You are here

SEIU 1021

San Francisco Prepares for Historic Vote on Fossil Fuel Divestment

By Thanu Yakupitiyage and Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, January 18, 2018

San Francisco - On January 24, the San Francisco Retirement Board will vote on a long-awaited resolution to divest San Francisco’s pension fund from fossil fuel companies.

The decision will be seen as an early indication of whether or not the fossil fuel divestment movement can build on the momentum from last week’s historic announcement that New York City would be divesting its pension funds and suing Big Oil for damages caused by climate change.

"This is a definitive moment for San Francisco in the fight for a fossil free world. As the city prepares to host a climate convening of the world's local leaders later this year, it's time to put their money where their mouth is,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org. “Tackling the climate crisis means that cities everywhere will need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, specially when federal leaders are slow to act. By divesting their more than $20 billion pension fund from fossil fuels, the City by the Bay will show Big Oil billionaires and communities around the globe that they're serious about real climate action."

Since the campaign launch six years ago, the fossil fuel divestment movement has succeeded in securing commitments from over 800 institutions in over 77 countries representing more than $6 trillion in assets.

In San Francisco, it’s been a long path to next week’s vote. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to endorse fossil fuel divestment in April 2013. Last December, hours before he passed away, Mayor Ed Lee published a piece in Medium endorsing divestment, writing, “By taking the bold step to divest from fossil fuel assets, we are once again taking a strong stand on the essential issue of the environment.”

Meanwhile, many Bay Area institutions have been at the forefront of the divestment campaign. San Francisco State University became the first community college district in the nation to divest from fossil fuels. In the South Bay, the Santa Clara Valley Water District became the first such entity to make a commitment, while Stanford University made an early commitment to divest from coal in 2014.

Divestment has proved an effective tool to help stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and increase investor worries that as the world moves towards renewable energy, coal, oil and gas reserves could become “stranded assets” and drive down the share price of fossil fuel companies. A report from the University of Michigan concluded that the divestment campaign has successfully shifted the conversation around fossil fuels and institutional responsibility to act on climate.

According to many investment advisors and financial experts divesting from fossil fuels poses no significant risk to the portfolio performance. In fact, many are now arguing that as fossil fuel companies become an increasingly risky bet, divestment may be safer than holding onto coal, oil and gas stocks.

"The time to divest from all fossil fuels is now. Our pension board needs to listen to city workers and union members who have testified, written letters, and, presented the facts on the fossil fuel industry for years. SEIU 1021, that counts over 54,000 members in Northern California, publicly supports total divestment,” said Martha Hawthorne, retired RN from the Department of Public Health. “Our hard work built this pension system and we want an end to investments in a system of life killing extraction that endangers our future. We know climate crisis is upon us. This is evident by the drought, record pollution, extreme heat, catastrophic fires and deadly mudslides in just the last few months. We are in a race against time. Divestment is a clear way for San Francisco's pension board to make a difference now."

The nation’s largest environmental groups, notable figures such as Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, have all endorsed fossil fuel divestment as a key strategy in fighting climate change.

On January 24, San Francisco has the opportunity to take a bold step forward by announcing that it will join New York City and institutions around the world by divesting from fossil fuels.

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.

SEIU 1021 Resolution in support of Climate Justice Work

By SEIU 1021 - Resolution Adopted April 13, 2016

Note: The IWW is not affiliated with SEIU or any of its locals. This is posted for informational purposes only.

I. Climate Change is real. It is here. It is advancing. The only question is how bad things will become. We in Local 1021, our neighbors, and communities are already experiencing the effects of Climate Change in our work and lives. In California, headlines have focused on the drought caused by climate change, but the real effects will be far deeper and more severe than even that.

II. The world's scientists are almost unanimous in reporting that our environment is about to cross a point of no return that could endanger human life itself. This past year, SElU leaders and members were in Paris for the COP 21 meeting where the United States and 158 other countries established the ambitious goal of limiting the world's temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius, in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

III. Climate Change is largely fueled by carbon energy sources whose emissions are overwhelming our earth's ability to absorb that carbon. The buildup of carbon in our atmosphere is trapping heat and cooking our planet.

IV. Our economic system depends on extracting and depleting resources and creating waste at unsustainable levels. The environment is treated as an unlimited resource and waste dumping ground. Products are designed to be disposable to spur new sales and waste.

V. The same economic system that treats our environment as disposable also treats workers as disposable-leading to our country's extreme economic inequality. When corporations search the globe for ever lower wages and working conditions to produce the same product, it means wealth for a few but reductions in standard of living for the rest of us.

VI. SEIU's 21st Century Blueprint Committee report identified Climate Change and Income Inequality as major trends that are inherently linked, and that pose major challenges to all of us. The committee report states that: "...it is poor and working people who typically bear the greatest impact of pollution and extreme weather. In this respect, climate change is not only a global threat, but also major expressions of inequality."

VII. The combination of Economic lnjustice and Environmental lnjustice dumps a double dose of hurt on poor people, communities of color and other marginalized people that have historically borne the brunt of pollution and environmental hazards in their neighborhoods, resulting in severe and chronic health problems as we see in lower income communities from Richmond to Fresno to South LA.

VIII. For too long, our government at all levels and our public employees have been subjected to unprincipled attacks that undermine the value of our democracy and the services our communities rely upon. As Climate Change deepens, only public institutions will be able to develop the plans and marshal the resources needed to mitigate its worsening impact.

IX. As Public Employees and Members of SElU Local 1021 we are in a unique and strategic position to prove that government and our Unions defend the "Common Good" and are a force for good in our community. As Union Members and Working People, we have the ability to fight for solutions to climate change that specifically prevent disproportionate impacts on our communities and are "dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society."

X. As public sector workers, we are responsible to education and create good environmental programs, policies, and solutions. We must demand the resources, training and capacity to do so; and must also fight to capture savings from innovations and efficiency so they are equitably shared with workers.

XI. We know that Winning for Working People requires building strong organizations and Alliances with Allies to fight for both Economic and Environmental Justice; and both SElU and Local 1021 have begun to build these alliances through local and national fights for economic and environmental justice.

Therefore be it resolved: SElU Local 1021 Leaders recognize Climate Change as a challenge and threat to the welfare of our Union's Members, workers, and communities everywhere; SElU Local 1021 Leaders recognize that while our Union's program of Organizing works to build power for members to win greater economic, social and racial justice, our efforts alone are not enough to win the "more humane society," all workers deserve; and we must partner with Allies in all progressive movements, and particularly Climate Change and Environmental Justice movement if we are to protect the healthy planet that all workers deserve;

SElU Local 1021 Leaders also recognize that we must work with our Allies to recognize and fight for Climate Change solutions that recognize the legitimate rights of workers to organize, their demands for economic justice and security, and the need for a Just Transition for workers in industries impacted by the move away from carbon to renewable energy sources.
To Accomplish these Goals SElU Local 1021 Leaders commit to making Climate Justice a part of our Union's Program. Some of these goals may include:

  • Educating Members, Officers and Staff about climate change and the need for climate justice. To include illustrating the interconnectedness and impact on, working people and our larger fights for economic and racial justice.
  • Developing a program of Action on Climate Change that puts to use our skills and expertise as Union Members and Public Employees to promote solutions that contribute to mitigating and adapting to the Climate Crisis and that protect and advance the rights and interests of all workers and our communities as a part of our Union Work, including areas such as but not limited to:
    • Common Good Campaigns
    • Bargaining Demands
    • Labor Management Partnerships
    • Political, Policy and Budgeting Work
    • Participation in State, County, Local "tables," where mitigation
    • and adaptation policies are being developed
    • Movement Coalition Building with Allies
    • Mobilizing Members to Action

Solidarity is the new I love you

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 15, 2015

Hey Kentucky, I’ve got good news for ya! The death of coal companies has been largely exaggerated, it turns out your coal companies are fine, they are just busy destroying Utah and Oakland now. Oh, and New Mexico and Colorado, too, just as they have destroyed the health and environment of Appalachia for decades. Now, after destroying Kentucky’s economy and abandoning communities via a vanishing act, and leaving that mess behind, we’ve figured out where they are and what they are up to, well at least one of them.

Bowie Resource Partners, a decidedly non union company, based in Louisville, Kentucky, has recently popped up in Oakland, California, with a plan to ship in their Utah coal via rail through working class communities of color in West Oakland to a proposed coal export terminal to be built for shipping coal to China, India, etc. Far from going out business, Bowie is currently expanding and buying new mines out west, while coal field communities in Appalachia are suffering devastating economic times.

I’ve previously blogged about this for OVEC back during the last Oakland City Council hearing, which was jam packed with hundreds of residents waiting hours to speak. It turns out that hot button environmental justice issues will do that. Yeah, it turns out that the health and environmental impacts of breathing toxic coal dust has a lot of West Oaklanders pretty damn pissed off. These same communities fighting against police violence to let the world know that #blacklivesmatter, now need to tell Bowie Natural Resource to respect black lives, black health and black neighborhoods as well. West Oakland was the birthplace of the Black Panther party, afterall.

Louisville, Kentucky, with the largest black population in the state, with many historically living in West Louisville, is no stranger to environmental injustice as well. The West End is not only home to most of the environmental hotspots in the city, there is also currently “a campaign to block recycling food waste into methane at a facility in western Louisville.” So, black lives are being disrespected in a lot of the same ways by similar corporate assholes from Louisville all the way to Oakland, and this has to stop.

Community Hosts Teach-In on Environmental Justice as Oakland City Council Delays Action on Coal Exports

By April Thomas and Virginia Reinhart - Sierra Club Press Release, December 10, 2015; video by Labor Video Project, December 9, 2015

Video: ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Derrick Muhammad spoke in Berkeley, California on December 6 about the role of the ILWU in opposed a coal terminal in the part of Oakland, California. This presentation was made on December 6, 2015.

Oakland, Calif. - Activists and community leaders from groups including No Coal in Oakland, Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter rallied today at Oakland City Hall. Along with SEIU Local 1021 they hosted a teach-in on the alignment of the campaign to block coal exports with struggles for social, economic, and racial justice. At its September hearing on the health and safety impacts of a proposal to export millions of tons of Utah coal through a new terminal at the former Army Base, the Oakland City Council committed to acting by December 8th. They have since delayed their action to February. Activists gathered at City Hall nonetheless, to make their voices heard and gather for a community teach-in that brought together a broad intersection of Oakland’s progressive activists.

“If Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal is allowed to store coal on City of Oakland-owned land, it will greatly impact the lives and lungs of people in the Oakland flatlands, who are the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “The developer never proposed coal as a commodity until after agreements were signed with the City. Even now, the developer doesn’t have the funding together to make this terminal a reality without the cooperation of state and local government. The City of Oakland should take the strongest possible stance in opposing the storage of coal at the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal.”

"Low-income communities of color disproportionately overburdened by pollution are on the front lines of potential train derailment in West and East Oakland,” said Ernesto Arevalo, East Oakland environmental justice and housing advocate. “The transportation of coal is another burden to these communities that are already facing other environmental risks and displacement."

"What does social justice look like?" said Shonda Roberts, activist with Fight for 15. "To me it looks like a livable wage, a clean environment and safe communities. The only way that would be attainable is
solidarity."

"We believe it is so important that there be no coal in Oakland because of profound health concerns of residents," said Dominic Ware and Chris Higgenbotham of Black Lives Matter Bay Area. "We've already seen the impacts of gentrification in West Oakland. Now we're being exploited in another way by coal companies who want to pollute our communities."

"Oakland should not be involved in shipping coal overseas, since this fossil fuel is the major contributor to climate change,” said Margaret Rossoff of the Sunflower Alliance. “Coal needs to be left in ground and replaced with renewable resources." 

“The City Council can delay all they like, but we’re not going anywhere,” said Brittany King of the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. “So much is at stake here, from our global climate to the health of the West Oakland community. Today concerned Oaklanders from many different struggles came together to speak with one voice: We say no to coal exports in Oakland.”
Background: A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but is now soliciting a partnership with four Utah counties that could allow the terminal to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal is being conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of which oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. While the Mayor, members of the council and residents have demanded a stop to this backroom deal, the developer has yet to abandon the plans.

Those opposing the plan to export coal through Oakland have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s safety, the environment, and public health. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal will stifle California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption.

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.