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Center for Biological Diversity Recognizes Employee Union After Card Check: Workers For Biological Diversity Joins Communications Workers of America

By Beth Allen, Communications Workers of America, Ross Middlemiss, Workers for Biological Diversity, and Jean Su, Center for Biological Diversity - Center for Biological Diversity, August 6, 2021

The Center for Biological Diversity recognized its new employee union today following a union card count showing that 68% of the eligible workers support joining the union.

Workers at the national conservation organization announced the formation of Workers for Biological Diversity/CWA in mid-June, in partnership with Communications Workers of America Local 9415. Center leadership pledged to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of workers signed cards supporting union membership.

The new union includes paralegals and lawyers, organizers, media specialists, scientists, membership, development and IT staff. Today’s count was verified by Elizabeth Bunn, national policy director at the Labor Network for Sustainability.

“Joining the labor movement makes the Center for Biological Diversity an even stronger advocate for threatened communities, wildlife and wild places. At this pivotal moment for our planet, we’re standing with workers against big polluters and other powerful interests,” the Workers for Biological Diversity Organizing Committee said. “We’re stronger when we band together. And we want to thank our partners at the Communications Workers of America for helping us elevate and amplify our work.”

“Since the Center’s beginning, we’ve stood alongside the labor movement to fight pollution, dangerous working conditions and corporate attacks on the environment, human health and the climate,” said Jean Su, a member of the Center’s Executive Conservation Team. “Such collaboration is more important than ever as we face a climate emergency and the need to shift from a dirty economy to one with good-paying, unionized renewable energy jobs. We support and empower every person who works at the Center, and we look forward to partnering with Workers for Biological Diversity as we continue this vital work for all people and the planet.”

The Center’s new union is part of a growing unionization trend among workers at environmental and other nonprofit organizations, including the Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, 350.org, Defenders of Wildlife, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We are very pleased to welcome these new members to CWA Local 9415,” said Decovan “Coby” Rhem, president of CWA Local 9415. “As a local union that has long worked to join our movement with those working in progressive nonprofits to create systemic changes, we see the Workers for Biological Diversity/CWA as an important addition to our CWA family, in particularly strengthening our commitment to supporting the work of environmental justice and to oppose climate change.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is based in Tucson, Ariz. and has offices throughout the country and in Mexico. Its conservation programs include Endangered Species, Environmental Health, Oceans, Public Lands, Carnivore Conservation, Urban Wildlands, Population and Sustainability, International, Energy Justice, Environmental Equity and Justice, Government Affairs and the Climate Law Institute.

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) and the KFTC staff union agree on first union contract

By KFTC Staff - Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, July 19, 2021

After the announcement of the KFTC staff union’s formation in October 2019, and recognition by KFTC’s Steering Committee, we took the bold step of building an initial contract through Interest Based Bargaining (IBB). This process – usually used for contract renewal –involves two sides coming together to find and negotiate around shared interests, instead of the more traditional confrontational method. We felt that this democratic and collaborative model fit best with KFTC’s values.

It also took considerably more time, especially done during the COVID 19 pandemic. After 18 months and over 40 virtual meetings between teams from management and the staff union, as well as federal mediators, we are proud of the contract we created. Not least because our mediators believe that we have the very first initial contract agreed to by IBB!

The contract, approved by the Steering Committee and Staff Union on May 13, is an expression of our shared commitment to the value and rights of KFTC staff, and of all working people. Highlights include:

  • Increasing funding for professional development leave
  • Raising our base hourly rate to $15 (from $14.53) and raising our base salary by $1,000 annually (to $37,030)
  • Doubling our compensation time available for employees to bank when they work overtime, and doubling the amount of comp time available for use per week
  • Adding Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a paid holiday and making Juneteenth a paid holiday, replacing the day after Thanksgiving
  • Expanding the definition of family in several clauses, including for bereavement leave and family leave
  • Tripling our existing parental leave policy to 60 days, while preserving other available family leave
  • Establishing how coaching, progressive discipline, and termination will be handled, as well as a clear process for addressing grievances
  • Establishing a Labor Management Committee to engage workers, management, and member leaders in an ongoing conversation to strengthen our bonds and our work to transform Kentucky
  • Agreeing that if the organization revives the Organizing Apprentice Program in the future, KFTC management will consult with union members about it first through the Labor Management Committee. 
  • Maintaining our fantastic, current health insurance plan through the life of the contract, which runs through November 2022

KFTC and the KFTC Staff Union are committed to the transformative, grassroots mission that is possible through a unique organization like ours. KFTC has been building power as a democratic, member-led body for 40 years, with a staff that has grown along with us. With this contract, we pave the way for strengthened collaboration between members and all levels of staff. 

From all of us at KFTC – we hope you will join us in celebrating this milestone, and join us as we push for new power and a new Kentucky where all of us can thrive. Let’s organize!

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Vote on Union

By Arbaz M Khan - Industrial Worker, July 14, 2021

Update: According to OVEC, a majority of workers voted to certify the union!

Recently, the fight for a union at Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition shifted gears from collective direct action to the ballot box, as workers voted on whether or not to certify their union, which is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World. Following almost five months of demanding that management voluntarily recognize their union — which included a one-day strike on Earth Day, April 22 — workers at the nonprofit organization finished casting votes in a union election managed by the National Labor Relations Board on July 9. 

Workers at OVEC publicly announced their intention to unionize in March. Besides voluntary recognition from management, their demands included a standardized pay scale, equitable discipline policy and the right to union representation at any meeting where matters affecting pay, hours, benefits, advancement or layoffs are discussed. Voluntary recognition would entail management agreeing to negotiate with the union, but OVEC’s board of directors have thus far withheld it — instead suspending, then terminating, OVEC’s former director of organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, allegedly for his involvement in the union. 

“I was fired less than two weeks after my third child was born — and management knew,” says Muckian-Bates. “I don’t think they cared about how their actions affected me or my family. I sent management a picture of my son and demanded some humanity from them — anything at all — but they refused and haven’t been in contact with me since.”

OVEC workers’ Earth Day strike was spurred in part by Muckian-Bates’ dismissal. Despite the reprisal from management, he remains a staunch supporter of the union and looks forward to the election results.

“My commitment to the OVEC Union has not waned,” he says. “I’ve been inspired by the work that my fellow workers do everyday and how they’ve stuck it out despite the retaliations. They’re truly some of the best organizers I’ve met, and it’s a level of commitment you don’t often come across.”

“Management could have recognized the union in March, kept on their current staff levels, and we could have already begun negotiating some of the necessary changes we think are needed to keep OVEC going,” he continues. “But we know that we’ll win the election, and we want management to be ready to negotiate with us fairly and in good faith once that’s done.”

Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Stand Firm Despite Management Offensive

By staff - IWW, June 14, 2021

HUNTINGTON, WV — While public concern for urgent action on the environment remains high, one of West Virginia’s most prestigious environmental organizations, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), is poised to miss crucial organizing opportunities this summer as it enters into the fourth month of a brutal dispute over their employee’s right to unionize.

In March 2021, workers of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition organized with majority support as the OVEC Union (OVECU) under the IWW, requesting voluntary recognition.

Despite majority support among the members of OVEC’s Board of Directors for a positive and good faith engagement with staff, the organization has chosen to fight tooth and nail. With Mike Sullivan at the helm of the Board, and Tonya Adkins & Vivian Stockman in Co-Direction, OVEC has chosen to effectively whittle down its capacity to organize as it suspends, fires, and threatens its staff into submission.

Upon learning of the union drive, OVEC management immediately launched an internal hunt for instigators, placing their Director of Organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, on suspension. While the organization claimed that Brendan was a supervisor and consequently not entitled to participate in union activity, OVEC was unable to convince the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which ruled that Brendan was to be included in the bargaining unit at a formal hearing earlier this month.

Upon learning of their loss at the NLRB, OVEC management opted to double down by terminating their Director of Organizing as well as their Project Coordinator, Dustin White. While Brendan’s suspension and termination is bad enough — arriving as it does mere days following the birth of a new child — Dustin’s termination is especially egregious given his unimpeachable credentials in the environmental movement.

Heralding from 11 generations of working class ancestry in the so called “coal fields” of Southern West Virginia, and family ties to the UMWA including a great grandfather who fought at Blair Mountain, Dustin became involved in the environmental movement as a volunteer with OVEC around 2007 before joining the staff in 2012. Dustin has lobbied on both the state and federal levels on numerous issues leading to important legal changes. Recognized with an award by OVEC, Dustin has testified before Congress, conducted ground tours with Congressional representatives, held numerous meetings with state and federal agencies, and worked with the United Nations and Human Rights Watch for reports on the conditions in Appalachia. Having been featured in media locally, nationally, and internationally, including a recent feature in a National Geographic series, just prior to his termination Dustin conducted two tours with German Public Broadcasting and independent filmmakers.

In a move that demonstrates tremendous integrity and honor, non profit organizations working on environmental issues, such as the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action have moved to suspend their partnerships with OVEC, sending a comradely but firm signal that the organization will be welcome back into the fold when it returns to good standing with their employees.

An NLRB election is presently taking place and votes will be counted on July 9.

The IWW stands ready to reduce tensions, and negotiate a lasting agreement with OVEC that will enable them to return to their important work.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s Earth Day Strike

By Cal Colgan - Industrial Worker, May 4, 2021

The nonprofit industry in the U.S. has seen an upswing of organizing drives in the past few years, with a growing number of the industry’s workers viewing unionization as the best way to ensure that the NGOs for which they work live up to their progressive ideals. Few of the mainstream labor unions that are leading this organizing wave, however, have bothered to reach out to nonprofit workers in West Virginia. The staff at a small environmental justice nonprofit are hoping that their example of organizing with the Industrial Workers of the World can inspire other nonprofit workers in the Mountain State. 

Workers at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) staged a one-day strike this past Earth Day, April 22, to demand that their Board of Directors voluntarily recognize their union, known as the OVEC Union. The staff publicly announced their decision to organize with the IWW on March 4. The workers said the backlash they have received from some of OVEC’s board members is what sparked them to strike. 

Dustin White, OVEC’s Project Coordinator, said that the workers’ decision to unionize started as a series of conversations between the workers about the organization’s future.

“We knew that in a few years we may be expanding our staff and we would have a new executive director and, honoring the values we have as an organization, a union seemed like the logical next step in the progress of our organization and work,” he said.

White also noted that West Virginians’ experience with federal and state governments’ attacks on progressive values inspired the OVEC workers to reflect on issues around equity and diversity within their organization.  “A union was the logical next step into creating a stronger OVEC to create an even more equitable workplace than we already had, not just for us, but for any and all new staff.”

The OVEC Union workers said they chose to organize with the West Virginia IWW General Membership Branch both because of the union’s willingness to help them immediately and because of the IWW’s history of organizing some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged workers in the working class.

Lobbying politicians is holding back the climate movement

By Alex James - ROAR Mag, April 13, 2021

In early January, Labour leader Keir Starmer tweeted about his commitment to tackling the climate emergency, sharing an image of him meeting with several climate groups. The screenshot revealed all the Zoom meeting attendees: the Queen’s Council and several other Shadow Cabinet members, alongside figures from all the major wildlife and environmental charities, from Greenpeace to the WWF. The tweet showed a motley crew — a collection of old and pale smiling faces, confident in their ability to tackle the climate crisis.

The tweet was quickly ridiculed. Many from the UK Student Climate Network, the group coordinating climate strikes, pointed out the advanced age of the participants, and contrasted this with the Labor leader’s refusal to meet with the student strikers. Others pointed out the audacity of a meeting on the climate crisis — which is itself a racist crisis enfolding in forms of racialized violence — comprised of only white “climate leaders.” Another point was the exclusion of Labour’s own climate leadership, and the Party’s refusal to include the Labour for a Green New Deal coalition. The charge was clear: these people did not represent the climate movement.

This is a clear reflection of Starmer’s lack of ambition on climate change, and his wider refusal to engage with grassroots groups. As Chris Saltmarsh, co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal, rightly points out, many of these NGOs backed climate targets in 2019 which were embarrassingly small in ambition, effectively excluding serious climate justice concerns. These organisations have repeatedly fallen short on issues of global justice and have been outflanked in mobilization by groups like Extinction Rebellion and the UK Student Climate Network, who take a much more ambitious stance on the need for urgent decarbonization.

Yet against many who responded to the tweet and as someone who has worked and volunteered for several climate NGOs, I am skeptical whether the inclusion of grassroots voices and organizations would be a political improvement for the climate justice movement.

The obsession to engage with elected officials that permeates many organizations — from small to big, new to established NGOs — is detrimental to the political horizon of the climate movement. Instead, the strategic focus should be on the building of alternative institutions of collective power and decision making, outside of the state.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Staff Joins the IWW

By Staff - Industrial Workers of the World, March 16, 2021

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) have recently organized with majority support as the OVEC Union (OVECU) under the IWW. As of March 4, OVECU has submitted a request for voluntary recognition to the OVEC Board of Directors. OVECU is excited to begin the process of negotiating their contract. Their key demands include a standardized pay scale, an equitable discipline policy, and the right to union representation at any meeting wherein matters affecting staff pay, hours, benefits, advancement, or layoffs may be discussed or voted on.

The workers of OVEC decided to unionize to honor their organizational values of empowerment and justice. OVEC’s mission to organize for environmental justice is informed by the belief that Appalachians — and all workers, everywhere — benefit from the right to union representation in their place of employment regardless of current working conditions. OVECU believes it is particularly important for employees to have union support during times of transition with administration, board, and staff, and is eager to move forward collaboratively with members of the board and administration as the 34-year-old organization grows and changes.

“Having a union is a logical next step in supporting our organization as our organization continues to support our communities. Unionizing only strengthens our commitment to the vital work we do at the crossroads of environmental, social, and labor justice,” said OVEC Project Coordinator Dustin White.

OVECU is asking for you to endorse their unionization efforts by calling 304-522-0246 and leaving a message of congratulations and support, or dropping a note at info@ohvec.org.

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Union is committed to protecting and preserving the quality of work conditions for employees of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 16, 2021

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050. Recent high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target? Many recent articles are skeptical, labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo. Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

The environment movement we have, and the one we need

By James Plested - Red Flag, January 3, 2021

The ecological crisis—the disasters of earth, water, air and fire that are afflicting the global environment and the human society that depends on it—is a crisis of capitalism’s making. Karl Marx famously described capital as coming into the world “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. There is no doubt that, just as it came, so too must it go. If we fail, in the coming years and decades, to vanquish the beast of capital that is rapidly degrading Earth’s natural life support systems, it will propel us into a catastrophe that will make the rivers of blood and dirt of capitalism’s first emergence seem like a mere trickle.

Varieties of this apocalyptic vision are shared by many who regard themselves as part of the environment movement. What isn’t widely shared is the identification of capitalism as being the root of the problem. This is a major barrier to winning the radical change we need.

The core, destructive dynamics of capitalism—whether the insatiable drive to short-term profit and the accompanying pressure to minimise costs, the competitive and militarised global scramble for resources or the waste inherent in the chaotic operation of the market—lie at the heart of all the existential environmental challenges we face. As long as we allow our societies to be ruled by these dynamics, we may achieve a little progress here or there, but it won’t be enough to halt the overall slide towards disaster. 

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