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United Electrical Workers (UE)

The Green New Deal: The Current State of Play

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2023

For the past year I have been researching and writing about initiatives around the country to implement the core ideas of the Green New Deal at a community, state, and local level – what I call the “Green New Deal from Below.” I have discovered hundreds of projects, policies, programs, and new laws that embody the principles of the Green New Deal at a sub-national level. But as I begin to tell people about what I am finding, I often get a response that I could paraphrase as “The Green New Deal – isn’t that just last-decade’s fad?” That is often followed with the question, “What’s left of the Green New Deal?” That’s the question I address in this Commentary.

Green New Deal – the Backstory

The Green New Deal is a visionary program to protect the earth’s climate while creating good jobs, reducing injustice, and eliminating poverty. Its core principle is to use the necessity for climate protection as a basis for realizing full employment and social justice. It became an overnight sensation with a 2018 occupation of Nancy Pelosi’s office by the youth climate movement Sunrise supporting a congressional resolution by newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling for a Green New Deal. A poll released December 14, 2018 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 40% of registered voters “strongly support” and 41% “somewhat support” the general concepts behind a Green New Deal.[1]

Soon after the occupation of Pelosi’s office, a wide swath of public interest organizations endorsed the Green New Deal, which also instantly became a prime whipping boy for the Right. Its core ideas were embodied in legislation by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edwin Markey, which divided the Democratic Party into pro- and anti-Green New Deal factions. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden convened a Unity Task Force that included Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the head of Sunrise, which came up with a plan incorporating many elements of the Green New Deal but eschewing the name. Biden called his program Build Back Better, and after the 2020 elections this became the nomenclature of Democratic Party and allied climate, jobs, and justice programs. A broad coalition of organizations called the Green New Deal Network, for example, developed and promoted an extensive legislative program, described on its website as “in line with the Green New Deal vision,” which it dubbed the THRIVE Agenda.[2] Supported by more than 100 members of Congress and 280 organizations, the THRIVE Act was introduced in Congress in the fall of 2020.

Railroads Must Be Brought Under Public Ownership

By General Executive Board - United Electrical Workers, January 30, 2023

Statement of the UE General Executive Board

Railroads are a crucial part of our nation’s infrastructure. Nearly every sector of our economy depends on goods shipped by the railroads, which haul forty percent of all long-distance freight in the U.S., measured by ton-miles. A third of all exports travel by rail. Furthermore, the greater fuel efficiency of using rail to move both people and freight means that moving more of our transportation onto the railroads will be necessary to address the existential threat of climate change.

Yet the private owners of our nation’s Class 1 railroads have shown themselves utterly incapable of facing the challenge of the climate crisis, dealing fairly with their own workers, or even meeting the most basic needs of their customers. The railroad companies cannot even be said to be in the business of moving freight; they are merely in the business of using their monopoly control over the nation’s rail infrastructure to squeeze as much profit as possible from customers and workers at the behest of their Wall Street shareholders.

Therefore, we demand that Congress immediately begin a process of bringing our nation’s railroads under public ownership. Public ownership of part or all of their rail systems has allowed many other countries to create rail systems that can move people and goods quickly, affordably, and in an environmentally sound way. With public ownership, governments can take the long view and make crucial infrastructure investments — and prevent price-gouging.

Railroads are, like utilities, “natural monopolies.” The consolidation of the Class 1 railroads in the U.S. into five massive companies over the past several decades has made it clear that there is no “free market” in rail transportation. With most customers having no other choice, and no central authority mandating long-term planning, each individual railroad company has little incentive to make investments in infrastructure and every temptation to take as much of their income as possible as profits. Even Martin Oberman, chair of the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that regulates rail, has called the railroads “monopolists” who are cutting services and raising prices because “that’s the easiest way for them to get rich.”

In their endless thirst for profit, the railroads have implemented a system called “precision scheduled railroading,” which simply means operating with as few staff as possible — speed-up by another name. Shippers have been complaining about the resulting poor service for years, and during the pandemic our entire economy paid the price with snarled supply lines leading to shortages and price hikes. The railroads do not even seem interested in expanding their share of the freight market, instead seeking to extract more and more short-term profit out of customers for whom rail is the only feasible way to ship their products.

The effect on railroad workers has been even more severe. In order to implement precision scheduled railroading, the companies have imposed draconian attendance policies which make it virtually impossible for railroad workers to take any time off, even for medical reasons. This intolerable state of affairs almost led to a railroad strike at the end of last year, until President Biden and Congress — clearly willing to intervene in the “market” when workers threaten to withdraw their labor — imposed a contract on the workers that did not even contain the workers’ bottom-line demand of adequate sick leave.

Congress Must Respect Rail Workers’ Rights

By Carl Rosen, Andrew Dinkelakr, and Mark Meinster - United Electrical Workers, November 30, 2022

Statement of the UE Officers

The current move by President Biden and Congress to impose a contract on our nation’s 115,000 railroad workers — a contract that the members of rail unions representing the majority of those workers have rejected — is an unconscionable attack on rail workers, the labor movement, and the entire U.S. working class.

The right to strike is a fundamental human right, and one of the only effective tools working people have to win justice from the corporations and capitalist oligarchs who increasingly seek to control not only our economy and our government, but every aspect of our lives.

Railroad workers are fighting for a basic human freedom — the right to stay home or see a doctor if they or their family members get sick.

The railroad companies are enormously profitable, and have seen their profits only increase during the pandemic. They can easily afford to settle a fair contract.

In addition to forcing their workers into conditions that approach involuntary servitude, the railroad companies’ endless thirst for profits has snarled up our country’s supply chain, contributing to the inflation and cost-of-living crisis that all working people are facing. Their old, polluting locomotives, which they refuse to upgrade to modern, cleaner versions, are poisoning communities near rail yards, which are primarily working-class communities of color. And they consistently oppose efforts to address climate change, putting their short-term profits above the long-term health of society, or even their own industry.

Instead of using government edicts to force railroad workers to work against their will, the President and Congress should be using the power of government to push the railroad companies to straighten out the supply chain, clean up their poor environmental record, and settle a fair contract through the collective bargaining process.

We stand in full solidarity with railroad workers and their unions, in whatever steps they take to defend their right to a decent work life, and urge all working people to do the same.

Carl Rosen
General President

Andrew Dinkelakr
Secretary-Treasurer

Mark Meinster
​Director of Organization

Labor Against War in Ukraine Webinar

Viewpoint: Climate Justice Must Be a Top Priority for Labor

By Peter Knowlton and John Braxton - Labor Notes, September 21, 2021

Today’s existential crisis for humanity is the immediate need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. All of us have to. Everywhere. For workers and for our communities there is no more pressing matter than this.

We need to begin a discussion among co-workers, creating demands and acting on them at the workplace and bargaining table. We need to show up at local union meetings, central labor councils, and town halls supporting demands that move us toward a fossil fuel-free future.

At the same time, we need to protect the incomes and benefits of workers affected by the transition off of fossil fuels and to make sure they have real training opportunities. And we need to restore and elevate those communities that have been sacrificed for fossil fuel extraction, production, and distribution. We should promote candidates for elected office who support legislation which puts those aspirations into practice, such as the Green New Deal.

If the labor movement does not take the lead in pushing for a fair and just transition, one of these futures awaits us: (1) the world will either fail to make the transition to renewable energy and scorch us all, or (2) the working class will once again be forced to make all of the sacrifices in the transition.

The time is long past ripe for U.S. unions and our leaders to step up and use our collective power in our workplaces, in our communities, and in the streets to deal with these crises. That means we need to break out of the false choice between good union jobs and a livable environment.

There are no jobs on a dead planet. Social, economic, and environmental justice movements can provide some pressure to mitigate the crises, but how can we succeed if the labor movement and the environmental movement continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to pit us against each other? Rather than defending industries that need to be transformed, labor needs to insist that the transition to a renewable energy economy include income protection, investment in new jobs in communities that now depend on fossil fuels, retraining for those new jobs, and funds to give older workers a bridge to retirement.

Like any change of technology or work practice in a shop, if the workers affected don’t receive sufficient guarantees of income, benefits, and protections their support for it, regardless of the urgency, will suffer.

Can green locomotives get rail industry back on track? Wabtec, union leaders in Erie say yes

By Jim Martin - GoErie, July 26, 2021

Wabtec, which purchased the former GE Transportation in 2019, agrees with the union leadership at the Erie plant on a couple of important points.

Developing low- and zero-emission locomotives can help address worries about climate change. And it can also be good for business.

Wabtec CEO Rafael Santana announced the establishment of a research institute in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and Genesee & Wyoming Railroad during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing in March.

Santana told the committee the company was committed within the next nine years to developing the technology to accelerate the reduction of greenhouses gas emissions by using battery- and hydrogen-powered locomotives.

Santana predicted those initiatives would lead to the creation of “250,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs."

How to “Build Back Better”

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

Anyone interested in how to address the concerns of both labor and environmentalists in upcoming legislation should take a look at the new Sierra Club report “How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal.” Although the Sierra Club is an environmental organization – in fact, the country’s largest–this “blueprint for economic renewal” has been designed with the needs of workers and discriminated-against groups front and center.

The plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and Service Employees International Union.

  • By investing $1 trillion per year, an economic renewal plan based on the THRIVE Agenda would create over 15 million good jobs–enough to end the unemployment crisis–while countering systemic racism, supporting public health, and cutting climate pollution nearly in half by 2030.
  • These investments must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.

Don't Make a Bad Deal Worse: UE GEB Statement on Renegotiating NAFTA

By staff - United Electrical Workers, June 6, 2017

At its quarterly meeting the UE General Executive Board adopted the following statement on the Trump administration's plans to renegotiate NAFTA. 

RENEGOTIATION OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (NAFTA)

United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)

June 2, 2017

Three years ago, on the 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s passage, North American labor, environmental groups, human rights organizations, and other citizen watchdogs—united to call out the terrible impact of this trade agreement on working people and our communities. As attention returns to NAFTA, now that President Trump has notified Congress officially of his intention to renegotiate, we caution against any belief that his administration will seek a deal benefitting people and the planet. NAFTA benefits corporations and those who have an interest in the free flow of capital, rather than improving the lives of workers, our communities, or the environment. Past attempts to appease concerns from labor and environmentalists have not been meaningful. .

We see the consequences of this failed treaty vividly: Across the continent, workers and families have been hit hard, as evidenced by persistent unemployment, wage stagnation, and record wealth and income inequality. There continues to be a decline in good-paying, union manufacturing jobs, as well as a loss of high-paying jobs in smaller businesses.  In those pockets where manufacturing has expanded, the jobs created have been mostly low wage with little attention to worker health and safety. In Mexico, the jobs that have emerged have been at such low rates of pay that poverty rates have risen—not fallen—since 1994. Mexico has experienced a loss of jobs in agriculture, where heavily-subsidized US corn, sugar, and other commodities led to the collapse of the Mexican farm economy.  Since the implementation of NAFTA, workers in the three countries have suffered, while wealthy investors and big corporations have seen their profits balloon.

Communities of North America continue to suffer under NAFTA as corporations continue to exploit our shared environment for profit and pollute our land, air, and water as governments are unable or unwilling to force corporations to clean up hazardous mistakes created by negligence. This is evident from the St. Lawrence River in Québec, which is threatened by fracking from Lone Pine Resources, to the Midwestern plains, where oil leaks from the TransCanada-owned Keystone Pipeline, to the hills of Guadalcázar, where residents pray they have seen the last child born with birth defects from the toxic waste MetalClad has refused to clean up. Corporate profits continue to grow while the health of our communities and environment suffers.

NAFTA enables the unrestricted flow of capital causing misery for working people, including: the forced migration of people looking for jobs; increased rates of homelessness; mental health problems associated with dislocation; higher rates of diabetes and other ailments linked to cheap high fructose corn syrup; and rising violence, particularly against women. NAFTA devastated the Mexican economy, particularly agriculture and family farms by allowing US corporations to dump cheap corn and other staples into Mexico. It is a key reason why millions upon millions of Mexican workers have been forced to migrate north to the US looking for better work.

President Trump says he wants to renegotiate this “bad deal,” but his vague plans are anchored in building a wall for workers and tearing down walls for capital. He makes a xenophobic argument for renegotiation, and we reject its racist and nationalistic orientation. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have stated that the rejected and discredited Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be the starting point for a renegotiated NAFTA. Unionists and environmentalists rejected TPP for good reasons and to have that as the administration’s starting point is very troubling.

The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in NAFTA infringes on sovereignty and citizens’ rights to self-governance by allowing corporations to sue governments who restrain profit-making opportunities. This would have been made more powerful under TPP. TPP would have weakened US health and safety standards, including those that ensure safe pharmaceuticals and food. TPP attacked net neutrality and a free and open Internet. NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990’s and the internet was not included in the original NAFTA. We expect this to be a major target of the administration’s renegotiation.

We reject the corporate-led vision for a renegotiation of NAFTA and call for a new set of trade policies that prioritize workers common interests and relies on international solidarity as its cornerstone. Any renegotiation of NAFTA must be oriented around the improvement of workers’ lives and protection of the environment focused on those regions of the continent where conditions are the most desperate.

We call for the end of the ISDS protections NAFTA offers to  corporations to exploit working people and the environment.  As we said three years ago, 20 years after the passage of NAFTA, any new treaty must “strengthen governments’ ability to protect social, environmental and labor rights, particularly for migrants.”

We demand, as required by the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions 87 and 98, an end to laws that allow employers to prevent workers from choosing their own unions or from exercising their rights to assemble, organize, and represent workers without any employer interference. This includes an end to attacks in the U.S against unions seeking to negotiate union security clauses with employers.

We demand government investment to create good-paying jobs in our communities, to build affordable housing, accessible public transportation, and green energy production, with quality food, education, and healthcare for all, and with improved access to clean air and water, public parks, and green recreation spaces. All trade negotiations must be opened to civil society participation, which includes prior publication of the texts and the construction of mechanisms for information sharing, social participation and deliberation, while avoiding the imposition of any “fast track”. A renegotiated NAFTA treaty must include effective mechanisms to protect human, labor, and environmental rights with meaningful sanctions and enforcement provisions to assure the supremacy of human rights over corporate privilege.

We support the “Political Declaration of the Encounter of the Social Organizations of Canada, United States, and Mexico” which came out of meetings held in Mexico City on May 26 and 27, 2017. We unite in international solidarity with these goals in mind and are prepared to fight back against any and all attempts to divide or devalue our work, our communities, and our environment.

No Worker Left Behind: Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 2019

The Green New Deal Resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, while it includes many protections and benefits for workers, does not include language that specifically addresses workers who might be adversely affected by the transition to a climate-safe economy. Such GND proposals were soon criticized as too vague to provide protections that workers and unions could count on. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, for example, told the Economic Club of Washington, DC, "We would want a whole lot of changes made so that workers and our jobs are protected in the process."

There are now several GND plans proposed by political figures, including Democratic presidential candidates, that spell out how protections for workers might be implemented. There are also a variety of GND proposals from individuals and groups that further spell out such protections.

In this briefing paper we lay out the basic elements that have been proposed to protect the well-being of workers and communities who may be adversely affected by aspects of the GND and the transition to a climate-safe economy. We summarize how each of the plans would go about protecting workers and communities whose jobs may be threatened. In the Appendix we provide partial texts from which these summaries are extracted.

The purpose of this compendium is not to evaluate which candidate or other proponent has the best plan. Rather, the purpose is to present the various strategies and programs from which future shapers of the GND can select and combine to forge the best possible program.

Read the report (PDF).

Unions Congratulate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Denial of Authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

Statement from 1199 SEIU; Amalgamated Transit Union; Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employees Division, Pennsylvania Federation–Teamsters; National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Nurses United; New York State Nurses Association; United Electrical Workers - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 9, 2016

We are unions representing members in health care, domestic work, public transit, railroads, manufacturing and other sectors.

We congratulate leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of supporters for the news that the federal government will deny authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline to go through tribal lands posing a threat to water sources and sacred sites.

The Obama Administration’s decision respects the sacred grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux and takes into consideration the potential of a hazardous pipeline leak that would harm the community’s life and livelihood.

This is a historic victory, and an organizing victory that every union member can identify with, against one of the most powerful economic and political forces in the world: the fossil fuel industry and its many allies inside and outside government. These forces have used private police that have not hesitated in using violence to intimidate those participating in peaceful protest.

Mindful of our own history in facing private police and vigilantes in the fight to establish workers’ rights, trade unionists have stood shoulder to shoulder with the First Nation water protectors, environmental and community supporters, and many allies who have mobilized and rallied for months against huge odds.

Our unions will continue to join with opponents of the Dakota Pipeline along other routes and fight to halt similar projects that transport dirty crude oil that jeopardize public health and contribute to the climate crisis.

We also stand in solidarity with the construction workers who build our country’s infrastructure, and also with the workers in coal, oil and gas, many of whom have lost their jobs due to the collapse in global prices. In accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement, we call for a “just transition” for workers whose jobs and livelihoods may be threatened by the move away from fossil fuels.

But there is much work to be done in modernizing and repairing bridges, roads, tunnels, public transit systems, etc., many of which have become dilapidated and dangerous to workers and the public.  But jobs based on expanding (and exporting) fossil fuels will simply lead to more environmental destruction, worsening health, climate instability and social upheaval at home and abroad.  Business as usual is not an option.

Together we can demand the development of sustainable energy production and resource initiatives that unequivocally provide good, safe union jobs while salvaging the health and well-being of the earth’s population.

Our future depends on our willingness to engage and organize among progressive forces and social movements in order to effectively meet the challenges ahead.

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