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Building our Energy Future

Labor Helps Obama Energy Secretary Push and Profit from 'Net Zero' Fossil Fuels

By Steve Horn - DeSmog, May 24, 2020

Progressive activists have called for a Green New Deal, a linking of the U.S. climate and labor movements to create an equitable and decarbonized economy and move away from fossil fuels to address the climate crisis. But major labor unions and President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary have far different plans.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) — a nonprofit founded and run by former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — launched the Labor Energy Partnership. Unlike those calling for a Green New Deal, though, this alliance supports increased fracking for oil and gas, as well as other controversial technologies that critics say prop up fossil fuels. It's also an agenda matching a number of the former Energy Secretary's personal financial investments.

One of those technologies which prop up fossil fuels is “clean coal,” or carbon capture and storage (CCS) at coal-fired power plants. CCS is a long-heralded technological fix that promises — but has failed to-date — to pump carbon dioxide emitted from coal plants into the ground at a meaningful commercial scale. In addition, the partnership touts the scaling up of nuclear energy, under the banner of an “all of the above” energy policy, and calls for creation of a “roadmap for implementing carbon dioxide removal,” a form of geoengineering, “at scale.”

Our Labor Energy Partnership will offer realistic pathways to accelerate the energy transition by meeting and then exceeding our Paris commitments while creating high quality jobs across all energy technologies,” Moniz said in a press release announcing the joint effort of the AFL-CIO and EFI.

Kezir served as CFO of the Energy Department under Moniz. Kenderine, formerly the energy counselor to Moniz and director of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis, served as the Vice President of Washington Operations of the Gas Technology Institute from 2001 to 2007. The Gas Technology Institute is the central research and development nonprofit for the natural gas industry.

While working as the gas group’s political voice in Washington, Kenderine used it to act as the “principal architect” in creating an offshoot nonprofit called the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). She served as its first acting president.

RPSEA is a de facto public-private partnership, securing a provision for a 10-year, $1.5 billion federal funding stream for the natural gas industry and university researchers. This provision was buried within the Energy Policy Act of 2005 after intense lobbying by the Gas Technology Institute. That’s the same energy bill which also baked the “Halliburton Loophole” exemptions for the fracking industry into U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act.

After her time heading up RPSEA, Kenderine departed to join Moniz at the MIT Energy Initiative, an outfit funded by the oil and gas industry. At the MIT Energy Initiative, Moniz, Kenderdine, and Kezir co-wrote the influential 2010 report “The Future of Natural Gas.” This report was instrumental in giving a scholarly boost to the fracking boom and rampant production and consumption of fracked gas during the early years under the Obama administration. “The Future of Natural Gas” received funding from the American Clean Skies Foundation, an oil and gas industry front group founded in 2007 by fracking pioneer Aubrey McClendon, as well as from Hess Corporation, Exelon, and the Gas Technology Institute.

EJM, for its part, has partnerships with entities tied to the fossil fuel industry. Those include McLarty Associates and the corporate law firm Dentons.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), an affiliated union of the AFL-CIO, also is participating in the Labor Energy Partnership. IBEW gave a nod to natural gas fracking and nuclear energy in a separate press release announcing the partnership.

As the vice-chair of the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee, I’m thrilled to be a part of this new effort to find solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time,” said IBEW President Lonnie R. Stephenson in the release. “At the IBEW, we represent tens of thousands of members who depend on low-carbon natural gas and zero-carbon nuclear energy, and Secretary Moniz understands that climate solutions that don’t take into account the jobs and communities that depend on those fuel sources are unrealistic and shortsighted.”

The Labor Energy Partnership says in a press release that it is guided by four core principles. One of those principles is “an ‘all-of-the above’ energy source strategy” that's flexible and “addresses the crisis of stranded workers.” Another key tenet is “the preservation of existing jobs, wherever possible, and the creation of new ones that are equal to or better than those that are displaced.”

Union Members Support Coal Phase Out at Levin Terminal in Richmond

By Steve Morse, Martha Hawthorne, Jonathan Kocher, Jud Peake, and Steve Ongerth - Open Letter, January 2020

We are rank-and-file union members who support Richmond’s proposed ordinance to phase out coal and pet coke export from the city.

Others supportive of the ordinance who were present at the December 3rd meeting of the Richmond City Council, include members of unions representing nurses, educators,  and city and county workers. 

The Richmond City Council has been debating an ordinance to phase out coal and pet coke transport from the Levin Terminal over three years. It will finally come to a vote on Tuesday, January 14. We support this ordinance, and Richmond residents’ demands, because we support healthy, vibrant communities with clean air that are free from coal dust.

We also support good, well-paying jobs – union jobs – and the right to bargain collectively and organize for ourselves and our communities.  And we support full employment and a just transition for all workers displaced by the rapid transition away from fossil fuels toward clean and renewable energy that can protect us from climate disaster.

As union members, we call on other union members to oppose the fossil fuel corporations’ agenda -- which callously divides workers, community members and environmentalists -- so that we can’t effectively fight for our common interests and protect the health and safety of our families.

We ask all people to be fully part of the fight for protecting and expanding green union jobs. We all must work for a commitment to a just transition that goes beyond vague support.

We can have good jobs, healthy communities and environmental justice. With real unity, we can halt the power of the oil and coal industries to pollute our neighborhoods, and to pollute our planet.

The Green New Deal offers us a way forward. At the local, state and national level, it is our best strategy for jobs, community health and climate justice. A poll by Data for Progress shows that 62% of working union members favor a Green New Deal, while only 22% are in opposition. We want the collective voice of union workers to reflect this sentiment.

While just transition is a strategy to fully compensate and retrain workers displaced from the fossil fuel economy, the task at Levin Terminal is simpler. The workers can retain their jobs, their wages and benefits. They can retain their representation by the Operating Engineers and the other unions. By shifting terminal operations to handling materials that are compatible with community health and a sustainable world, their jobs can be sustained as well.

We commit ourselves to joining with community health and climate justice activists to create one or more viable fleshed-out plans to change the materials that are stored and shipped at the terminal.  At UC Berkeley alone, there are many resources, including the Labor Center, that could help hone this plan.

We ask Levin and the unions to commit to ongoing meetings with the Richmond community and to work in good faith to make this transition happen.  We also ask Levin to withdraw the threat that they made at the Dec. 3 City Council meeting that they would litigate if the ordinance passed. After all, this ordinance doesn't call for an immediate ban, and it includes an option to return to the council if replacement commodities genuinely cannot be found.

The Richmond City Council voted to push the vote on the ordinance to this Tuesday.  The clock is ticking, and the health and safety of the people here in our community is at stake. How much longer will workers and Richmond residents have to endure the worst air quality in the Bay Area?

Pandering to the Predator: Labor and Energy Under Trump

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, February 3, 2017

Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20th 2017 saw unions and activist groups from numerous social movements take to the streets and declare an all-out war of resistance to both his presidency and his agenda.  

As is now clear, some union officials have not only dodged the draft, but have actually joined the opposition. Trump has made it clear that he intends to give full-on support for the further development of fossil fuels. He plans to revive coal, and get behind fracking for shale oil and shale gas. He also plans to approve major infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. This just happens to be a big part of labor’s agenda also, and agenda that has been largely shaped by the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU).

A Trump-Trades Confederacy?

Leaders of NABTU have not only openly embraced Trump’s energy agenda, they  quickly warmed up to Trump himself—and some of his proposed appointees. In a pre-inauguration statement, NABTU praised Trump for nominating former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillermen to be Secretary of State. NABTU said, “We believe he will be a tremendous success,” and praised Tillermen’s “resilient and dynamic grasp of both global and domestic policy issues, and a deep and unyielding sense of patriotism for our great nation.” Of this writing, even prominent Republicans are uncomfortable having someone with a pension plan worth $70 million and who owns $218 million’s worth of company stock become the country’s top diplomat.

In another sign of approval for Trump, the Laborer’s union (LiUNA) criticized the outgoing Administration’s decision to remove offshore areas for future leasing. In one of his final acts as president, Obama thwarted oil and gas industry plans to explore and drill in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Attacking Obama, the union stated, “LIUNA looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to reverse this and other regressive energy policies enacted by the outgoing President.”  This from a union that just a few years ago was on the cutting edge of the “green jobs” agenda, an active partner in the Blue-Green Alliance, and one of the first US unions to call on the Obama administration to adopt the science-based emissions reductions targets proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Also significant was Trump’s post-inauguration White House meeting with labor leaders on Jan 23rd.  Participants included NABTU President Sean McGarvey, LiUNA President Terry O’Sullivan, Sheet Metal workers’ union President Joseph Sellers, Carpenters President Doug McCarron and Mark McManus, president of the Plumbers and Pipefitters. Progressive unions were, it seems, not invited. McGarvey told the New York Times “We have a common bond with the president…We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

The Pipeline Divide

By Gerard Di Trolio - Rank and File, May 23, 2019

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s volte-face on liquified natural gas (LNG) projects in British Columbia is a welcome development. The policy reversal seems to stem from the recent victory of the Green Party in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election on May 6 which saw the NDP lose a seat they previously held. Whatever the precise reason, the Federal NDP now has responded to the policy weakness they had with which that the Greens were able to outflank them from the left.

However, the protests at the Unist’ot’en Camp by members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline should not be overlooked when it comes to bringing wider attention to the problems of LNG projects.

Singh’s new opposition to LNG is not without controversy from some of the NDP’s ostensible allies. B.C. unions whose members will work on the LNG pipeline are now going public with their displeasure with this policy change.

Leaders of Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 1611 and International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Canada, the unions that will be working on the project believe Singh is putting putting the jobs of their members at risk and that the Coastal GasLink Pipeline that will run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat has the “social licence” to go ahead.

But this is not the way for labour. The better approach is a  just transition, which seeks to build a green and sustainable economy where workers in carbon-intensive industries are not left behind, and which restructures the economy to also meet other social justice goals. If unions don’t step up and articulate a program for a green transition that is also a just transition then workers and everyone else who aren’t among the elite are going to be battered by climate change and by whatever responses that capital comes up with – like ignoring worker interests – once they realize they can’t ignore a warming planet any more.

Brothers & sisters in the building trades: Time is running out for the planet

By A WORKING CARPENTER - Socialist Action, March 25, 2019

I’ve been a carpenter my whole adult life. I worked nonunion before I joined the Carpenters’ Union—easily the smartest thing I’ve ever done. For a working-class person, a union is still the best anti-poverty program.

Recently, the heads of the Building Trades unions, alongside the leaders of the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers (UMWA), spoke out against the proposed Green New Deal. They claim that the GND will “cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.” Right-wing climate deniers immediately seized on union opposition to the GND as proof that proponents are out of touch with reality.

The science is irrefutable: Climate change is real. The energy companies spend millions of dollars trying to convince you that the science isn’t definitive. (Just like the tobacco companies tried to tell us that cigarettes are not a danger to your health.) Politicians crack jokes in the wintertime to downplay the seriousness of the situation.

The dangers are real. We’re already seeing the effects—melting ice caps and rising sea levels, extreme weather, flooding in the Midwest, more intense hurricanes, wildfires in the West, and refugee crises that will only become more dire. Famine is a real threat. Wars may be fought over water and arable land. Democracy could be threatened as a result of social unrest. If left unchecked, climate change could mean the end of life on Earth.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If corporate interests, and the richest 1%, are left in control of the economy and government, they will balance the cost of the climate crisis on our backs. The rich will stop at nothing to keep their wealth and power. This means playing working people against each other, inciting fear of immigrants, and fanning the flames of conspiracy theories about socialists wanting to take away your hamburgers.

AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 12, 2019

A letter, dated March 8, was addressed to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, and signed by  Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America , and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on behalf of the  AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee.  The letter  states :   “..the Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy. It is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.”  “…We want to engage on climate issues in a manner that does not impinge on enacting other labor priorities, especially much-needed infrastructure legislation…”

How they would engage and what they would propose is contained in a position paper posted on the IBEW website, and drafted by the IBEW, UMWA, and five other unions in the electric utility, construction, and rail transport sectors.  The position paper,  Preliminary  Labor Positions on Climate Legislation , states their opposition to carbon tax legislation and grave concerns about the Green New Deal . It calls for comprehensive, economy wide climate legislation which would include an national emissions trading scheme, to be introduced no earlier than 10 years after enacting legislation, to allow for development of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS)  technologies.  It also calls for worker transition protections, including compensation and retraining.  The policy document was submitted to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee for the record of their  February 6th meeting:  “Time for Action: Addressing the Economic and Environmental Effects of Climate Change“.

Reaction:  The Washington Post reported:  “AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12)  and  in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14).  The United Mine Workers re-posted the Washington Post article .  Friends of the Earth, in its reaction to the March 8 letter, states “one-fifth of the unions that make up the AFL-CIO energy committee commented on the Green New Deal”,  and,  “With the energy committee’s position, the AFL joins climate deniers like the Koch brothers, the Republican Party and Big Oil. We encourage the AFL and other unions within it to rethink this position.”

The Green New Deal and Labour

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 27, 2019

The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  published a new Discussion Paper written by Jeremy Brecher in late February.   18  Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work  states that initial discussion of the Green New Deal resolution was rightly focussed on values and goals, but this Discussion paper moves on to the “how”- in 18 specific proposals which are itemized individually, but are intended to work together. The paper explains and consolidates many of the goals and strategies which have been proposed before by  LNS, including: protect low-income energy consumers and empower communities; mobilize labour and leave no worker behind; ensure worker rights and good union jobs, and yes, provide a “job guarantee.”  The 18 Strategies Discussion paper is summarized as “The Green New Deal can work: Here’s How”, which appeared in Commons Dreams on February 25  and was re-posted in  Resilience on Feb. 26.  In the article, Jermey Brecher states: “A GND will not pit workers against workers and discourage the growth of climate-protecting industries and jobs abroad. It will oppose both escalating trade wars and the free trade utopia of neoliberalism.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability has worked to build solidarity behind the Green New Deal, and on February 26,  published a Special  Issue of their newsletter, which profiles the GND endorsements and initiatives of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council in California, SEIU Locals 32BJ in New York, SIEU Local  1021 in San Francisco, and the Business Manager of IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, along with other examples and resources.  The LNS  website also hosts a new blog by Todd Vachon,  Green New Deal is a Good Deal for New Jersey workers , in which he argues for the GND and cites some of his research  which shows that union members are more likely than the general population to support environmental action.

Why has the Dakota Access Pipeline become a divisive issue for U.S. Labour?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 7, 2016

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are continuing, according to Democracy Now on October 7.  On October 5, three U.S. federal judges heard arguments  over whether to stop the construction, but they are not expected to make a ruling for three or four months.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability released a new post , Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor,  which asks “Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?”  The article discusses the AFL-CIO’s  statement  in support of the pipeline, and points to the growing influence of the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ within the AFL-CIO through their campaign of “stealth disaffiliation”.  It also cites an “ unprecedented decision” by the Labor Coalition for Community Action,  an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO , to issue their own statement in support of the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in direct opposition to the main AFL-CIO position. The Climate Justice Alliance, an environmental justice group of 40 organizations, has also written to the AFL-CIO in an attempt to begin discussions.  Brecher’s article concludes that the allies and activist members of the AFL-CIO are exerting increasing pressure, and asks “Isn’t it time?” for a dialogue which will shift direction and build a new fossil-free infrastructure which  will also create jobs in the U.S.    For unions interested in supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a sample resolution for local unions is available from the Climate Workers website.

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