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Is It Time for the AFL and the CIO to Part Ways Again?

By Ruth Needleman - Portside, February 6, 2017

Now more than ever we need a strong united labor movement. We do not, however, have one.

The Trump administration has further deepened the wedge dividing workers by hosting the Building and Construction Trades leaders on January 25, 2017. Trump dangled before their eyes his rejection of an already dead TPP trade deal, and, even more to their liking, a commitment to build pipelines, in particular, the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. 

The AFL-CIO had already disappointed members and allies nationally when Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, came out in support of the pipelines during the massive protests organized by indigenous nations at Standing Rock. Trumka pointed to jobs. But what kind of jobs and for whom and at what cost? There are jobs and then there are jobs with justice.  Temporary construction jobs on the pipelines for the building trades would come at the expense of clean water, land, environmental and indigenous rights.

Nonetheless, Sean McGarvey, president of the North American Building Trades, called the pipeline jobs “an economic lifeline.” In a letter to President Trumka, dated September 14, 2016,  McGarvey referred to the Standing Rock protestors as “environmental extremists,” and “professional agitators.” He denounced the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), National Nurses United (NNU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) for their support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. He claimed that building trades members “have been subjected to intimidation, vandalism, confrontation, and violence.”

His insulting tirade went on to say, “Now, rather unfortunately but I suppose not surprisingly, it seems the same outdated lowest common denominator group of so-called labor organizations has once again seen fit to demean and call for the termination of thousands of union construction jobs…I fear that this has once again hastened a very real split within the labor movement.” Further on he added, “It is both offensive and inappropriate for them as General Presidents to be so narrow minded, disregard facts, dismiss and disparage careers in the Building Trades, support lawlessness and violence at the workplace, and jump to the beckon call of outside interests and politicians at the expense of AFL-CIO members.”(sic)

Now the Trades are embracing Trump; “We have a common bond with the president,” according to McGarvey.  Terry O’Sullivan of the Laborers International, a dinosaur on climate issues and environmental concerns, stressed Trump’s “remarkable courtesy and the commitment to creating hundreds of thousands of working-class jobs.” Union Participants described their meeting with Trump as “incredible.”

McGarvey’s “all-out verbal assault and slanders directed at me and other union leaders,” answered APWU president Mark Dimondstein, “will not go unanswered. First, I do not answer to Brother McGarvey, nor seek his permission for the views of the APWU,” Dimondstein stressed. “Nor will I be intimidated by him and his innuendos and insults.”

Also responding to the ideas promoted by the Trades were over 3 million women who protested against Trump and many against the pipeline. The immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ activists and Indigenous nations who stand to lose so much are the heart of the US working class and labor movement. The ever-shrinking labor unions, down again in 2016 to 10.7% of the workforce, (only 6.4% of the private sector) cannot afford to turn their back on members and allies, thereby surrendering to right-to-work, frozen minimum wages, lost access to health care, all in exchange for pipeline jobs.

The problem with these Trades misleaders is their narrow self-interested philosophy and practice of looking out only for themselves and their willingness to throw other workers under the bus.  Bill Fletcher, Jr, journalist and black labor activist, compared the collaboration of these Trades’ leaders with Trump to the Vichy government’s collusion with Hitler in France during World War II. A harsh but sadly accurate comparison.

US railroads demand concessions from 145,000 workers

By Jeff Lusanne - World Socialist Web Site, December 31, 2016

Major US freight railroads terminated long drawn-out contract negotiations with rail unions last month and invoked provisions for federal mediation. The railroads leading the contract talks are demanding that workers pay more for health care, accept minimal raises and agree to new concessions on working conditions.

The contract negotiation covers 145,000 employees in 11 unions, the largest of which are the United Transportation Union (UTU/SMART), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED). Representatives from most of the largest US railroads—Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, and CSX—form the National Carrier’s Conference Committee (NCCC), which carries out the negotiations. Additional railroads and employees are covered or influenced by the contract, which sets the standard for the industry.

Negotiations began two years ago and agreements expired on December 31, 2015, but rail workers continue to labor under the previous contract. The railroads appear to be biding their time until the Trump administration takes office, a factor they apparently see working to their advantage.

Typical of railroad management’s attitude is a December 15 statement that declares, “Now is not the time for excessive demands. Railroad employees are among the most highly compensated in the nation.” That leads to a link describing compensation that is full of misleading data. That wages surpassed the inflation rate in the last 10 years is presented as an outrage. The wages that the railroad bosses decry often come from working far more than 40 hours a week, in potentially extreme circumstances.

Most egregious, perhaps, is the bulleted statement claiming that workers enjoy “11 national holidays and three weeks of vacation each year.” Railroads operate on nearly every major national holiday, and have strict “absenteeism” policies that penalize what they consider excessive time off. Notoriously, there is no schedule for operating employees, and they often work 12-hour shifts, longer if travel time is included, and are frequently away from home. A common challenge faced by many railroad workers is being forced to miss family events, holidays, and even funerals.

Presently, employees pay at least $229 a month for health coverage, but the railroads are insisting that this is “below average” and must rise. The BMWED notes that it offered “savings” in health care that do not cost any railway worker or the railroads any money, raising the question of whether the unions are proposing lower-quality health plans for workers. Nevertheless, the railroads rejected that proposal.

The railroads have welcomed the intervention of the National Mediation Board, a federal agency that coordinates labor-management relations. Its three members consist of two Democrats and one Republican, and membership will likely change with the new administration.

The Railway Labor Act of 1926 was designed to prevent any possibility of a railroad strike. Whenever the mediation board declares an impasse in the negotiations—which could take months or even years—a 30-day cooling off period begins, during which negotiations continue. After that period, railroads could lock out employees, or unions could call a strike, unless the president authorizes a Presidential Emergency Board. The unions, tied to the Democratic Party, entirely accept this framework, so that even as negotiations have progressed, railroads have been able to impose cuts without opposition.

For their part, the major railroad unions are concerned that the huge concessions demanded by railroads could spark a rebellion by workers. Dennis Pierce, the national president of the BLET, writes that “the level of concessions that were demanded on our health and welfare benefits [are] way beyond anything rail unions have seen in decades” and that the low wage increases would not even cover increased health care costs.

The rail unions have overseen decades of concessions and a dramatic drop in railroad employment (from 1.5 million in 1947 to less than 250,000 today.) The two crewmembers in the cab of a freight train are split between two unions, the BLET and the UTU/SMART, which have a history of working with the railroads to gain an edge by offering concessions.

In 1994, the BLET asked engineers to cross the UTU (conductors) picket line at Soo Line railroad. Some 98 percent of the engineers refused to do so.

Unions stand at Standing Rock

By staff - NW Labor Press, December 14, 2016

The standoff at North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Reservation — with Indian tribes and supporters on one side, and police and private security for the Dakota Access Pipeline on the other – also finds labor union members on both sides.

North America’s Building Trades Unions and the AFL-CIO have come out in favor of the project moving forward, because it’s a big source of union jobs. But other labor organizations have declared support for pipeline protesters, and in Oregon and Washington, a number of union members have traveled to Standing Rock to take part in the massive protest encampment — a nonviolent uprising that has united Indian tribes nationwide.

Roben White — a retired union painter and former president of Painters Local 10 — is one of them. White is of mixed Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne ancestry on his father’s side, and he’s an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He’s also a staunch unionist who says he was pained to see unions take a stand he disagrees with.

The Standing Rock Sioux object to the pipeline chiefly because of the potential risk to their water supply. When complete, the Dakota Access Pipeline would pump 470,000 barrels a day of light crude oil through a 30-inch-wide, 1,172-mile-long pipeline from the Bakken Oil Fields of northwestern North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to refining facilities in Illinois. The pipeline’s route was originally supposed to cross the Missouri River just upstream from Bismarck, North Dakota, but because of concerns that an oil spill could wreck the city’s water supply, the route was changed to cross just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The pipeline would cross half a mile north of the reservation, 92 feet underneath the Standing Rock Sioux water supply — Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a Missouri River dam.

To protest that course, in April, members of the tribe established a “spiritual camp” on Army Corps of Engineers land along the banks of the Missouri river. By August, it had become the largest gathering of Native American tribes in more than a century. With protesters attempting to stop construction, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency Aug. 19. Private security contractors, joined by police reinforcements from six states, deployed in armored personnel carriers, and used rubber bullets, tear gas grenades, pepper spray, and sound cannons against unarmed protesters. On Sept. 3, security guards attacked nonviolent protesters with pepper mace and dogs.

Then on Sept. 9, Department of Justice, Department of the Interior and Department of the Army asked that the pipeline company voluntarily halt construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, after a federal judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for a temporary injunction.

Shortly after that, national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka weighed in with an official statement on the pipeline: “The AFL-CIO supports pipeline construction as part of a comprehensive energy policy,” he declared Sept. 15. “Pipeline construction and maintenance provides quality jobs to tens of thousands of skilled workers,” Trumka said. Community involvement is important, Trumka said, particularly in situations involving places of significance to Native Americans, but, he added, “once these processes have been completed, it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay.… Furthermore, trying to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved.”

Reacting to Trumka’s statement, White, the former Painters Local 10 president, picketed with half a dozen other local unionists outside the Sept. 23 annual awards banquet of the AFL-CIO’s Southwest Washington Labor Roundtable.

“I’m all labor. I live and breathe it,” White said. “I’m not questioning the fact that they want those jobs. I made my living in the building trades too. But there is a point that we need to take responsibility. … How ‘bout fixing the pipelines that are busting all over the place? How ‘bout changing the infrastructure so we don’t have to use so much oil and gas?”

For the Standing Rock tribe, protest banners say, “water is life.” But for many union construction workers, pipelines are how they earn their living. After the federal agencies requested a halt to construction, five national union presidents wrote to President Obama. “The [Dakota Access pipeline] project is being built with an all-union workforce and workers are earning family-sustaining wages, with family health care and retirement contributions,” wrote the presidents of Operating Engineers, Electrical Workers, Teamsters, United Association and Laborers. “However, the project delays are already putting members out of work and causing hardships for thousands of families.”

The pipeline is providing work for an estimated 4,500 members of building trades unions.

But a number of labor organizations not directly involved with the project issued statements supportive of the protests, including Amalgamated Transit Union, American Postal Workers Union, Communications Workers of America, National Nurses United, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

‘An injury to one is an injury to all’

By Angela K. Evans - Boulder Weekly, December 1, 2016

Since July, thousands of people have joined the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota as they protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which is slated to carry up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil every day for 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. The protesters, who call themselves “water protecters,” have been joined by members of other Native American tribes, environmentalists, international sympathizers and members of several labor unions.

Liam Cain, a card-carrying member of Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, first traveled to North Dakota after he heard that large trade unions such as LIUNA and AFL-CIO called on the governor of North Dakota to protect union members working on the pipeline by sending in the National Guard.

“If anyone knows anything about the labor movement or labor history, they know it’s a deeply hypocritical and soulless thing for them to do. It aligns them as the junior partners in capitalism and divorces them from whatever was good with the labor movement in terms of the working-class and fighting for the working-class population. …

“This is actually a union I’m a part of,” he continues. “I may have philosophical disagreements with people who are in this union but this isn’t a philosophical disagreement. This is a soulless, disgusting thing that the International [Union] signed off on and the rank and file is not all on board with.”

Originally from Humboldt County, California, Cain first joined LIUNA in 2008 to work on a major pipeline being built through Cheyenne, and he has worked on several mainline pipeline construction projects since. Lately, he’s spent more of his time fighting wildfires around the country but still picks up jobs on pipelines during the off season.

In North Dakota, Cain joined up with the Labor for Standing Rock delegation, a group of workers in a variety of unions who have traveled to Standing Rock to show their solidarity with the Native Americans and environmentalists protesting the pipeline.

San Diego Labor Opposes Dakota Access Pipeline

By Jim Miller - OB Rag, December 12, 2016

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the heroic struggle against it have ignited a big battle inside of American labor. Earlier this fall an excellent article in Common Dreams outlined the split over DAPL at the national level with key trades unions and AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka backing the pipeline and criticizing the protests while other large national unions were issuing statements supporting the Standing Rock resistance.

Here in California and elsewhere, Trumka’s letter in support of the pipeline received strong condemnation.

For instance, a response to it that I penned as chair of the California Federation of Teachers Climate Justice Task Force challenges the AFL-CIO leader in the strongest possible terms:

“In sum, your statement is factually inaccurate, morally suspect, politically inept, and does not stand for the values that should guide a progressive union movement worth being a part of in an era of stark threats to the future of our children.”

I have yet to receive a response.

Labor can't sit out the fight at Standing Rock

Cliff Willmeng interviewed by Sean Petty - Socialist Worker, November 28, 2016

THE STRUGGLE to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota has become a lightning rod in the concurrent struggle for Indigenous self-determination, to protect the basic water supply for a huge section of the country and to stop climate change. How did you get involved?

SELF-DETERMINATION is a position that cannot coexist within capitalism, since the 1 Percent could never survive an actual democracy.

This is harmful enough at the workplace where the dominant decision-making comes from the CEOs and upper management, instead of those of us actually performing the work. As it's applied to decision-making over the environment, the disenfranchisement of people becomes even more critical. First Nations, of course, have known this for many centuries through the genocide of Western expansion, and the same patterns exist today.

Where I live, my own community and many others attempted to move against the dominance of the fossil fuel industry by enacting local bans or moratoriums on oil and gas drilling in 2012 and 2013.

It resulted in near immediate lawsuits against the communities by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on the basis that we did not have the authority to stop drilling, since that was in the possession of the state. One lawsuit was even joined by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who, along with the rest of the two parties, don't believe communities should have superior legal power to corporations.

This is playing out very directly and in the harshest sense against Native Americans in Standing Rock. What they have always known--and what more people are waking up to--is the fact that environmental sustainability is illegal under the American system of law.

THIS STRUGGLE in particular and the effort to stop climate change more generally were completely absent from the presidential debates. Why do you think that is?

IF CLIMATE change is addressed at all, the topic is couched in a set of superficial talking points. The reason is that the dominant forces of the U.S. military and economic system are permanently wedded to fossil fuels. So it doesn't matter if the application is fertilizer and industrial agriculture under Monsanto or war efforts.

The two political parties agree that nothing substantial can be done, or should be done, to address climate change. To do so would threaten their very existence.

AS A former union carpenter and current union nurse, what has been the role of unions in this struggle?

THE UNION leadership has centered itself upon a strategy of integrating the rank and file with management, the Democratic Party and Wall Street, which has meant the widespread demobilization of the membership over the prior 40 years.

This strategy, which some call "business unionism" and some call the "team concept," is based on cooperation with the owners, and has been so successful that unions are at a historic low in membership and strength. The strategy is dependent on removing any leadership role for working people at the workplace or the wider political process of the country. It means elevated positions for union leaders and a diminishing share of crumbs for the workers.

This has led people like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to serve as the mouthpiece of the bosses for some time, most recently through his endorsement of Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access Pipeline. Thankfully, this extreme position has opened up a debate within organized labor itself, with many unions and rank-and-file members directly opposing the position of the AFL-CIO leadership.

IT SEEMS like the naked business union strategy within the energy and building trades unions is a key factor in providing political cover for the fossil fuel industry. Can you talk more specifically about the potential for organizing resistance against this strategy?

ANY REAL opposition to the fossil fuel industry is going to have to be led by the rank and file. There is the potential or likelihood that union leadership may be pulled in to assist that fight, but the people to lead it have to be the workers ourselves.

Within the fight against the fossil fuel industry, there is the potential for a new debate on the role of working people in forming our world and constructing a planet that is free of fossil-fuel use. This is already taking place in the ranks of the building trades, and those efforts will be opposed by the union leadership for reasons we've already discussed.

The fact is that we can create the best, safest and fullest employment in the process of a just transition from fossil fuels and the repairing of our infrastructure and environment. Where the building trade workers fight for this transition, they will need the support of all workers, and not in only the symbolic sense.

WHAT DO you see as the next steps for building union support?

THERE IS both a lot of work to do and an enormous potential. The vacuum left by the disastrous and weak strategy of business unionism can be filled by a new mobilization of working people to transform our world and our unions.

The first steps will be through bringing the fight and direct action of Standing Rock to our locals and union bodies, and through the education and mobilization of the rank and file. This work will be depend on building through groups like Labor For Standing Rock and a growing coalition of workers ready to lead.

We can join the fight led by the courageous First Nations at Standing Rock and defeat this pipeline. The moment we commit ourselves and unions to that clear goal, an entire world of possibility opens up. It could mean a new power for working people across the country and a powerful alliance of union labor with the frontline fighters ready to build a sustainable world.

Don't sit this one out. It is a true game-changer for us all.

Trump, Sunk Cost Fallacies, and the Next Labor Movement

By David Rolf - On Labor, November 16, 2016

David Rolf has led some of the largest union organizing campaigns since the 1940s. He is President of SEIU 775, The Workers Lab, Working Washington, and the Fair Work Center; International Vice President of SEIU; and the author of “The Fight for Fifteen” (New Press, 2016). Views expressed here are his own.

This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.

If one were able to magically scrub the embedded racism, misogyny and xenophobia from Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” one might conjure up an image of unionized America circa 1946-1976: high wages, high employment, stable jobs, good benefits; expanding investments in infrastructure, education, and home ownership; a growing economy that lifted all boats and created more middle class wealth than in any era before or since. “Solidarity Forever,” we would sing, to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, “for the Union makes us strong.”

But although Donald Trump spent precious few words on labor law and labor policy during his campaign, it’s fair to expect that single-party Republican control of all three branches of the federal government will bring only bad news for America’s already-fading unions.

Between now and at least 2021, the best scenario that union leaders can reasonably hope for from the Federal government includes hostile appointments to the NLRB, the DOL, and the judiciary; a rolling-back of progressive Obama-era efforts to modernize both NLRB election procedure and DOL overtime rules; the use of regulation, budget-writing, procurement, and other government powers to chip away around the edges of prevailing wages, wage and hour protections, workplace safety, and nondiscrimination; total or partial repeal of Obamacare; and some short-term job creation if the President-elect is successful in passing an infrastructure package and renegotiating trade agreements on more favorable terms (and assuming he is simultaneously unsuccessful in deporting 11 million wage-earners and triggering a depression by doing so).

A worse but equally likely scenario is a continued and concerted national campaign to weaken and shrink unions themselves. More right to work laws. The return of Friedrichs and its ilk. Continued assaults on public employee unions in the two-thirds of state houses controlled by conservatives. And legal challenges to the notion of exclusive representation itself, brought by adherents of previously obscure and cultish legal theories.

A handful of union leaders in the construction, carbon emissions, and law enforcement sectors may choose to align themselves with the incoming administration in hopes of harvesting a few favors or a few jobs for union members.

A far greater number of union leaders will justifiably and eloquently rail against the new order and pledge renewed collaboration with progressive allies, but with increasingly small and besieged audiences of union members left to listen. Wagons will be circled. Drawbridges will be raised. Poorly thought out union mergers will be negotiated and inked, primarily to protect union staff and officers from declining budgets. We will once again be called to stand with mainly uninspiring Democrats (and a few inspiring ones) in the 2018 and 2020 elections, each of which we will call “the most important election of our lifetime.” Meanwhile our numbers will continue to shrink and our power continue to wane.

Rank-and-File Union Members Join Standing Rock Camp, As Crackdown on Opponents of Pipeline Escalates

By Micheal Letwin and Cliff Willmeng - Labor for Standing Rock, October 27, 2016

Editor's note: IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus cofounder, Steve Ongerth, is also a cofounder of Labor for Standing Rock.

On Saturday, October 29 at 10 AM, union members and supporters are assembling at Standing Rock Union Camp, north of Cannonball, North Dakota. Despite escalating police violence and AFL-CIO leadership support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, pipeline, a delegation of union members from around the U.S. are, at this moment, assembling with signs and banners for a labor procession at Standing Rock camp to join Sioux Water Protectors against Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL.) The procession will be followed by a lunchtime organizing meeting, and by afternoon outreach to pipeline workers, by a delegation from Labor For Standing Rock, comprised of rank-and-file union members and working people.

This effort is being spearheaded by Labor for Standing Rock co-founders Michael Letwin and Cliff Willmeng. Letwin, a former President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325 in New York City, and Co-Convener of Labor for Palestine, whose online petition in opposition to DAPL has garnered more than 12,000 signers and helped lay the basis for Labor for Standing Rock. In 1973, at age sixteen, he and others were by the Nixon-era FBI under the Rap Brown Act for participating in a relief caravan to the American Indian Movement occupation at Wounded Knee. Willmeng is a registered nurse with UFCW Local 7, and former member of United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 1 in Chicago. He is a leader in Colorado fight against fracking, a rank-and-file labor activist and organizer for the Colorado Community Rights Amendment. Cliff’s work against the oil and gas industry made national headlines when Lafayette, Colorado banned fracking in 2013. He and his daughter Sasha delivered water tanks to Standing Rock Camp after authorities removed the water supply in August.

Labor For Standing Rock was created by rank-and-file workers and union members to mobilize growing labor support for the First Nation's fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The response from working people around the country has been nothing short of staggering. It is clear that the labor movement is no longer content to sit aside while Native American sovereignty is violated, and while land and water are risked. No oil company profits are more important than our rights and environment.

"As a healthcare provider, as a father of two, and as a union member I will be heading up to Standing Rock, said Cliff Willmeng, union member and a co-founder of Labor for Standing Rock. "We will be supporting the First Nations fight against the Dakota access pipeline, to protect the environment for my kids, and as a rejection of the decision of the AFL-CIO support the pipeline."

"Workers' rights are inseparable from indigenous rights, said Michael Letwin, union member and a co-founder of Labor for Standing Rock. "We need decent union jobs that protect, rather than destroy, the Earth -- there are no jobs on a dead planet."

"We at Oceti Sakowin Camp welcome any and all support from our Union brothers and sisters," said Standing Rock Council in an October 13 message to Labor for Standing Rock. "This camp stands to protect our sacred water and support a new energy paradigm, jobs and work in green energy fields. We welcome your support in any ways you feel appropriate, join us in paving a new road to a sustainable future for many future generations."

Labor for Standing Rock and Union Camp are being hosted by Red Warrior Camp, which is made up of Dakota and Lakota people residing within the original Sacred Stone spirit camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

‘Get A Life’: Clinton Bashed Anti-Fracking Activists During Private Labor Meeting

By Kevin Gosztola - Shadow Proof, October 15, 2016

At a private meeting with the Building Trades Council, Hillary Clinton bashed environmentalists who oppose natural gas fracking and insist the United States must keep all fossil fuels in the ground. She said these environmentalists need to “get a life.”

A transcript of a part of the meeting, which took place on September 9, 2015, was published by WikiLeaks. It was attached to an email from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s account, which he claims was hacked.

Clinton met with the Building Trades Council, which is part of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). She sought their endorsement, however, she wanted to be clear about what she was willing to support in the way of new pipeline construction. The labor organization is very pro-pipeline because its members work on pipelines.

“Bernie Sanders is getting lots of support from the most radical environmentalists because he’s out there every day bashing the Keystone pipeline,” Clinton stated. “And, you know, I’m not into it for that.”

“My view is I want to defend natural gas. I want to defend repairing and building the pipelines we need to fuel our economy. I want to defend fracking under the right circumstances,” Clinton added. She made it clear she was willing to defend new, modern energy sources.

Then, on environmentalists, Clinton shared, “I’m already at odds with the most organized and wildest. They come to my rallies and they yell at me and, you know, all the rest of it. They say, ‘Will you promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again?’ No. I won’t promise that. Get a life, you know.”

The Standing Rock Split

By Trish Kahle - Jacobin, October 19, 2016

The leadership of the AFL-CIO seems determined to meet the indigenous rebellion at Standing Rock with the most parochial view of trade unionism it can muster.

After Sean McGarvey, president of the building trades, sent a letter declaring those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline “environmental extremists” and “professional agitators,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka quickly followed up with a statement defending the pipeline and lashing out at protesters for “hold[ing] union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay.” Trying to block each new pipeline, he concluded, was neither an “effective” way to set climate policy nor fair to the workers caught in the middle.

In doing so, Trumka and his ilk have advanced a jobs-versus-planet trope that, however common, is a manufactured falsehood. Accepting his and the building trades’ argument that pipeline construction “provides quality jobs to tens of thousands of skilled workers” prevents us from asking key questions not just about climate change, but about the wellbeing of those skilled workers: how long will these workers be employed? How safe will their workplaces be? What kinds of communities will they live in? And how will their work impact their long-term health?

Construction work is, by its very nature, temporary. On this basis, LiUNA president Terry O’Sullivan has stridently criticized people who have questioned the sustainability of pipeline construction as an employment source. “In our business we go from one temporary job to another temporary job,” O’Sullivan explained last year at an American Petroleum Institute event, “and we string enough temporary jobs together and build proud structures as we do it to create a career.”

But oil pipeline work is its own kind of temporary. Even if we wanted to dredge up every drop of oil from the earth, even if we wanted to build every pipeline possible — and we can’t do either one — an unsustainable industry can’t produce sustainable, lasting careers. And in the meantime, each new method of extraction and transportation introduces new forms of accidents and new fatal risks. Heeding O’Sullivan’s call for unabated pipeline construction would mean continuing to sacrifice workers’ lives on the altar of the fossil-fuel industry.

You wouldn’t know it from O’Sullivan’s histrionic statements, but the volatile compounds workers dig up and ship are far more dangerous than any anti-pipeline protest. Workers in the building trades are nearly three times more likely to die on the job than the average American worker — and that figure is on the rise. In 2014, 874 construction workers were killed on the job — a 5.6 percent increase over the previous year, and the highest number since 2008. Extractive industries are even more lethal: workers in that sector die nearly five times more often than other workers.

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