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Bay Area Transit Unions Join Forces to Win Safety Protections and Beat Back Layoffs

By Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, January 12, 2021

Transit workers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Last year at least 100 from the Amalgamated Transit Union and 131 from the Transport Workers lost their lives to Covid-19.

Before Covid, transit unions in the Bay Area—six ATU locals, and one local each of TWU and the Teamsters—often faced their individual struggles in isolation. But during the pandemic, these locals united across the region and came together with riders to demand protections for all.

That unity forced reluctant politicians to make Covid safety a priority. It also set the stage for the unions and riders to team up again to stave off layoffs. And there are more fights ahead.

PUBLIC TRANSIT STARVED

More than two dozen public transit agencies serve the Bay Area. They include MUNI in San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit, AC Transit in Oakland, Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, and Golden Gate Transit, which links San Francisco with counties to the north.

As a public service, transit depends on government funding. Yet federal support for operations—keeping the buses and trains running—was eliminated in 1998. Since then, federal funding has been restricted to capital projects, like buying buses or building light rail.

This austerity led many transit systems to cut service and raise fares. With each new round of cuts, union jobs were eliminated and vacancies left unfilled. A “death spiral” set in: cuts and fare hikes drove riders away; fewer riders meant less revenue.

With the onset of the pandemic, transit ridership plummeted, most dramatically on commuter systems that carry white-collar workers to downtown offices. But local service became more important than ever. Today over a third of transit riders are essential workers.

In March, the CARES Act earmarked $25 billion for emergency transit funding. Departing from past federal policy, this funding was eligible for operating expenses to keep workers on the payroll.

A new regional coalition called Voices for Public Transportation had been taking shape in 2019, bringing together unions and riders to push for more transit funding. When the pandemic hit, this coalition turned its attention to the urgent organizing for safety measures, and participation continued to grow.

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?

IBU blows whistle on big oil’s dangerous move in Alaska

By staff - ILWU Dispatcher, November 17, 2017

The Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), ILWU’s Marine Division, is blowing the whistle on a dangerous plan to replace experienced union mariners who have successfully protected Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound for almost three decades – with a cut-rate, nonunion company that has a poor safety record.

The shocking decision was made by oil company executives who own the Alyeska pipeline that carries oil from Alaska’s North Slope oilfield – which is the size of Indiana – across mountains and tundra to Prince William Sound, where it is pumped into giant tankers that carry the crude south to refineries in the lower 48. Low oil prices and falling production have left the Alyeska pipeline operating at only 25% of capacity, and may have been a factor in the oil companies’ decision to take a chance on a low-cost, cut-rate contractor with a dismal safety record.

It was 27 years ago that the Exxon Valdez, filled with North Slope crude, ran aground and dumped millions of gallons into the Prince William Sound, an event that shocked the nation and resulted in massive fines, staggering clean-up costs, and damage to the environment that required a lengthy recovery.

It also demonstrated the need for highly-trained and experienced cleanup crews and safety personnel, including tug operators. Instead of learning from that disaster and the importance of maintaining the highest quality emergency response teams, Exxon and other oil companies have decided to roll the dice by hiring a non-union outfit with a history of mistakes and near-disasters.

An Open Letter to Developer Phil Tagami

By Ted Franklin - No Coal in Oakland, April 7, 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

On Saturday, April 8, the Alameda Labor Council will sponsor a Labor, Climate & Jobs Forum with plenary and workshop sessions devoted to how Unions are addressing climate and environmental challenges by organizing workers and communities.  Speakers will include Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer, Alameda Labor Council; Kathyrn Lybarger, president, California State Federation of Labor; Cesar Diaz, State Building and Construction Trades Council; and Carol Zabin, UC Berkeley Labor Center Green Economy Program.

The Forum follows the Labor Council’s pathbreaking support for the No Coal in Oakland campaign.  In September 2015, in one of the first actions by any labor council in the United States to oppose a developer’s plans on environmental grounds, the Alameda Labor Council passed a resolution calling on Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Oakland City Council, and the project developers “to reject the export of coal through the Oakland Global project, to not take funds from Utah to secure use of the terminals for coal, and to execute a binding agreement or adopt an ordinance that will bar export of coal from this public land.”

With strong support from Labor, faith, environmental, and community organizations, the Oakland City Council banned the storage and handling of coal in the City of Oakland by adopting an ordinance prohibiting bulk storage and handling of coal within Oakland’s city limits.

The City supported its decision by reviewing extensive evidence of serious local health and safety impacts that would result from locating a large coal export facility in West Oakland as well as disastrous effects on global climate that would result from burning the vast quantities of coal that would be shipped overseas.

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 spoke 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.

San Francisco IBU Opposes Coal Exports in Oakland!

Whereas, Phil Tagami, President of California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG), and their partner Terminal Logistics Solutions are proposing to transport coal through a bulk export terminal now under construction at the former Oakland Army Base, despite previous statements that they would keep the terminal coal free, and

Whereas, Oakland's Port Commission voted unanimously to reject Bowie Resource Partners' prior proposal to export coal from the city-owned Charles P. Howard Terminal, and

Whereas, in July of 2014, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution opposing the transport of fossil fuels, including coal, by rail through the City of Oakland, and

Whereas, in 2012, Joint Assembly Resolution 35 of the California state legislature stated opposition to coal being exported from the United States to countries with less stringent environmental regulations, and

Whereas, coal is the most carbon-intensive of all the fossil fuels, and is the largest single contributor to global climate disruption, and

Whereas, while California is setting aggressive carbon-reduction targets, this terminal would allow this most carbon-polluting fuel to be brought to market, with devastating consequences, and

Whereas, coal dust and particulate matter pose significant threats to Bay Area air and water quality, and would exacerbate the air pollution problems already plaguing West Oakland, where residents are already twice as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma as the average Alameda County resident, and are also more likely to die of cancer and heart and lung disease, and

Whereas, terminals that ship coal provide far fewer jobs than terminals that ship containers or general cargo, and
Whereas, the coal that is proposed to be shipped through the bulk export terminal in Oakland is to be mined by the nonunion Bowie Resources in Utah, a "right-to-work" state, and

Whereas, there are numerous alternative commodities, other than coal, which could be shipped through the bulk export terminal that are neither detrimental to the global climate or the environment, and

Whereas, at least seventeen union locals and or councils, including at least three Bay Area ILWU locals have joined in opposition to the proposal to ship coal through the Port of Oakland,

Therefore Be it Resolved that the San Francisco Region of the Inland Boatmen's Union (IBU) also opposes the shipment of coal through the Port of Oakland, and

Be it Further Resolved that the Bay Area Region of the IBU shall add its signature to the [No Coal in Oakland] letter to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Council. 

Adopted, Saturday, January 16, 2016

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