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United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)

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.

From Climate Strikes to the Union Hall

By Teresa-Marie Oller, Travis Epes, and Maria Brescia-Weiler - The Forge, August 19, 2021

The Young Worker Listening Project (YWLP), an initiative of the Young Worker Committee of the Labor Network for Sustainability, is an effort to challenge the “workers versus the environment” narrative by collecting and developing stories of how young workers are pushing climate activism in their jobs, in their unions, and in their communities. In recent years, we’ve seen the right attempt to pit labor and climate activists against each other through an argument that environmental regulations will take away good union jobs. But as leaders in our respective unions and labor-climate network, we’ve learned that building worker power and fighting climate change are connected and that young workers are especially eager to tackle the climate crisis through workplace organizing. The young people we have interviewed as part of our Young Worker Listening Project recognize the jobs versus environment choice is a false one. They want the labor movement to be a mechanism for enacting major economic and environmental change, and they can envision a way to get there.

The Young Worker Committee was formed in the summer of 2020 to strategize how best to organize young workers to take an active role in bridging the labor and climate movements. We had a hunch that engaging young workers on issues – like climate change – that extend beyond mandatory subjects of bargaining would help revive the labor movement and give it the power necessary to lead a just transition to a sustainable future. Indeed, for the first time in a long time, young people are largely pro-union. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 71 percent of people ages 18-34 approve of unions, compared to 63 percent of other age groups. Young people have also been at the forefront of recent climate activism, including the climate strikes of 2019 and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. They’ve also driven the explosion of youth-led climate organizations like the Sunrise Movement and Zero Hour. 

Puerto Rican workers: No peace if energy is privatized

By various - Workers World, June 7, 2021

On June 1, the Financial Oversight and Management Board overseeing Puerto Rico’s economy privatized the island’s public power utilities by signing a $1.3 billion contract with private consortium LUMA Energy. The contract, in effect for the next 15 years, could increase electric rates by 10 cents/kwh or more.

LUMA customers are already encountering new fees and significantly higher bills than formerly paid to the public Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority. Thousands of PREPA workers have lost their jobs. The privatization has fueled demonstrations including encampments and picket lines at plant gates. Further actions could lead to mass protests similar to those in summer 2019 that forced former Governor Pedro Rosselló to resign.

The following is a statement from unions representing thousands of Puerto Rican workers, ranging from teachers to truck drivers, in support of PREPA workers and demanding the LUMA contract be repealed.

Puerto Rico unions close ranks against LUMA Energy

By Wilmarilis Sánchez-Romeu and Edwin Ocasio Feliciano - Struggle La Lucha, June 4, 2021

Union organizations today warned Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and the Financial Oversight and Management Board that they will paralyze the country if the LUMA Energy contract that increases rates, allows the consortium to leave Puerto Rico if a hurricane strikes, and displaces thousands of workers, is not canceled.

“We are warning the attorney for the Financial Oversight and Management Board, Pedro Pierluisi, that there will be no peace in Puerto Rico if the contract is not repealed and they listen to the people who demand, not only a public and more efficient Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), but also one free of fossil fuels. 

“Right now there is a favorable atmosphere for paralyzing the country and if the governor continues to ignore the people, we will do so. We have already held several meetings to coordinate logistics and dates, and this week we will meet again to finalize details. Make no mistake, this summer will be one very similar to that of 2019,” said Carlos Rodríguez, coordinator of the Frente Amplio de Camioneros (Broad Front of Truckers).

“Today, we tell LUMA not to bother settling in our country since we will not leave them alone until they leave Puerto Rico. And the workers who they intend to bring in from abroad should know that if they cross the picket line, they will face a people willing to defend their energy sovereignty and their access to water. There is no life without water and electricity! 

Fighting for Green Solutions to Pittsburgh’s “Sewage in the Rivers Problem”

By Thomas Hoffman - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 4, 2018

Almost 7 years ago, six Pittsburgh based organizations realized that our region was going to spend $2-4 billion dollars of area residents’ money to stop 9+ billion gallons of untreated sewage from flowing into our iconic three rivers. The overflows occur when stormwater runs off roads roofs and parking lots into the storm sewers which are the same as the waste sewers.

Pittsburgh is not unusual – many older industrial cities have the same problem. If you combine all the money that will be spent by these cities fixing this problem it totals to roughly half a trillion dollars.

The groups formed the Clean Rivers Campaign to win a “maximum green first followed by right sized gray” solution to cleaning our rivers. They felt that in addition to cleaning our rivers such a solution would bring maximum community benefits back to area residents. These benefits include long term local family sustaining Union jobs, cleaner air and water, and revitalized communities.

The six organizations are Pittsburgh United, a PWF affiliate composed of labor, faith and community groups, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, a faith based organization, three enviro groups -Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and Action United, a low income neighborhood organizing group. The Unions in Pittsburgh United (SEIU, UFCW and USWA) have been very supportive of the campaign because the neighborhoods where much of the green investments would happen are where their members live.

The alternative solution being promoted by our regional sewer authority, ALCOSAN, is the construction of miles of massive tunnels to collect all the stormwater runoff and sewage overflow. The sewage would then be pumped out of the tunnels using pumps powered by fossil fuels and then treated  before being released into the river again. While this would solve the sewage in the rivers problems it would have none of the community benefits listed above. It would also do nothing to reduce the flooding that may low income and minority communities are experiencing.

U.S. unions fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 7, 2017

Labour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

We Still Stand With Standing Rock

By Labor for Standing Rock - Labor for Standing Rock, December 14, 2016

Editor's Note: Many IWW members have been and continue to be involved with this mobilization. One of the three founders of Labor for Standing Rock is also a founder of the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus.

Labor for Standing Rock salutes the Water Protectors, whose courageous resistance has forced the Obama administration not to grant a final easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to drill under the Missouri River.

We thank all those who have already joined us on the ground; helped purchase and deliver supplies to winterize Standing Rock camp; and organized support in their own unions and communities. We appreciate the thousands of military veterans whose recent presence has played a key role in fighting DAPL. This is what working class solidarity looks like.

Now, we must keep the pressure on until the Black Snake is dead and gone.

As indigenous activists point out: "This fight is not over, not even close. In fact, this fight is escalating. The incoming Trump administration promises to be a friend to the oil industry and an enemy to Indigenous people. It is unclear what will happen with the river crossing. Now more than ever, we ask that you stand with us as we continue to demand justice." http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/…/whats-next-wate…

While supporters are not being asked to come to Standing Rock at this time, the coalition "support[s] those who choose to stay, if they are able to live comfortably and self-sufficiently through a winter in the Great Plains." In addition, indigenous activists have asked Labor for Standing Rock to continue providing support for those who remain through the bitter winter.

In this context, we reaffirm that workers' rights are inseparable from indigenous rights. An Injury to One is an Injury to All! -- Mni Wiconi: Water is Life! There are no jobs -- or life -- on a dead planet; we need just transition and full employment to build a sustainable world.

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.

Labor activists for Standing Rock

Staff Interview - New York Nurses Association, November 2016

Nowhere is the battle to protect tribal lands and our country’s environment from the ravages of the oil and gas industry playing out more dramatically than in Standing Rock North Dakota, where the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens the only water supply available to the Lakota and Dakota peoples of the Standing Rock Reservation. Recognizing early on the inherent justice in resistance, NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, with a contingent of our nurses and staff traveled to the Sacred Stone Camp to stand in solidarity with “the largest gathering of Native Tribes in the past 100 years of American History” against the pipeline.

Now labor activists and working people from across the country have followed suit. Labor for Standing Rock is a rank-and-file organization that has joined the First Nations in the fight to protect their water supply, their ancestral lands (and our planet) from the consequences of gas pipeline development. Cliff Willmeng, an RN from Lafayette, Colorado, and UFCW Local 7 member, is one of the organizers. He spoke with New York Nurse about why it is critical to support the Native American right to self-determination and their territories.

It’s a fundamental health issue

NYN: Why is a nurse from Colorado involved with a struggle in North Dakota?

Willmeng: Quite simply, advocating for our patients is a primary role and responsibility of nurses and all health care professionals. When we take a wider view of this, we have to conclude that the fight for the environment is really advocating for patients everywhere.

Where I live and work in Lafayette, Colorado, we are among communities nationally that are fighting the oil and gas industry, or as many people know it “fracking”. We experience the spills, explosions, fires and leaks that the fossil fuel industry is synonymous with everywhere. When Standing Rock began to find its way into the national news, it was an easy connection for many people living in the shadow of the oil and gas industry to make.

NYN: Can you talk more about the healthcare impacts of these pipelines in particular?

Willmeng: When the pipelines leak and fail there are no scientific remedies to restore the comprehensive damage to the environment they affect. Every living thing that depends on that environment is then exposed in multiple ways to the oil — which is both carcinogenic and disrupts the endocrine system.

NYN: What can unions and individual members do to participate in Labor for Standing Rock?

Willmeng: The most important actions have to do with educating and mobilizing support for Standing Rock and the larger fight against the fossil fuel industry. We can pass resolutions, sponsor busses to bring members to North Dakota and start to bring new people into local fights for the environment. With these first steps, we can make the connections between all union members and begin to organize a new labor movement that fights for full employment and builds a sustainable world where working people, not CEOs, are the new leaders.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Labor-For-Standing-Rock

Rank-and-File Union Members Speak Out at Standing Rock Camp

By staff - Indian Country Today, October 30, 2016

Image by Karen Pomer

Despite escalating police violenceand AFL-CIO leadershipof pipeline, a delegation of union members from around the U.S. are spending the weekend of October 29 at Standing Rock camp to join Sioux water protectors against Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL.)

The delegation from Labor For Standing Rock(LSR), comprised of rank-and-file union members and working people.

Liam Cain,Union Laborer at LIUNA Local 1271 Cheyenne, WYand a LSR spokesperson, over years worked on numerous heavy construction sites and pipeline construction spreads. "To the union laborers working on these projects I would just implore you to listen to what regular folks are saying," Cain said. "Don't just listen to the bosses, and not to just the echo-chambers on the spread.

"Listen to the water protectors, listen to folks talking about just transition, a view of the future, involving good paying union jobs, involving many of your skill-sets. Just generating energy in a much more environmentally sustainable manner, rather than just gross over reliance on fossil fuels, that we currently engage in. As the saying goes, 'there's no jobs on a dead planet'."

Cliff Willmengis 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 frackingin 2013. He and his daughter Sasha delivered water tanks to Standing Rock Camp after authorities removed the water supply in August.

“As a healthcare provider, as a father of two, and as a union member I will be heading up to Standing Rock,” said Willmeng, union member and a co-founder of LSR. "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."

Michael Letwinis former President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325in New York City, and Co-Convener of Labor for Palestine, whose online petitionin opposition to DAPL has garnered more than 12,000 signers and helped lay the basis for Labor for Standing Rock. In 1973, at age 16, he and others were arrested by the Nixon-era FBI under the Rap Brown Actfor participating in a relief caravanto the American Indian Movement occupation at Wounded Knee.

"Escalating police attacks against unarmed water protectors at Standing Rock on behalf of the oil and gas industry evokes images of Wounded Knee in 1890 and 1973, brutality against the civil rights movement, and state violence today from Ferguson and Baltimore to Palestine," Letwin said. "The labor movement has faced similar violence throughout its history, and from the same forces of greed and injustice."

Labor For Standing Rockwas 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.

"We at Oceti Sakowin Campwelcome 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."

VIDEO from this weekend here. Photos here.

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