You are here

ILWU Local 34

Unprecedented? Unions and community unite to halt plans to build coal export terminal in Oakland, California

By Elena Mora - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 9, 2015

A short but well-organized campaign to stop plans to build a coal export terminal in the Oakland Port resulted in a packed Oakland City Council meeting on September 21, and a vote requiring a public health impact study to guide the Council’s action, up to and including a moratorium on coal.

Screenshot 2015-09-26 10.47.56The campaign, “Coal Free Oakland,” led by the Sierra Club and others, brought together a very broad coalition (more than 80 organizations), with significant union participation, including the Alameda Labor Council, which passed a resolution calling on the city to reject the coal export plan.

Among those coordinating the labor outreach was Climate Workers, a project of Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project.

Labor and climate justice organizer Brooke Anderson, who heads up Climate Workers, called it “hugely significant — precedent setting — that labor came out in this way and opposed coal coming through the neighborhoods where their members live.” Unions signing on to the petition against the coal facility include the California Nurses Association; SEIU 1021 and United Service Workers West; the American Postal Workers Union (Oakland’s largest post office is next to the port); ILWU Local 10, Local 6 and Northern California District Council; UniteHERE Local 2850; the Peralta Federation of Teachers; the Oakland Education Association; UAW Local 2865; the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192; and AFSCME District Council 57.

More Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 26, 2016

Author's note: this article is an update to an earlier piece, titled Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland.

Update: The City of Oakland voted 7-0, with one member absent, to ban coal handling, storage, and exports in the Port of Oakland on Monday, June 27, 2016. Over 50 union members supporting the ban on coal were present, and many spke in favor of the ban.

As the No Coal in Oakland campaign comes to its climax, a vote by the Oakland City Council on whether or not to ban the storage and handling of coal exports (originating from coal mined in Utah) through the Port of Oakland, the developers who had hoped to sneak this plan through unnoticed by all, are pulling out all of the stops to try and salvage their failing schemes that have, thus far, blown up in their faces.

(Rather than recap all of the numerous details of this campaign here, readers are encouraged to visit the official No Coal in Oakland site as well as the No Coal in Oakland archives, maintained by members of the Sunflower Alliance, one of the No Coal in Oakland coalition members.)

One of the persistent lies, regurgitated again and again by the developers, is the claim that those of us who oppose coal exports are anti-jobs, anti-worker, and anti-union. This is complete nonsense.

For the record, many of the principal organizers with No Coal in Oakland are current or retired union members themselves. Additionally, a total of twenty-one Bay Area unions have gone on record opposing coal exports through this proposed facility (but these same unions are not opposed to an export terminal itself, or the exports of non-fossil fuel commodities, of which there are several tens of thousand potential options, all of which would create just as many jobs, if not more so, than coal exports).

These 21 unions include two unions to which this author belongs (the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW and the San Francisco Region of the Inland Boatman's Union (IBU), an affiliate of the ILWU).

They also include unions representing workers in the port of Oakland, including the aforementioned IBU as well as ILWU Locals 6, 10, and 34, and SEIU 1021. (For a complete list of those that have pledged their opposition to coal exports, see this page, but note that some of the unions are listed in categories other than "Labor Unions"), and many more.

Furthermore, in September of 2015, the Alameda County Central Labor Council passed a resolution opposing coal exports.

Various union members and officials--in coalition with residents, environmentalists, public health providers, faith leaders, community leaders, small business owners, educators, and students--have spoken out against coal at City Council meeting after City Council meeting. They've lead canvassing efforts to raise awareness about the environmental and public health dangers of coal among Oakland's neighborhoods. They've organized several events to drum up support for the No Coal campaign, including a very successful and well attended picnic and community forum at a neighborhood park on May 21, 2016.

The coalition has demonstrated its dedication to intersectionality by supporting Black Lives Matter, the Anti-displacement coalition, and the Fight For $15 campaigns. The No Coal in Oakland campaign is composed predominantly of working people and working class retirees (though there are some small business people involved in the campaign as well). The coalition members share a commitment to a clean, livable, affordable, multi-ethnic and inclusive Oakland with good paying union jobs.

In fact, the No Coal in Oakland campaign has been nothing short of exemplary in the matter of green unionism.

It is the height of hypocrisy and cynicism for the project developers to claim that the No Coal in Oakland campaign is anti-jobs.

Meanwhile, the supposed "union" and "worker" support for coal exports, in classic yellow unionism fashion, is nothing more than an astroturf front group for the capitalist developers profiteering ambitions. The few unions whose officials support the project (namely the Teamsters and Building Trades) are hardly bastions of democratic, rank and file driven unionism. The Teamsters remain highly divided, with the local leadership (which is largely aligned with Jimmy Hoffa Jr's faction) opposed by a sizable Teamsters for a Democratic Union opposition faction (though this faction has not taken a stand on the matter of coal).

As detailed in the previous installment in this series, Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland, the developer has already attempted to create the illusion of grassroots rank and file union member "support" (mostly from non-English speaking Laborers' Union members) for coal exports at a City Council meeting on September 21, 2015, timed deliberately to undermine the Alameda County Central Labor Council's resolution against coal exports, but the attempt failed miserably, as the rank and file workers admitted to the assembled media reporters that they were being used. (The pro-coal developers later also tried the same stunt with a small group of faith leaders--who, as it turns out, has essentially taken bribes from the developer to support coal exports--when a much larger group of faith leaders spoke out against coal).

None of the developer's subterfuge should be surprising, given the amount of dirt and conflicts of interest the No Coal in Oakland campaign has been able to dig up--including the fact that the developer has a direct financial connection to Bowie Resources, the (non union) mining company that will be extracting the coal in the first place, or that California Governor Jerry Brown, himself, has a deeply entwined financial relationship with Phil Tagami, the speculator driving this project. (again, for the sake of brevity, all of these details are left to the readers to explore for themselves on the No Coal in Oakland site).

Furthermore, it's not surprising that the developer is still trying to create the illusion of community and worker support for coal exports.

Communities Unite to Fight Coal in Oakland

By Eric K. Arnold - Reimagine, March 2016

Coal, once the staple of American industrial production, may be on its last legs. With domestic production showing a long-term decline, the fossil fuel’s days appear to be numbered.

According to the most recent annual report [1] of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2013, U.S. coal production fell below two billion short tons for the first time in two decades; coal mining capacity decreased, as did the average number of coal mine employees, the average sales price of coal, and total U.S. coal stocks. In April of 2015, the EIA projected coal would hit a 28-year low, reflecting significant drops in domestic demand and exports. In August, Goldman Sachs divested itself of its coal holdings; a month later, it issued a gloomy forecast[2] for coal’s future, stating, “the industry does not require new investment,” dashing hopes for a miraculous upturn in the coal market. A report[3] by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) noted that 26 domestic coal companies have recently gone into bankruptcy proceedings; and coal’s value on the Dow Jones index dropped by 76 percent between 2009-14 (a period when the overall Dow index went up 69 percent).

According to CTI, domestic energy generation has remained flat for the past decade but energy sources have shifted: coal and oil are down, but natural gas and renewable energy are up. America’s largest coal producers are recording annual losses in the billions of dollars, while Chinese coal demand has slumped and new environmental regulations[4] aimed at significantly reducing air pollution and increasing wind and solar consumption are being phased in by the Chinese government. Additionally, all federal coal leasing is currently under moratorium until a comprehensive review can be completed. As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted[5] in its online magazine, OnEarth, “it would be difficult to overstate the industry’s current distress.”

This is scary news for the coal industry, yet a welcome announcement for environmentalists who have waged national campaigns against coal for decades. These desperate times for coal producers have led to desperate measures. Their last hope, it would seem, is to increase coal’s export capacity by transporting the black gunk through West Coast ports. But even there the pro-coal forces have met with unexpected resistance, as city after city in Oregon and Washington have mounted grassroots campaigns to deliver an emphatic message: “Say no to coal.”

Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, November 11, 2015

Author's Note: This article is a sequel of sorts to my previous piece, Unions and the Climate Justice Movement, which briefly mentions the No Coal in Oakland campaign. The image, depicted at the right, compares a pro-capitalist-logging poster (yellow, near right) ostensibly created by timber workers (but actually crafted by the employers) to mobilize support for a counter-demonstration to a rally and march, held in Fort Bragg in July 1990, organized by the Redwood Summer coalition (which included timber workers). The green poster (far right), represents the Redwood Summer coalition's response, and accurately summarizes their position on timber workers and timber jobs.

At first glance, the Oakland City Council meeting, held on September 21, 2015 looked much like many public hearings where public opposition had organized in response to the plans, practices, or proposals of capitalist interests that threatened the environment. For most of the evening, and well into the night, council members and the Mayor watched and listened as speaker after speaker (out of a total of over 500) either spoke in favor (or against) coal exports or ceded their time to their allies. On one side were a widely diverse group of activists, organized by a coalition known as No Coal in Oakland-- adorned in red (union made and printed) T-shirts--opposed to plans to export coal through a proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), as part of the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center (or Oakland Global), and on the other were the project's supporters, dressed in business attire accompanied by several dozen union workers, many of them from the Laborers' Union, dressed in yellow.  As is often the case, the project's supporters tried to frame the opposition as being composed of insensitive outsiders, and themselves and the supporting "workers" as placing the economic interests of Oakland and its residents above all else. "We support good paying union jobs that will help the struggling, predominantly African-American residents of west Oakland" opined the supporters, trying to suggest that those in opposition didn't.

This is an old, and shopworn script, that has been trotted out numerous times in the past quarter century or more. Anyone who has experienced or studied the "Timber Wars" that took place in the Pacific Northwest during the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s will recall the armies of loggers and mill-workers decked out in yellow shirts, sporting yellow foam car radio antennae balls or yellow ribbons who would show up en massé (at the behest of their employers, often with pay) to oppose limits to clear-cutting or protections for the Northern Spotted Owl and to denounce (often) green shirted environmentalists as "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" and/or upper middle class "elitists" (or--defying logic--both). Sometimes, in drawn out campaigns, the employers have often furthered this illusion by creating false front "Astroturf" groups, ostensibly composed of workers, to distract attention away from themselves.

The truth is far much more complex and nuanced, of course. Usually the "jobs" promised by the projects' supporters often don't materialize (indeed, the opposite--namely automation, downsizing, and outsourcing--usually occurs). Those in opposition to environmentally destructive practices and proposals are usually composed of and led by locals, most of whom are, themselves, gainfully employed, and sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the affected workers (in fact, the opposition's counter proposals, if well thought out, do more to create "jobs" and job security than those in support of the project). Meanwhile, the actual level of support among the rank and file workers purportedly backing up the capitalists interests could accurately be described as a mile wide and an inch deep, at best. And the bosses? When they speak of jobs, they actually refer to profits. Nevertheless, in the past, the capitalist media has typically and dutifully reported that these projects are opposed by "green clad environmentalists" (or red in this particular case) and supported by "yellow clad workers" (often neglecting to draw any distinction between the workers and their employers).

Therefore, it is both surprising and refreshing, that in spite of the attempts by the employing class to replay that same script on September 21, 2015 in Oakland, the attempt backfired, due to the diligent and tireless organizing by their grassroots opposition. A closer examination of what happened, and how the opposition organized, will illustrate why this is so and how others can duplicate the organizers' efforts to defeat further attempts by capitalist interests to use divide and conquer tactics to push their climate and environment (not-to-mention job) destroying projects through.

Unions, Environmental Justice Advocates Say “No!” To Coal Transport through Oakland

By Staff - Emerald Cities Collaborative, October 21, 2015; image by Brooke Anderson

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 Alameda Labor Council was a key player in the nearly 100-member Coal-Free Oakland Coalition of unions, climate justice advocates and environmental groups that has halted the proposed transport of coal through Oakland in its tracks, pending a health impact study by the Oakland City Council.  The coalition includes unions representing nurses, teachers, longshoremen, city workers, recyclers, housekeepers, postal workers, bus drivers, custodians and security officers. City Council staff are to report to the council on their public health study and propose next steps by December.

As part of its strategy, the Labor Council passed a hard-hitting resolution opposing a coal export terminal in the new Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center. Not only was that document key to the coalition’s win, it also firmly aligned organized labor in Oakland with the city’s environmental justice and climate movements. It did so by acknowledging and commending labor’s growing commitment “to environmental justice issues that affect workers, communities and future generations. ”

According to Emerald Cities Oakland Director Tara Marchant, “This coalition and its victory reflect years of work building alliances along environmental justice and labor unions to reject old, polluting energy."

ILWU members tell Oakland City Council to kill coal terminal plan

Press Release - ILWU, October 21, 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.

An overflow crowd at the Oakland City Council meeting on September 21 heard ILWU leaders taking passionate positions against a controversial coal export terminal that developers and coal industry lobbyists want to build on a private dock with public subsidies. Six hundred citizens submitted requests to speak at the hearing which began at 4pm and went late into the night.

Developer hiding

Master developer Phil Tagami was noticeably absent from the public hearing on the coal export terminal which has become a centerpiece of his redevelopment scheme that promised to transform Oakland’s former Oakland Army base into a mix of modern warehouses, intermodal hub and a “state of the art” privately-owned break-bulk dock.

Jobs Promised

To win crucial political support, Tagami claimed his project would create thousands of good-paying jobs, and told community and labor groups that most of those jobs would be union. But many of the groups negotiating with Tagami were unfamiliar with industry employment practices, which may have allowed the developer to use inflated and unrealistic numbers. Now Tagami has hitched his project’s to a controversial coal export terminal, and suggested that the entire project and thousands of jobs depend on the coal deal.

Coal lobbyists & lawyers

Instead of appearing in person at the September hearing, Tagami hired a slew of well-dressed lawyers, lobbyists, businessmen and preachers to make his case for the coal terminal. Lawyers made thinly-veiled threats that lawsuits would be filed if the developers didn’t get their way. One Washington D.C. lawyer declared that the city had no authority to regulate or limit railroads shipping coal to the export terminal.

Buying turnout

But despite hiring big guns, Tagami’s team had a hard time finding actual “concerned citizens” who supported the coal terminal, so they resorted to paying people to fill seats and wear t-shirts. The plan backfired when news reporters interviewed apparent “coal supporters” in the audience who quickly admitted they only came because they were paid. Some even expressed confusion about which side they were supposed to support.

Buying loyalty

The pay-to-play tactics included generous “offers” from the coal lobbyists to local churches and environmental groups – in exchange for backing the coal terminal. A team of former executives from the Port of Oakland reportedly offered church leaders 7 cents for every ton of coal that would be exported; environmental groups were offered a more generous 12 cents per ton. The environmental groups declined the offer; while some church leaders apparently accepted and attended the hearing to praise the proposal.

Labor unity & exceptions

The Alameda County Central Labor Council told City officials that unions had just passed a strong resolution opposing the coal export terminal, because it would provide few jobs, threaten nearby residents and harm efforts to control climate change. Two unions, the Teamsters and Laborers, tried but failed to stop the labor body from adopting the coal terminal resolution.

Both were told by the developer that the good union jobs being promised could not be delivered without the coal terminal. Teamster officials joined developer Phil Tagami in avoiding the public hearing, but lobbied for the coal project behind the scenes.

Longshore Workers Vote to Oppose Coal Exports in Oakland

Staff Report - ILWU.Org, September 18, 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.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Longshore workers and marine clerks who have moved cargo at the Ports of Oakland and San Francisco since 1934 have rejected a developer’s plan to export coal through former Oakland Army Base. International Longshore and Warehouse Union elected officials say coal is an undesirable, low-value cargo and a broken promise on the part of the developer, and longshore workers are standing by community members who do not want the worry and risks of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year. After much research and discussion, the rank and file members of ILWU Local 10 and ILWU Local 34 have voted to oppose the handling of coal at the site.

“When the developers of the project were seeking tax money and public support to develop the Oakland Army Base, they talked about exporting cargoes like grain and potash,” said Sean Farley, President of ILWU Local 34. “They made a ‘no coal’ promise to workers, the community and elected officials, and they need to make good on that promise. Waterfront space is in short supply on the West Coast, and it would be a mistake to lock Oakland into a decades-long lease with a coal industry that many say is dying. Coal proposals have failed up and down the West Coast, and Oakland shouldn’t become the dumping ground for dirty, low value cargoes that no one else wants.”

After the Oakland City Council granted the California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG) the right to develop the former army base adjacent to the Port of Oakland, CCIG planned to build the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) on the site. CCIG has since turned its “no coal” promise into a “coal or nothing” threat, claiming no other cargo will pay the bills. Meanwhile, other West Coast ports are thriving while exporting products like grain, potash, soda ash, salt, and other commodities and bulk products.

“Coal is not the right way to bring jobs to Oakland,” said ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Derrick Muhammad. “Oakland families are already worried about asthma and other sickness because of highways and port activities. It’s not right to ask them to take on the worry and risk of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year. If the developers haven’t found a cleaner, safer product yet, they owe it to the City of Oakland to make good on their promise and keep looking. They’ll find better cargoes if they are truly committed to bringing good, safe jobs to our community.”

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Coast Longshore Division represents approximately 25,000 longshore men and women in 30 West Coast ports from San Diego, CA, to Bellingham, WA.