

Absolutely. I'm so glad you brought this up. So one, I really want to touch on this concept from NIOSH called the total worker health approach. It's been something that a lot of folks have already, you know, known. A lot of occupational health specialists have been advocating for. But especially when it comes to folks who are, you know, involved in the EJ climate change space, they already knew this, they just didn't have a formalized title for it. But NIOSH's total worker health approach is essentially looking at a worker holistically and thinking about, you know, what source of additional exposures or non-traditional exposures can impact the health, can impact the health, excuse me, of a worker. So, for example, like you're bringing up mental health, so I'm thinking about what sorts of psychosocial exposures is a worker exposed to at work? So let's keep thinking about gig workers. In this case, specifically rideshare drivers or delivery drivers. Think about the driver or that worker who was exposed to workplace violence during the job. So that's an exposure. That's a psychosocial exposure, and it's a physical exposure in some, in some ways, but that has altered the perception of that person and the perception of whether or not their job is safe. Likely that that's probably what has been altered in that case, right? So, with gig workers, since this space is so new, and is going to continue evolving, which I really want to harp on, it, this issue is going to continue to persist, we're going to continue to have more worker misclassification unless we focus on the policy of it. But in this regard, we're thinking about that worker violence that that person is experiencing, how does that impact their health? How does that? How does this experience impact their perception of whether or not their job is safe? Whether or not their support staff is going to actually assist them through this process? And if they don't get that assistance, how did that impact their mental health and their perception of safety? So that's kind of the first questions that I have to answer. Through this investigation, the next steps will be able to look a little bit more directly at the mental health implications of this kind of gig work, especially as it continues to evolve and as the work continues to become a little bit more dangerous. And the reason we think it is going to become more dangerous is because automation and other economic and environmental factors are going to continue to keep evolving, and going to continue to force more gig kind of oriented jobs moving forward. Sorry, that was a long-winded answer.

Brian Bienkowski

No, not at all. I'm wondering outside of the gig economy, if you've noticed any progress on this in kind of more traditional jobs. I know just, I was talking to my sister last night, and she works for an engineering firm in Detroit, and they have now switched to two day, two day work weeks at the office, three days at home and, on the face, maybe that's not a mental health positive, but in my mind, my sister is a mother, you know, and she, this is good for her mental health, she's able to work from home and not have to commute down I-75. But um, so I'm wondering if you're seeing a renewed focus on mental health in some of the traditional workforce, if you're seeing any, any bright spots there?

El'gin Avila

From a research standpoint, or just from practice?

Brian Bienkowski

Either one. Just as somebody who's kind of engaged in this field, if you're, if you're noticing a change in that direction, I know, as an environmental journalist and editor, I'm seeing a lot more of the connection between mental health and the environment, mental health and climate anxiety. Just in sports. I mean, you are, I know we're both sports fans, the amount of attention on mental health now in sports. It, this wasn't like this growing up, when you were a football player, basketball player, you didn't talk about mental health. So I'm wondering, we're seeing it in other aspects of society, are you seeing kind of traditional employers pay more attention to this?

El'gin Avila

I think so. But only because the market demands it. Only because the potential employees and the current employees are truly demanding it. And that might not be necessarily directly a demand, but those could be indirect demands. For example, when the situation, or, I can't call it a situation, I'm sorry. When the murder of George Floyd happened when I was living in Minnesota, during the time, a lot of companies and a lot of organizations, especially nonprofit organizations, sat back and thought, okay, I need to figure out how we as organization are going to respond to this, because it's clearly not right. So how do we respond to this? What sorts of initiatives what sorts of programs are we going to have to do to not only, one, respond to this for the public’s sake, but also for the sake of our employees and our potential employees? So I think companies and organizations are forced to think about this right now. And that's a market demand. But I, I can't speak necessarily to the research. I think a lot of the research right now is focused on COVID and its mental health impacts, which is fantastic work and it is, you know where it should be. But I just don't think a lot of folks now are focusing in other respects, on that kind of research.

Brian Bienkowski

So this leads me nicely into. So in addition to your research your, as you mentioned, you're the director of occupational and environmental health and equity at the BlueGreen Alliance, which has focused on uniting labor union and environmental organizations to kind of jointly tackle environmental challenges. So thinking about kind of merging these two movements. So tell me about the alliance's work, what you're doing there, and why it's important to merge these two movements of labor and the environment, which have kind of operated in silos for too long.

El'gin Avila

Exactly. And I think that's the reason why I was I was kind of drawn towards it. One, I had a colleague who spoke highly of the organization, and also did some work with them. But also, I really liked the that idea of really focusing on communication, when it comes to solidifying, and not necessarily centralizing, but, kind of creating this cohesive message between, you know, labor groups and those big environmental organizations. So these labor groups that we particularly work with, it's over a million members that essentially, these are partners. They, I won't say they oversee, but they represent. So I really liked that impact. I really liked it, because BGA is not only a national organization, but also a state organization. So it really allows us to even engage with environmental justice organizations, which is what I'm kind of spearheading, and I'm trying to kind of formalize that process a little bit more. And really creating this opportunity in which we as an organization, you know, who we're engaging with our partners on a regular basis, such as the United Steelworkers, I want us as an organization, as well as the organization themselves, and our partners want us to engage and become a lot more efficient with the work that we do, with the equity work that we're trying to build internally. And the work that we're doing externally. How do we inject that equity and justice into it? So that way, one, we're better EJ allies two, we represent, or we represent our workers a little bit more, and also their families a little bit more effectively. Because that's oft, often been an issue that we've seen. To get to your question a little bit more. We really like seeing the dichotomy in the conversation that happens between the labor organizations and big green organizations. Sometimes it's really like butting heads. But that's solely because of who we're trying to represent and how we're trying to get there. We want to make sure that we're doing it as efficiently as possible, but also in a collective, cohesive, and holistic kind of approach moving forward. So I've really enjoyed the work that we do there. And I'm really fortunate that I was able to, to really be able to focus on the equity and, and justice piece of it moving forward.

Brian Bienkowski

I, you know, when I was prepping for this interview, I wasn't totally aware of BlueGreen. And I looked them up and it got me excited, because this nexus has always fascinated me. Again, going back to where we're from, and kind of the labor, labor movement there, the labor rights there. And then my career as an environmental journalist, I found the folks where I live now, I can almost always find common ground, when we talk about workers’ rights and labor rights. And even if we disagree wildly, politically, we can agree on those things. And so I'm really fascinated by this. And I'm excited to see where it gets going. And I think a lot of these merging of movements has happened in the last few years, I'm thinking of Black Lives Matter, focusing, you know, bringing financial stability and economics into the equation and not just in climate justice, kind of bringing all the groups under one tent. So very cool work. I'm excited to see what, what comes with this.

El'gin Avila

I appreciate that. And I certainly agree with you, I think the combining of these movements, it kind of speaks to the connectedness again, in which we all are, or our missions are all connected. Like, again, when it comes to environmental justice, and especially when it comes to, you know, Indigenous folks, for example. They've already understood this concept far more than us. There's never been any propaganda that has blinded them to this element of connectedness that we all exhibit, especially in regards to the environment and especially in regards to people.

Brian Bienkowski

Right, and for so long that what's, what's torn us down in this, in these spaces is the corporate the corporate folks say they are coming for your job, the enviross are coming for your job. And the environmental folks have been saying, hey, coal work, coal work is bad, coal is bad. And like you said, we're all, we all want the same thing? We want healthy families, we want good jobs, we want clean air and water to drink. And if we all get in the same room and start from that standpoint, even if there is a little bit of butting of heads, like you said, I think I think we can find some common ground. And these kinds of these kinds of things. Give me optimism, so I'm really happy to hear that. I only have a couple more questions. But I did want to ask you so you are. You are a sports fan. And I, much to the chagrin of my wife, I'm constantly watching sports. Just, I just love sports. So tell, what did you, what did you play growing up? And who do you, are you still, are you a Detroit sports fan? What teams are you following?

El'gin Avila

That is a totally fair question. Um, I am definitely still a sports fan. I by default have to be a Detroit fan, Detroit lions, pistons, etc. fan. And that's okay. The reason why I say by default is solely because I, I have friends now who are playing in the league who played for someone else. And it just feels really strange liking, liking one very specific team. But I will say this, though, I definitely still am a Detroit fan. I always want our city to do well. And I always think about the implications of when we do well. What does that grant us. I say hopefully in the future that Detroit Lions fans will be able to experience some wins though. But I played basketball, football, I did the field events when I was in high school as well. I swam, which was actually my best sport. I had a terrible knee growing up. So I, like, swimming, I just fell in love with it. I love being able to split the water and actually feel me getting faster. And that, that experience that was fantastic. And it's a, it's an event or it's an experience that you can only rely on yourself. And I think that taught me a lot in terms of being really self-determined, a self-starter, and so on and so forth. But I love sports.

Brian Bienkowski

Yeah, that's great. You know, swimming and I cycle now two, I was a runner. I played, I played football growing up and I boxed in my late teens, early 20s. And learned a lot there, learned that I shouldn't do it, because I use my brain for a living but, oh, yeah, it's, there's, there's such a science to it. Yeah, there really is a science to it. And yeah, but, but those cycling and, and swimming, those low impact sports that you can do into older age and finding as I near 40 are really good ones to stick with. Because as you get older, you don't leave those behind. So, the last question on this. Just because I'm curious, do you think the Lions are going to be able to turn it around in the next couple of years?

El'gin Avila

Hey, I've learned to never doubt an underdog. I've learned to never doubt Detroit folks. I've never wanted to doubt them either. So I think there's always a possibility, right? Um, I think though, we'll, it totally depends. If we start seeing some changes in front office, and we start seeing a change of culture. I think those are really good indications as to whether or not we're turning something around here, but they have pieces. And you know, those Lions folks, I mean, folks on that team, let's be honest, they do not like losing. There's a reason why they still ended up picking up a couple of wins this year. And I think that they made a smart move getting the offensive tackle this year. I mean, yeah, this year, you know what I mean? But yes. Definitely a smart, smart decision. I hope they're going in the right direction.

Brian Bienkowski

Yes. Well, I love the optimism. My dad teases me because he has told me for years, I've been following them son for 50 years, and they're never going to be good. So it would be nice to, nice to prove my dad wrong one of these days. Speaking of optimism, and I'll get us back on track here to finish up. Tell me, I like asking folks what they're optimistic about in the research field they're looking at, and you've given us a little bit today, especially with the BlueGreen work, but I wonder if there's anything you'd like to add? What are you optimistic about right now, when it comes to workers’ health and workers’ rights?

El'gin Avila

I think I'm really interested in regards to the shift of market demand. I'm really excited about that. When you put the control or you put the influence back into the hands of the people, I'm always excited about that, because that means that people are thinking critically, sometimes. But most of the time, people are thinking critically once they start getting power back into their hands. And I mean, at the end of the day, if, if people collectively make a bad decision, I'm okay with it. But I really feel like this, this trend we're seeing right now is going in the right direction. And by that I mean specifically I think people are becoming smarter. I think our workforce, especially as Gen Z kinds of starts, starts working. I think they're gonna be, they're gonna blow millennials out the water. They have so much access to information, they do not take no for an answer. If they feel it is reasonable they do, they definitely do not. My niece is 19 years old and she constantly reminds me of that, and I absolutely love it. I think this new workforce will either push us into the right direction of some of our EU partners who are pushing for more thoughtful, just human rights geared, you know, benefits for workers. I think Gen Z can do that. I certainly think millennials can do it as well. But I'm really excited to see this market continuously pushing, folks, I think it will eventually get us over the hump. And we'll really start protecting workers, you know, in both the private and public space. And hopefully that eventually means that OSHA will be able to start putting forward some good work and, you know, start cutting down on those timelines that they have, that’s my only criticism that I'll share about OSHA right now.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent. Well, that is an optimistic view of the youth. The youth will lead us forward on climate and workers’ health and rights. And we are we're, we're so grateful for them. So El’gin, this has been so much fun. I really enjoyed catching up with you. I wish I saw, saw you folks more. But the last question is what is the last book that you read for fun?

El'gin Avila

That's a fantastic question. I'm actually reading one right now for fun, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed from Paulo, oh my goodness, I always mess his last name up, Freire? It’s Portuguese, and my dad is Dominican so sometimes I want to mix the two. But I'm reading that for fun. I actually really like it. I always love books that evoke critical thought. And just really hearing his perspective in regards to oppression is really connecting a lot of dots for me. And I get excited whenever I connect dots, because that means that I can connect dots to other topics. And I can see parallels, so I really loved it.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent. I always laugh at the books that all these Agents of Change folks read for, quote, fun. They always seem, there's a heaviness to them that sounds very interesting as I look at my stack of, you know, comic books and graphic novels that I feel like, I feel like I'm failing. Well, El’gin, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it and go Lions.

El'gin Avila

I appreciate it. Thank you so much. It's been fantastic catching up with you as well. I wish we could definitely do it more. Maybe we can in the future. But yeah, it's always good connecting with, you’re fantastic people. So are Agents of Change.

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