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Climate Workers

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.

Alameda County Central Labor Council resolution on climate for the AFL-CIO convention

Submitted for consideration at the September meeting of the Alameda Labor Council and referral to the AFL-CIO Convention by Michael Eisenscher, Delegate, Peralta Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1603 - Adopted unanimously by the Alameda Labor Council, September 11, 2017

WHEREAS, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the climate warming trend over the past century is due to human activities, primarily due to our reliance on carbon-based fuels and deforestation that have caused a dramatic increase in the global level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; and

WHEREAS, burning most of the known fossil fuel reserves will cause global warming to reach catastrophic proportions resulting in sea level rise that will inundate major coastal cities, more severe prolonged droughts, frequent intense wildfires, destructive hurricanes, tornadoes and other “superstorms”, frequent destructive floods, reduced agricultural productivity resulting in food shortages and famine, the spread of vector-born and other diseases, and ever greater numbers of climate migrants and refugees; and

WHEREAS, the Trump Administration has promoted climate change denial, and has stated that the U.S. will “tear up” the Paris Climate Agreement and not implement the Obama Administration’s National Commitment to reduce emissions submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), making it the only nation to withdraw among nearly two hundred that signed on; and

WHEREAS, the AFL-CIO opposes the Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, on grounds that, “Pulling out of the Paris climate agreement is a decision to abandon a cleaner future powered by good jobs,” and has affirmed that, “The U.S. labor movement will continue to urge the United States to stay in the agreement so we can achieve the best outcomes for America’s workers”; and

WHEREAS, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) was successful in ensuring that “just transition of the workforce” was addressed in the preface to the Paris Agreement, which recognizes that the burden of climate-protecting policies and the transition to a sustainable energy economy should not be borne by workers and communities; and

WHEREAS, moving rapidly toward a sustainable economy and society, can—with the right policies in place—also be the source of large numbers of new, well-paid union jobs that will also reinvigorate local economies; and

WHEREAS, proliferation of fracking and the transportation of shale oil and gas have inflicted serious harm on the health and quality of life of communities located close to blasting and drilling sites, “petcoke” piles and other toxic residues and pollutants, particularly First Nations whose sovereignty rights have been routinely violated, and other communities of color, low-income and other working class communities historically dependent on and exposed to the impacts of fossil fuel extraction; and

WHEREAS, we will solve the climate crisis and the inequality crisis only when we put unions and working people at the center of the movements for economic justice and climate justice; and

WHEREAS, the market will not produce the transformation to renewable energy in a short enough time period to prevent the catastrophic effects of global warming and climate change; and

WHEREAS, the chaotic state of liberalized for-profit energy markets has pitted utilities against renewable energy concerns, produced a situation that is unsustainable and untenable, and led to the loss of thousands of jobs in the power generation sector (particularly in coal) without provisions made to protect impacted workers and communities; and

WHEREAS, the scale of the energy transition that is needed requires an approach comparable to that pursued by the Rural Electrification Administration launched in1935 during the New Deal, where publicly-driven electrification generated jobs, public utilities, and distribution cooperatives on a mass scale; and

WHEREAS, public transit systems are under attack, public health services lack sufficient resources, and public infrastructure has been neglected and is in need of comprehensive upgrades, repairs and replacement; and

WHEREAS, a variety of policy tools should be available to move rapidly toward renewable energy while providing well-paid stable jobs, income protection, and retraining for workers and communities adversely affected; these policy tools should include but are not limited to:

  • (a) a progressive tax on carbon pollution with the revenue used to support the income, retraining, and provision of new jobs for workers and communities hurt by the transition and those that have historically borne the brunt of pollution from these facilities;
  • (b) policies referenced in the Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act, and the “100 By 50” Act which seeks to move towards 100% renewable energy by 2050 while providing for protection for workers and communities affected by the transition, and also providing for card check and first contract arbitration, lowering barriers that make it difficult to organize workers into unions;
  • (c) expansion of public and social ownership of and control over power generation, transmission and distribution;
  • THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO reaffirms its support for the Paris Agreement as an important, though non-binding contribution to driving a rapid and managed just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy that leaves most of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will continue to work with the ITUC and the international labor movement as a whole to raise the level of ambition of the National Contributions to the Paris Agreement, including the U.S. contribution, in order to be consistent with the temperature threshold target agreed in Paris of “well below 2 degrees Celsius”; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will develop an energy transition policy that recognizes the imperative of a massive scale up of renewable power, upgrading grid systems, promoting energy conservation and efficiency, in a manner that is also consistent with “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and which provides a just transition for affected workers and communities; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will publicly campaign to re-regulate and/or reclaim to the public the electricity sector in order both to facilitate the creation of good stable family wage jobs in the U.S., and to carry out the transition to renewable energy generation at the speed and scale required to at least achieve the Paris targets; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will campaign for domestic content requirements for all commitments of public funds to renewable power generation, electricity grid upgrades, efficiency retrofits, and other elements of a transition to renewable energy; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will support legislation that provides strong protection for workers and communities that are adversely affected by the transition away from fossil fuels, including such examples as the “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” and the “100 By 50 Act”; and

RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO supports the demands of frontline communities for environmental justice, including access to newly created jobs in the renewable energy sector; and

FINALLY RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will work to inform and mobilize union members and their families with other social forces in support of legislation that furthers these goals, and will support candidates for office who are committed to them.

Meet the L.A. Household Worker Taking On the Toxic Cleaning Industry

Article and Image by Brooke Anderson - In These Times, September 6, 2017

In 2016, after more than a decade of intense struggle, a statewide coalition of domestic workers won a landmark Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in California. The legislation establishes overtime pay for some of the lowest paid and most exploited workers in California’s massive economy.

Now this scrappy but increasingly influential coalition of mostly first-generation Latina and Filipina immigrant women is taking on the powerful consumer cleaning product industry that is poisoning their bodies, children, air, water and soil.

Like many of the women who mop floors and scrub toilets in other people’s homes, when María first started cleaning, she developed a nasty rash and cough, among other ailments. Now she’s one of the leading organizers behind an effort to require that the consumer cleaning product industry include ingredient lists so housecleaners can identify health risks.

While people have made and cleaned homes for tens of thousands of years using natural cleansers and disinfectants—from vinegar and citrus fruit peels to rosemary and thyme—the production of synthetic chemicals skyrocketed after World War II. Of the at least 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States today, tens of thousands have never been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. Studies show that our bodies—including our breastmilk—are awash in these chemicals, leading to a host of health issues like asthma and cancer. Now, women like María are fighting back.

While in Los Angeles, Calif., I sat down with María, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, in light of recent immigration attacks and the many reprisals workers face for speaking out.

Climate Movement to May Day Strikers: "We've Got Your Back"

By Deirdre Fulton - Common Dreams, April 27, 2017

Just as labor leaders are standing firmly behind this Saturday's national climate mobilization, the environmental movement has declared its support for workers who plan to strike as part of Monday's May Day demonstrations.

May 1st, International Workers Day, will see rallies, marches, and strikes around the country and the world; in the United States, acts of civil disobedience, work stoppages, and boycotts will target the Trump administration and support immigrants who have experienced an increase in raids and racist rhetoric since the election of President Donald Trump.

"May 1st is the first step in a series of strikes and boycotts that will change the conversation on immigration in the United States," said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a spokesperson from Movimiento Cosecha, which is part of a coalition organizing the actions. "We believe that when the country recognizes it depends on immigrant labor to function, we will win permanent protection from deportation for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, the right to travel freely to visit our loved ones abroad, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect."

An open letter signed this week by more than 80 environmental and climate justice groups recognizes that these demands and those of green groups have many points of intersection. 

"Today, workers face unprecedented attacks on wages, benefits, workplace safety, and the right to organize free from fear and retaliation," reads the letter, whose signatories include 350.org, Greenpeace, Rising Tide North America, and the Sierra Club. "But we know that we are all stronger when workers in our communities have safe, fair, and dignified employment with which they can support their families without fear of deportation or violence."

What's more, the letter continues:

The effects of our fossil fuel economy fall first and worst on working class communities, communities of color, immigrants, and Indigenous peoples who have not only contributed the least to climate disruption, but have the least resources to shoulder the burden of a transition to a new, climate-friendly economy. It is these frontline communities who are also at the forefront of change and whose solutions and leadership we most need.

[...] As environmental and climate justice organizations, we support workers who choose to walk off their jobs on May 1st because we know that the fight to protect land, water, air and soil is inseparable from the fight to protect the life and dignity of workers, migrants, and communities of color.

This language dovetails with that of Mary Kay Henry, international president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who declared Wednesday, "Every day SEIU members and our communities experience the impact of toxic pollution in our air and water and the catastrophic impacts from climate change that are made worse from this pollution."

Of Saturday's Peoples Climate March, Henry said: "We march because we are on the frontlines. As working people, people of color, and immigrants, we march because our families are disproportionately hardest hit by pollution and climate change's impacts. We march because as service and care workers we are on the frontlines of caring for and responding to impacted families and communities."

The letter from eco- and climate-justice groups calls on employers not to retaliate against workers who choose to go on strike, and pledges to defend workers who face retaliation.

An Open Letter from Environmental & Climate Justice Organizations on May Day

By Climate Workers and Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project - Originally posted on Climate Workers, April 28, 2017

An Open Letter from Environmental & Climate Justice Organizations on May Day

Worker power, immigrant rights, and racial justice must be at the heart of environmental and climate movements

As environmental and climate justice organizations, we declare our support for protests planned for International Workers Day (“May Day”), May 1st, 2017 and for workers who choose to participate by honoring the general strike.

International Workers’ Day was first established to commemorate the deaths of workers fighting for the 8-hour work day in Chicago in 1886. It has long been a day to uplift the struggles, honor the sacrifices, and celebrate the triumphs of working people across the world. The day has taken special significance in the U.S. since May 1st, 2006 when 1.5 million immigrants and their allies took to the streets to protest racist immigration policies.

Today, workers face unprecedented attacks on wages, benefits, workplace safety, and the right to organize free from fear and retaliation. But we know that we are all stronger when workers in our communities have safe, fair, and dignified employment with which they can support their families without fear of deportation or violence.

The effects of our fossil fuel economy fall first and worst on working class communities, communities of color, immigrants, and indigenous peoples who have not only contributed the least to climate disruption, but have the least resources to shoulder the burden of a transition to a new, climate-friendly economy. It is these frontline communities who are also at the forefront of change and whose solutions and leadership we most need.

As organizations working to transition our economy away from profit-seeking resource extraction toward ecological resilience and economic democracy, we know that worker power has to be at the heart of that transition.

We urgently need the wisdom and skills of millions of workers to transform our food, water, waste, transit, and energy systems in order to live within the finite resources of this planet that we call home. But the Trump agenda only promises jobs building more prison cells, border walls, bombs, and oil pipelines. Workers deserve not only fair wages, but work that makes our ecosystems and communities more resilient, not destroys them.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. No significant social change in this country has come without tremendous risk and sacrifice by ordinary people – from workers who walk off the job to water protectors facing down water cannons and attack dogs.

As environmental and climate justice organizations, we support workers who choose to walk off their jobs on May 1st because we know that the fight to protect land, water, air and soil is inseparable from the fight to protect the life and dignity of workers, migrants, and communities of color.

To workers participating in protests on May 1st, we say: “Thank you. You deserve better. And we’ve got your back.”

To that end, we join with unions and worker-led organizations throughout the country in asking that there be NO RETALIATION against any worker – union or non union – who exercises their rights by taking time off from work on May 1. Further, should workers face retaliation, we pledge our strong support for efforts to defend those workers.

Sample Resolution for Local Unions on the Dakota Access Pipeline

By Brooke Anderson - Climate Workers, October 3, 2016

Click here to download the sample resolution as an editable Word doc

[Sample] Local Union Resolution Against the Dakota Access Pipeline

WHEREAS, the $3.78Billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline would carry over half a million barrels of dirty crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois to connect to other pipelines bringing oil to the East Coast and the Gulf; and

WHEREAS, the pipeline is slated to pass through the tribal lands of Standing Rock Sioux near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and underneath the Missouri River, the main source of water for the tribe; and

WHEREAS, the pipeline desecrates the ancestral burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux; and

WHEREAS, millions of workers – including many union members – their families, and communities live in the path of the proposed pipeline; and

WHEREAS, the transport of heavy crude is particularly volatile, leading to 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked, or released into the air, land, and waterways between 2006 and 2014 in North Dakota alone, causing death, contamination of soil and water, and all kinds of disease; and

WHEREAS, scientists have warned that in order to avoid wide-scale, catastrophic climate disruption, the vast majority of known remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground; and

WHEREAS, Native American land protectors and their supporters have been brutally attacked by private security forces with attack dogs and pepper spray; and

WHEREAS, Native Americans and other activists defending their land and water have the same right to defend their land and engage in non-violent protest as workers who are protesting the actions of an unfair employer; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Congress has repealed the ban on exporting oil, meaning that the oil transported by the pipeline is likely to be sold overseas and not contribute to US energy independence; and

WHEREAS, we know that the real threat to workers’ lives and livelihoods is catastrophic climate change; and

WHEREAS, many large corporations, and especially fossil fuel corporations, have been putting profits ahead of the common good of workers, the public, and the environment, and these corporations have been granted the unjust constitutional rights and powers of person-hood, and the doctrine of money as speech through activist Supreme Court decisions thereby diminishing democracy and the voice and power of the people; and

WHEREAS, numerous national and international unions have already passed resolutions against construction of the pipeline, including National Nurses United, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Communications Workers of America, the United Electrical Workers, and others; and

WHEREAS, this local union is already on record supporting the development of renewable energy sources and investment in sustainable energy including quality union jobs; and

WHEREAS, more long term good paying jobs would be created by investing in sustainable energy infrastructure projects using already existing technologies while at the same time reducing pollution that creates greenhouse gases; and

WHEREAS, we support the rights of our union brothers and sisters building the pipeline to work in safe environments at jobs that are consistent with respect for the environment and the rights and safety of frontline communities; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that we call upon the Federal Government to make permanent the moratorium on construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by revoking permits for construction issued by the Army Corps of Engineers; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this local union calls on the labor movement to support a just transition to a renewable energy economy and investment in the construction of a nationwide sustainable energy infrastructure that will address the growing threat of climate change and its consequent droughts, floods, fire, crop failure, species extinction and other dire consequences of global warming; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this local union make a financial contribution of $_____ to the land protectors at the Standing Rock protest camps; and be it further

RESOLVED, this local union urges its internal union and the rest of the labor movement to become actively involved in promoting a just transition to a sustainable alternative energy economy that protects the environment and respects the rights of all working people to good paying safe jobs, human rights and justice for all; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the International Union and all Central Labor Councils we are affiliated, with, with a request for concurrence.

Big Labor has an identity crisis, and its name is Dakota Access

By Aura Bogado - Grist, September 28, 2016

A growing rift has split the country’s biggest union federation, the AFL-CIO. Many labor activists and union members are outraged that Richard Trumka, the federation’s president, threw the AFL-CIO’s support behind the Dakota Access pipeline project earlier this month.

The AFL-CIO’s statement backing the pipeline was announced a week after the Obama administration put construction on hold. Trumka acknowledged “places of significance to Native Americans” but argued that the more than “4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs” attached to the pipeline trumped environmental and other considerations.

That move rankled many in the AFL-CIO’s more progressive wing, highlighting strains within the federation of 56 unions representing 12 million workers. Recent tensions within the AFL-CIO have deepened a long-running divide between a more conservative, largely white, jobs-first faction and progressive union members who are friendly to environmental concerns and count more people of color among their ranks.

Grist interviewed five staffers at the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press. Trumka’s public support for the pipeline caught these senior-level and mid-level staffers by surprise, they told Grist — especially because he had recently taken progressive positions on Black Lives Matter, immigration, and criminal justice.

A call to Trumka’s office was not returned. The federation’s policy director, Damon Silvers, who is said to have helped write the statement, also did not respond to an interview request.

Union opponents of the pipeline project and their advocates quickly responded on social media with satire. One post on Twitter likened Trumka’s position to helping the wrong side in Star Wars.

Other frustrated union members and staffers placed calls to Climate Workers, an organization of union workers focused on climate justice, to vent. Brooke Anderson, an organizer at the group, says she fielded dozens of calls from members upset about the AFL-CIO’s position.

Worker Wisdom in a Changing Climate: Al Marshall - SEIU 1021, Oakland Chapter President

Interview and Image by Brooke Anderson - Climate Workers, November 13, 2015, reprinted by permission.

On September 21st, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Hall to oppose developer Phil Tagami’s proposal to build a coal export terminal in Oakland. Among them were dozens of union members whose locals were opposing coal as anti-union, a major source of carbon emissions, and a risk to public health in working class neighborhoods through which coal trains would pass and deposit toxic coal dust. One of those union members was Al Marshall, SEIU 1021 City of Oakland Chapter President, who told the council that coal dust would only exacerbate his son’s asthma. We later interviewed Al. Here’s his story.

Brooke Anderson, Climate Workers: Thanks for talking to me, Al. You’re a union member. How did you get involved in the union?

Al Marshall, SEIU 1021: I’ve worked as a construction inspector for the City of Oakland for 15 years, and a city employee for 26 years total. One day I showed up to a union meeting, learned that our contract was being violated and that other people were frustrated too. I’ve been involved in the union ever since. I was elected City of Oakland Chapter President two years ago.

BA: So you live in Oakland then?

AM: I used to live in Oakland. But I lost my family home as a result of the furloughs during the financial crisis. My wife was laid off with reinstatement rights up to three years. She was called back with 45 days left, but by that time, the damage had been done. We now live on the other side of the tube in Alameda.

BA: You recently spoke against coal at Oakland City Council. Why do you oppose coal?

AM: My son DeVon is 7. He’s had asthma since he was 1.5 years old. He also has bad allergies. Most nights we have to hook him up to a ventilator to breathe. It’s a 20 minute process, and I lay there with him to help him find a breathing pattern that will calm his cough. As a parent, having a child with asthma is hell. It means many sleepless nights.

Depending on how hot it is and which way the wind is blowing, what’s in the atmosphere triggers my son’s allergies and asthma. So to me, it doesn’t make any sense to transport coal through Oakland. And if we know coal will cause health problems here, why we would send it elsewhere? We are the gatekeeper to the planet. What we do has impacts on the other side of the planet and vice versa. We are all responsible.

BA: At the hearing, we heard the coal lobbyists say we need coal because it will bring jobs.

AM: I find it interesting that all these people are coming out of the woodwork now to say how it important it is to have coal in Oakland to bring jobs. There is enough other things to put on that Army Base to bring good paying jobs to those who need them. We don’t need coal for that. It’s the people who are financially well off who have the money to push coal on the less fortunate neighborhoods. They don’t have to worry about it because they don’t live here. But if they did, they would oppose coal too.

BA: Any last words for the coal industry?

AM: We all have a duty here while we are here on earth. We need to recognize what our calling is and do our best to serve whatever that calling is in the amount of time that we have here. We need to preserve something for those who come after us. It’s called passing the baton, and we have to make sure the baton doesn’t get dropped.