Welcome to the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus

"Judi Bari did something that I believe is unparalleled in the history of the environmental movement. She is an Earth First! activist who took it upon herself to organize Georgia Pacific sawmill workers into the IWW…Well guess what friends, environmentalists and rank and file timber workers becoming allies is the most dangerous thing in the world to the timber industry!"

--Darryl Cherney, June 20, 1990.

Dockworkers Protest Crude-By-Rail Terminal and Unfair Labor Practices

Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper - EcoWatch, July 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In remembrance of the one-year anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic oil train tragedy that killed 47 people, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) raised a banner from cranes today calling out unfair labor practices and protesting unsafe oil at the Port of Vancouver in Washington.

The Port of Vancouver is under intense scrutiny because it has not supported the locked-out ILWU Local 4 who have worked the docks in Vancouver since 1937. The port refuses to assist the ILWU during a labor dispute with the multinational United Grain Corporation. 

At the same time, the port is trying to ram through a dangerous and dirty crude-by-rail terminal proposed by Tesoro. This terminal would send 42 percent of the capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline—360,000 barrels per day—by train to Vancouver, where the oil would be loaded onto oceangoing vessels to sail down the Columbia River. The ILWU has taken a stand against the massive crude-by-rail project.

“Longshoreman would be the guys tying up and letting the ships go, but our local said, ‘no, the risk isn’t worth the reward,’” said Cager Clabaugh, president of the Local 4, ILWU. “We don’t believe in jobs at any cost.” 

The 1,500 square foot banner read:

    Unfair grain
    Unsafe oil
    Community
    Under Attack

The ILWU Local 4 is requesting people call Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to ask him to end the labor lockout and reject the Tesoro oil terminal. Now is the time for labor and enviros to stand together for clean water and safe working conditions.

Should a 15,000-Ton Train Be Operated Single-Handed?

By J.P. Wright and Ed Michael - Labor Notes, December 11, 2012

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Back in the old days, in order to operate safely, a freight train used a five-person crew—an engineer, a fireman, two brakemen, and a conductor.

After two-way radios and electronic air brake monitoring allowed the railroads to eliminate the caboose in the 1980s, crew size went down to three.

Tough contract negotiations eliminated another crew member, so now almost every freight train rolling across the U.S. is operated by just an engineer and a conductor.

Railroaders fear the conductor will be next to go. The railroads say they want single-employee trains, and leaders have allowed language to seep into contracts that says if crew size is reduced to one, that last remaining crew member will be an engineer or a conductor—depending which union is negotiating the language.

With union officials asleep at the wheel on this dangerous prospect, Railroad Workers United, a cross-union coalition of rank-and-file railroaders, is taking up the challenge to stop the runaway train.

Some trains are over 10,000 feet long and weigh more than 15,000 tons. Engineers drive the train and take care of the engines, but the freight conductor does the rest. If anything goes wrong with the equipment, the conductor walks the train to find blown air hoses, broken couplers, or trespasser accidents. If the train stops in a busy town, the conductor can quickly separate the train to allow emergency equipment to reach blocked rail crossings.

Both engineer and conductor are licensed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), with constant retraining and on-the-job testing to ensure compliance with the many operating rules and regulations that govern trains.

We are drilled in the railroad’s Homeland Security awareness plan and told that the security of the nation’s railways depends on our two sets of eyes observing every inch of our unsecured railroad infrastructure.

Rail Worker Rights Leaving 19th Century Behind

IBEW Press Release - IBEW.org, July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The author is also not affiliated with Railroad Workers United. This article is reposted in accordance with Fair Use guidelines.

J.J. Giuliano has been local chairman of the Selkirk unit of Albany, N.Y., Local 770 since 2003. Keeping his members safe is Giuliano’s top priority, and along with the leaders of the other trades at Selkirk, he sat on the shop’s safety committee.

“For 10 years we made recommendations to management and for 10 years not one of them was funded by the company,” Giuliano said. “I stayed on because I wanted to look out for my guys. But at a certain point we were letting the company get away with avoiding solving safety problems.”

In September 2013, Giuliano was done with the charade. He sent a letter to the plant superintendent telling him that he was quitting the committee. He listed 21 safety violations that threatened the health of IBEW members, public safety or both that had repeatedly been brought to the company’s attention and never fixed. They included everything from managers green-lighting locomotives for use without testing safety equipment to requiring workers to repair trains covered in pigeon feces but refusing to provide, or even allow the use of, protective clothing.

“When local management decides to act as though safety is a priority, this organization will re-evaluate its position in this matter,” he wrote. “Until that time, should it ever come, our concerns will be brought elsewhere.”

Giuliano handed over the letter Friday and posted a copy of it to the local’s glass-enclosed bulletin board. Two and half hours into his next workday, Giuliano was cited for violating safety rules and was later suspended for five days.

“It’s typical. Instead of fixing a problem, they attack the person who points it out,” Giuliano said.

Up until 2008 that would have been the end of the story. As a 2007 congressional hearing found, punishing workers instead of fixing safety hazards has been standard in the rail industry since the days of the robber barons more than a century ago. It was nearly that long ago that President Theodore Roosevelt signed many of the laws still regulating the rail industry.

As Social Security, workers’ compensation insurance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight and whistleblower protections were made standard for most working people, rail workers were left outside looking in.

The first safety protections for rail workers weren’t even enacted until the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970, said Larry Mann, an attorney and noted rail safety expert. But Mann says the scope of the law was extremely limited and enforcement by the Federal Rail Administration, which has historically been run and staffed by former rail company managers, was lax at best.

But in 2007, the late congressman from Minnesota, James L. Oberstar, inserted a few paragraphs into the massive bill implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Section 100 of 106, in part written by Mann, dramatically expanded the rights and protections of rail workers. Oberstar later said that the goal of the law was a complete overhaul of a safety culture” preoccupied with blame, with fault and with individuals.”

The law protected rail workers from retaliation for reporting safety hazards and injuries (see sidebar for full list of protections and prohibited retaliations) that echo whistleblower protections for aviation, nuclear, pipeline and financial industry workers.

The penalties for doing so were purposefully harsh. Workers were to “be made whole” meaning if they lost their job, had their credit rating ruined and lost their house, the company would have to reinstate the worker, pay to fix their credit rating and recover the house or pay for its loss if it was found guilty. All that in addition to back wages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

“We snuck it in,” Larry Mann. “The companies didn’t see it coming, thank God.”

It wasn’t just the companies who were surprised. Charles Goetsch, one of 14 attorneys designated by the IBEW to represent injured railworkers. (Find the full list here). He found out about it only after it passed.

“I thought ‘I’ve been waiting for this law for 30 years,’” Goetsch said. “It was huge transfer of power to the workers and they didn’t have to negotiate away a thing to get it.”

On Bill McKibben’s ‘call to arms’ for the New York Climate Summit

By Anne Petermann - Global Justice Ecology Project, July 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The September climate march was called for by Big Green NGOs 350.org and Avaaz, who have thrown copious quantities of cash at it. But many environmental and climate justice organizations and alliances based in the New York/New Jersey region and across the US have demanded a seat at the organizing table to ensure that the voices of front line and impacted communities are heard, despite their small budgets.

The demands of the march: there will be none. That’s right. The march will simply bring together an estimated 200,000 people to march through the streets of New York and then…  There will be no rally, no speakers, no strong political demands.  Just people showing up with the overarching message that the world’s leaders should take action on climate change.

Please.

What kind of climate action should be taken is a question that has long been debated by climate justice activists, organizations, social movements and Indigenous Peoples all over the world for decades.   “Climate action” can include things like geoengineering schemes–manmade manipulations of nature on such a massive scale that the impacts can’t possibly be known, but could definitely be catastrophic.  They can also include actions already taking place, such as the building of vast hydroelectric dams that flood vast expanses of land and displace thousands of Indigenous Peoples or land-based communities. Climate action can also include ongoing grabbing of land for the development of vast plantations of oil palm, GMO soy or non-native trees for so-called bioenergy.

So no, not all “climate action” is created equal.  A lack of clear justice-based and ecologically sound demands in this “historic” march will leave a vacuum.  And no vacuum remains empty for long.  It’s simple physics.  The media will not cover a march with no demands. They will find a message.  And likely, as so often happens, those with the connections and the money will win the messaging game.

How Green is the Green New Deal?

By Don Fitz - Climate and Capitalism, July 15, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The world has over half a century of experience with programs that claim to help nature or feed the planet while they do the opposite.  The twin crises of the early 21st century are economic and ecological collapse.  Should we increase production to create more jobs and accept horrible environmental damage?  Or, should we protect a livable world at the cost of causing more unemployment?

An increasingly popular answer is the “Green New Deal” (GND): create “green jobs” in order to jump start the economy.   But the GND might not provide long term employment and could cause major environmental harm.  Digging beneath the surface appearance of the GND requires exploring its family tree: the Green Revolution, Green Capitalism and the Green Economy.

The Green Revolution

As capitalism spread across the globe, hunger and starvation spread with it.  Hoarding food and selling it to those who have plenty has always been more profitable than sharing food with those who need it.

By the middle of the 20th century, agribusiness decided that new plant varieties could be the focal point of a “Green Revolution” that would “feed the world.”  According to Stan Cox, dwarfing genes “allowed the plant to divert less energy to making stems and leaves and allowed the farmer to apply much more nitrogen fertilizer without making the plants get too tall and fall over.”  But these new varieties required pesticides and were more vulnerable to diseases. [1]

For at least 10,000 years, humans have been using “open pollination” seeds which could be gathered and planted the next year.  The Green Revolution also promoted hybrid seeds, especially for corn.  But hybrid seeds did not reproduce traits sought by farmers.  Those who use them must return to the seed company each year.  Hybrids fostered agricultural dependency.

One of the best summaries of the effects of hybrid corn is in Carmelo Ruiz’ story of Henry Wallace, the agrarian progressive who was Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture.  According to Ruiz, “Among the most celebrated attributes of hybrid corn is the ease with which it can be harvested by machine.”  Huge fields with “genetic uniformity created a dream situation for pests.” [2, p 10]  As with dwarf varieties, this generated a need for pesticides.  Rapid growth as well as pesticide destruction of the soil’s natural fertility created a need for fertilizers.

A huge increase in output resulted: “between 1950 and 1980, US corn exports were multiplied times 20.” [2]   Results also appeared in increased farming costs, impoverishment of family farmers, and further concentration of wealth in agriculture.

Was this truly the price that had to be paid in order to “feed the world?”  Is it possible that the same yield increases could have occurred if research had gone in another direction?  Ruiz quotes geneticist Richard Lewontin as concluding, “Virtually no one has tried to improve the open-pollinated varieties, although scientific evidence shows that if the same effort had been put into such varieties, they would be as good or better than hybrids.” [2]

Research focused on developing hybrids because they were part of an overall agenda to concentrate capital.  Proponents of the Green Revolution identified a real problem (hunger), but they trumpeted a solution friendly to big business which created as many problems as it solved.  Meanwhile, a low-tech solution was ignored.

24 People Arrested Blocking Entrances to FERC to Protest Proposed Fracked Gas Export Facility

By Chesapeake Climate Action Network - Originally Published at Popular Resistance, July 14, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

WASHINGTON, DC—Residents impacted by shale gas infrastructure and their supporters blocked the entrances to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) headquarters today in protest of the proposed Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility and others proposed around the country.

This is the second consecutive day of action to demand that the Obama administration take the voices of impacted communities seriously in the federal regulatory process, and that FERC reject Dominion Resources’ proposed LNG export facility in Cove Point, Maryland, just 50 miles south of the White House on the Chesapeake Bay. Over a thousand people rallied on the National Mall and marched to FERC yesterday despite scorching heat and high humidity.

Protesters linked arms and blocked the main entrance and a secondary entrance of FERC as employees came in to work this morning. A total of 24 people were arrested for the shut down, including participants from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. The protesters were arrested by Homeland Security police and then turned over to the DC Metropolitan Police for processing. They were charged with “incommoding,” or blocking a public passageway, and are being released with a citation and $50 fine.

IBEW, Fitters Locked Out by Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

By Alex Lotorto - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

To: Executive Board, Officials, and Business Agents, et al.

  • United Association Local Union 524
  • IBEW Local 81
  • IUOE Local 542
  • Teamsters Local 229
  • LIUNA Local 130

From:  Alex Lotorto

Electrical Workers, Fitters are Locked Out By Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

The proposed Milford and Easton Compressor Station expansions are part of Columbia Gas Transmission Co.’s (subsidiary of NiSource) East Side Expansion Project. Both proposed expansions do not utilize industry best practices to reduce or eliminate emissions that also require more manhours to install. This means that NiSource, which earned $5.7 billion in net revenue last year, is minimizing its costs, effectively swindling trade union members out of the best possible Project Labor Agreements. In this case, the cause of labor is also aligned with the cause of local environmentalists who seek to limit unnecessary harm to public health and air quality.

Specifically, it has been established by the gas industry associations and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Natural Gas Star program, that electric compressors, gas capture technology, and limiting production tank emissions are now the best practices for protecting air quality during transmission and distribution of natural gas. Columbia Gas is a partner in the EPA’s Natural Gas Star program and should be aware of their own recommendations.

In fact, technology like electric compressors and gas capture methods that eliminate blowdowns of methane during maintenance and inspections can pay for themselves as more methane is shipped to downstream customers. Methane that is now released into the atmosphere during blowdowns could be injected into the intersecting Tennessee and Transco pipelines at the Milford and Easton facilities, respectively, and sold to market. This would generate savings for NiSource within one to three years, depending on the price of methane. Above, you will find links to fact sheets for these technologies from the EPA, produced via industry partnerships.

Commonly, best practice recommendations become codified in EPA regulations once they have been shown to work in the field. This is the case for production tank rules limiting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions to less than four tons per year, about to be enforced in January 2015 . Both Milford and Easton facilities will have waste liquid and condensate tanks that will be required to be fitted with VOC control technology next year. However, NiSource stated to Milford residents in pre-filing meetings that they will not be installing this technology, meaning lost work for union members and more exposure for neighboring families. In fact, there is nothing in their Resources Report submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describing VOC controls. There is also nothing in the Resources Report describing how hazardous waste will be tended, removed, and disposed of from the facilities, a responsibility best handled by trained union labor.

Malibu Schools Highly Contaminated With Toxic PCBs - Classroom Levels Highest in the Nation Independent New Tests Show Need for Broader, More Aggressive Remediation Plan

By Kristin Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), July 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — New testing in Malibu school facilities reveals illegal levels of a toxic compound dramatically higher than previously reported--as much as 7400 times higher than legal limits and the highest known results for a classroom in the U.S. -- according to a document submitted today by Malibu Unites and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The groups are calling upon the EPA to reject Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s plan to leave polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found inside the schools in place for up to 15 years.

For months, teachers at Malibu Middle and High Schools and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School have raised concerns to the District about toxic contamination on campus, citing multiple cases of thyroid cancer and a dozen cases of thyroid disease. Others complain of rashes, migraines, hair loss and other health effects they believe stem from their work environment. PCBs are classified as a group 1 carcinogen and are linked with serious health effects even at low levels, such as lower IQ and autism.

A National Call To Link Arms For Detroit

By Ben Ptashnik and Victoria Collier - The Progressive, July 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’
No, no baby, this ain’t livin’
No, no, no, no

–Marvin Gaye, “Inner City Blues”

On July 18 thousands of activists and dozens of organizations will converge on downtown Detroit to protest the privatization of the city’s assets and the disconnection of water to tens of thousands of low-income residents. The UN has called the shutoff a human rights violation.  Demonstrators from around the country will rally in Hart Plaza at 1 pm, linking arms with the citizens of Detroit to protest the hostile corporate takeover by Wall Street banks and their ALEC-led political allies in the Michigan Statehouse, including Governor Rick Snyder.

July 18 marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr that Detroit must file for bankruptcy—a decision that County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina immediately ruled violates the Michigan Constitution and state law and must be withdrawn. “I have some very serious concerns because there was this rush to bankruptcy court that didn’t have to occur and shouldn’t have occurred,” Aquilina stated.  Orr and Snyder managed to circumvent her ruling, and the bankruptcy proceeded. The next few months will determine how successful they will be.

On July 4 the activist community of Detroit put out this call to action:

“We call on activists everywhere to come to Detroit on Friday, July 18th, for a rally and march to fight the dictatorship of emergency manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by millionaire Republican Governor Rick Snyder, and backed by Wall Street bankers and the 1 percent.  Under a state-imposed bankruptcy, the City of Detroit workers face severe cuts to their pensions and tens of thousand people face water shut-offs.

“The banks, which have destroyed Detroit’s neighborhoods through racist predatory sub-prime mortgages and saddled the city of Detroit with fraudulent financing, continue to loot the people of Detroit.

Detroiters have lost their democratic rights – ‘elected’ officials serve at the pleasure of the unelected Emergency Manager – and may be fired at any time.”

– Detroit Moratorium Now and Freedom Fridays Coalition

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