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Sierra Club

How to Support Clean Energy and Not Be a Jerk; As the nation turns away from coal, what do we owe coal workers?

By Jonathan Tasini - Sierra, July-August 2015

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.

Michael Phillippi makes $28.50 per hour working as a mechanic at Murray Energy's Monongalia County coal mine in West Virginia. That's almost double what he made as a crane operator before snagging this coveted job four years ago. With healthcare and pension, that figure is close to $60 per hour, all because he's a member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW). That's a hefty paycheck in a state where the minimum wage is $8 per hour and the poverty rate is one of the highest in the nation.

The amiable, broad-shouldered Phillippi brings home more than twice what his wife makes as a teacher's assistant. He puts 10 percent of his paycheck into a 401(k) and invests another chunk in education savings for his three kids. He pays the bills and still has enough left over for a boat and a little camp where his family spends time in the summer. "I know guys making eighteen, twenty thousand," he says. "We had a banker start a few months ago—he was in charge of loans at a bank. He makes more money and has better benefits as a coal miner."

If the mine closed, Phillippi says, he'd have to learn to live off $15 an hour or less. To find a salary comparable to his current job's, he'd have to drive 75 miles north to Pittsburgh. But he probably wouldn't. "I won't move," he says. "I am from here. My family is from here. My grandparents are from here. My wife and her family. This is our community. I want to raise my children here. I plan on dying here. It's the sad truth that the good jobs aren't here."

Phillippi's paycheck also matters to the small businesses he sprinkles money on, like the mom-and-pops he stops at on his 35-minute drive from his home in Morgantown to the mine. Sitting in a small conference room in the UMW regional office in Fairmont, Phillippi points across the table to Mark Dorsey, who worked underground for 34 years before retiring in 2010: "For every hour I work, I'm helping to pay his pension." 

There are hundreds of thousands of Michael Phillippis spread out across the nation, from the coalfields of West Virginia and Kentucky to the more than 500 coal-generating power stations located in virtually every state. These workers now face the loss of their good-paying jobs due to the declining competitiveness of coal compared to other energy sources and new Environmental Protection Agency regulations intended to address air pollution and climate change. 

Those regulations, of course, have clear benefits for Phillippi, Dorsey, and everyone who breathes. Stronger soot standards alone would prevent 35,700 premature deaths per year and 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma. Shifting to renewable energy, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, would create three times as many jobs—although likely not as well paid—as an equivalent investment in fossil fuels. And the value of avoiding catastrophic climate change is incalculable. 

But it won't pay the mortgage. As the coal industry withers, what will happen to Phillippi, Dorsey, and the communities they live in? The classic free market answer: That's life. Economies change, so suck it up. When the car replaced the horse and cart, buggy manufacturers moved on. 

That is not the only answer. Slowly, tentatively, unions and environmentalists are beginning to talk about an entirely different option called Just Transition, a guarantee that the cost of bringing down the curtain on the coal industry will not be paid by coal workers alone, but will be spread across society. It would be a huge undertaking, ideally encompassing the tens of thousands of workers directly employed in coal, from mining to electric-power generation, plus the communities that depend on their spending and taxes.

Press Conference: The True Cost of Chevron Is Too High

Challenging the Industrial Narrative: Railroad workers are increasingly rejecting the old “jobs versus environment” story

By Trish Kahle - Jacobin, April 25, 2015; image by Jon Flanders

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.

On July 6, 2013, the air brakes failed on an unmanned, seventy-four-car train carrying Bakken crude oil, sending the train cascading into the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, where it derailed and exploded. Forty-seven people were killed, and nearly half of the downtown was destroyed in the initial blast. In total, twenty-six thousand gallons of oil spilled into the nearby Chaudière River, and soil around the town was toxic to depths of several feet.

The catastrophe in Lac-Mégantic proved to be only the first in a series of high-profile explosions. Last year, there were thirty-eight derailments across the United States and Canada that caused blasts or tank ruptures. With scenes of toxic black smoke billowing above the nation’s grasslands and residents fleeing in terror, the vehicles at the center of the lethal phenomenon were given a new name: “bomb trains.

Yet rarely did the workers conducting and maintaining the North American rail system enter the conversation. Railroad Workers United (RWU) — a solidarity organization for railroaders across the industry’s dozen or so unions — saw an opportunity to fight for safer working conditions and build alliances with a public that fears further derailments, deaths, and ecological devastation.

One early result of that effort came last month, when the RWU brought railroad workers, environmentalists, and other labor and community activists together for two conferences — one in Richmond, California, the other in Olympia, Washington — to discuss the intersection of labor and environmental justice issues.

The conferences, as organizers readily noted, weren’t necessarily breaking new ground. They drew inspiration from earlier labor-environmental coalitions, which have a rich if overlooked history, particularly in heavy industry.

But even with the guidance the past can provide, workers and environmentalists must live in the present, where a ravaged labor movement has struggled even to win defensive battles and the environmental movement debates its strategy and future. Forging solidarity across traditional divides will be crucial in revivifying the labor movement and fighting climate change.

To that end, I recently interviewed three conference participants — RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow; Sierra Club community organizer Ratha Lai; and Ross Grooters, an Iowa-based locomotive engineer, environmentalist, and RWU member — about the state of the labor-environmental alliance, the working conditions on the nation’s railroads, and their vision for the future. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Report on (Richmond, California) #Railcon15

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, March 15, 2015

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.

More than 120 people attended the Future of Railroads Conference (RailCon15) in Richmond, California, March 14th, organized by Railroad Workers United, with support from local environmental groups and others.

Ron Kaminkow of Railroad Workers United talked about the history of railway worker attempts to build industry wide solidarity and unity, going back to the American Railway Union of Gene Debs in the 1890s. These efforts were stymied by the persistence of the conservative craft unions. The railroads are able to play one craft union off against the other to the detriment of rail workers. Railroad Workers United is an effort to build solidarity and unity of the workers across occupations and unions.

At present operating crews belong to two remaining unions, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and United Transportation Union (mostly derived from the former Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen). BLE is now affiliated to the Teamsters union and UTU recently merged with the Sheet Metal Workers union to form SMART.

When the UTU recently signed a concessionary agreement with Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) in one of its regions, this would have allowed BNSF (owned by Warren Buffett's venture capital firm, Berkshire Hathaway) to go to one-person crews. This would have iced out the engineers union, stabbing them in the back. The RWU organized a "Vote No" campaign among conductors, brakepersons and other UTU members which soundly defeated this destructive proposal by seven to one.

EcoUnionist News #36

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 22, 2015

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 following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

We Just Come to Work Here; We Don't Come to Die:

1267-Watch:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Greenwashing:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All!:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Are U.S. Taxpayer Dollars Supporting Coal Industry Human Rights Violations Overseas?

By Justin Guay and Nicole Ghio; image by Nicole Ghio - The Energy Collective, October 23, 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.

A fact finding team of five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- the Sierra Club, 350.org, Carbon Market Watch, Friends of the Earth U.S. and Pacific Environment -- released a scathing report, The U.S. Export-Import Bank's Dirty Dollars, on the rampant human rights abuses at the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) financed Sasan coal-fired power plant and mine in Singrauli, India.

For years, reports of human rights, indigenous rights, labor, and environmental violations have plagued Sasan and its owner, Indian company Reliance Power, and the U.S. government are partly to blame. The 3,960-megawatt project has received over $900 million in taxpayer finance from Ex-Im, and when allegations against the project are raised, Ex-Im prefers to look the other way.

When Indian groups and NGOs alerted Ex-Im to a smokestack collapse that killed 30 workers, the Bank did nothing. When reports emerged of irregularities with the coal allotments for Sasan, foreshadowing the coal-gate scandal that would envelop then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ex-Im said nothing. Eventually the outrage prompted the Bank to conduct a visit to the project, but while they met with Reliance, the Bank refused to meet in the communities. Instead, they insisted that the affected people who had faced violence at the hands of Reliance -- people without access to reliable transportation -- meet them at a hotel that catered to industrial interests. Shockingly, people were afraid to speak out in such an unsafe venue. But even so, they refused to stay silent for long.

Today's fact finding report contains first-hand accounts from the front line communities Ex-Im attempted to ignore.

What we uncovered in our trips to Sasan was heartbreaking. We heard from villagers whose homes were destroyed in the middle of the night while they were still living in them. We met with indigenous residents whose children were denied entry into schools. And we learned how Reliance covers up injuries -- and even deaths -- at the project.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank’s Dirty Dollars: U.S. tax dollars are supporting human rights, environment, and labor violations at the Sasan Coal-Fired Power Plant and Mine in India

By various - Sierra Club, 350.org, Carbon Market Watch, Pacific Environment, and FOE, October 2014

In January and May 2014, a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Sierra Club, 350.org, Carbon Market Watch, Pacific Environment, and Friends of the Earth U.S. (hereafter referred to as the Fact Finding Team), undertook two field visits to Singrauli, India, to meet with communities affected by Reliance Power’s Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) and its associated mine to assess the project’s effect on local communities and the environment.

Since the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) approved over $900 million in financing for the coal project in October 2010, little information has been provided by the agency about Sasan’s compliance with Ex-Im environmental, social, human rights, and corruption policies. This includes the Bank’s commitments under the Equator Principles1 and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards,2 the agency’s environmental, social, human rights and corruption policies, as well whether or not the project has lived up to the expectations laid out in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) documents for the mine and the power plant. An apparent lack of oversight prompted the NGOs involved in this report to conduct this independent investigation. The Fact Finding Team has uncovered numerous reports of corruption and human rights and labor violations associated with the Sasan coal project, all of which have largely been ignored by the Ex- Im Bank.

Read the report (PDF).

Warren Buffett's Coal Problem : To run his coal trains, the billionaire investor needs to seize land from a bunch of Montana cowboys; That's not going over very well

By Marc Gunther - Sierra, May & June, 2013

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.

It's easy to see why Warren Buffet is called America's most admired investor. The 82-year-old chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has made gobs of money—$53.5 billion, at last count—and has pledged to give away 99 percent of it. Despite his wealth, Buffett is folksy, unpretentious, and grateful for what he describes as his good luck. He lives in the modest Omaha, Nebraska, home that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 and eats at the local Dairy Queen. (He owns the chain.)

Buffett also gets favorable attention—and deservedly so—for Berkshire's large investments in solar power, wind farms, and the Chinese electric car company BYD. When Berkshire's Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company bought a 579-megawatt solar photovoltaic project in California's Antelope Valley in January, the headlines read, "Warren Buffett in $2 Billion Solar Deal" and "Warren Buffett Continues His Solar Buying Spree." So influential is Buffett as an investor that solar stocks surged on the news. MidAmerican's renewable energy unit also owns a 550-megawatt solar project in San Luis Obispo County, California, and a 49 percent stake in a 290-megawatt solar plant in Yuma County, Arizona. Those are among the biggest solar projects in the world.

A subsidiary of MidAmerican, called MidAmerican Energy Company, a regulated utility with customers in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, and Nebraska, has helped build Iowa's thriving wind power industry. Thirty percent of its portfolio is wind-powered generation. "It has been a great and low-key leader," says Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

But Buffett has a problem—a coal problem. In addition to its solar and wind operations, MidAmerican Energy Holdings relies on coal for roughly half of its 18,000-megawatt generating capacity. Buffett's Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railway Company derives a quarter of its $20 billion in annual revenues from transporting coal, and it lobbies aggressively on the industry's behalf. Berkshire Hathaway is one of the very few major U.S. companies that don't disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, and it has opposed shareholders who ask it to do so.

Nowhere is Buffett's green reputation taking more of a beating, though, than in a remote and sparsely populated corner of southeastern Montana. Ranchers, Native Americans, and Amish farmers there are fighting to preserve their livelihoods and landscapes, which are threatened by what, if developed, would be one of the biggest coal strip mines in the West. And shipping all that coal to West Coast ports would be Warren Buffett's BNSF Railway.

Capital Blight: Who’re You Calling “Immigrant”, Pilgrim?

By x344543, May 5, 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.

A recent article on thinkprogress.org details a jingoist anti-immigration group’s efforts to wrap itself in a green cloak and (once again) obfuscate the real cause of environmental destruction. The (inaccurately named) organization in question, “Californians for Population Stabilization” (CAPS) attempted to use Earth Day (April 22) to argue that the primary cause of ecological destruction is immigration (read: an influx of poor brown skinned people from south of the US-Mexican border, naturally).

This tired old dog has been asked to hunt so many times, it’s hard to see how anyone could imagine that it can, but sure as I write these words, there it is.

I’ll admit that this is a bit of a trigger for me. I am, by any standards you could imagine, the descendents of varying strains of white, central European and Mediterranean immigrants of several generations back (five or six in most cases), but my ancestors (Jews, Irish, and Hungarians) suffered greatly at the hands of more dominant empires among those regions, so perhaps it has imbued me with a stronger sense of empathy for the downtrodden peoples in what currently constitutes “America”. I don’t take too kindly to insulting racist propaganda—even if it tries to fly a green flag, and CAPS certainly fits that description.

No Thanks Resistance Festival this Weekend (November 28 - 30) at the Albany Bulb!

By x363464 - November 25, 2013

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.

Come join us for The No Thanks Resistance Festival and three day Camp-out to defend the Albany Bulb from Eviction! See the Flyer for the schedule of events! Schedule updated to the event page tonight!

FB Event Page - http://www.facebook.com/events/405870986212443/

FB Event Page for the No Thanks Anti-Colonial Potluck - http://www.facebook.com/events/547036912048234/

FB Event Page for the Artwalk of Friday and Saturday! - http://www.facebook.com/events/587362084664394/

To help organize, distribute flyers, and or propose a workshop send an email to nothanksresistancefestival [at] gmail.com

Workshop proposals should include if you want to do it on Friday or Saturday, What time between 10 AM and 3 PM, things you need from organizers, and the title of your workshop!

Existing workshops include: Know your rights training - Labor, the Working Class, and Housing - Towards An Ecological General Strike - Tarsands Blockade - Direct Action Training - The IWW EUC, The BLF Green Bans, and Working Class Strategies to Halt Gentrification and Ecological Destruction - ect.

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