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Want to Know How We Can Win a Just Transition? States Hold a Key

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, November 16, 2021

The climate justice movement has undoubtedly picked up steam in the last three years as talk of a Green New Deal has made its way into the mainstream. But even after uphill and innovative organizing, our federal government has not adequately responded to the serious and existential threat of climate change: The Build Back Better bill, touted by the Biden administration as our generation’s great hope for action on climate change, has been almost completely gutted in Congress, where it still awaits passage. And after the ultra-wealthy took private jets to and from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it does not appear that the urgent action we need will come any time soon. As temperatures increase and storms become worse, the environmental situation is even more dire: Humans can expect ​“untold suffering,” scientists warn, including mass extinction and death, if we don’t act fast.

Amid our elected leaders’ monumental failures, the climate justice movement has smartly moved its focus away from pet projects, like small-scale lawsuits, and towards organizing to build a movement with enough popular support to change our political system. To get the numbers we need — of workers in the many millions — it is necessary to ensure that climate solutions, whether it’s stopping coal extraction or halting fossil fuel digging, don’t abandon workers in those industries. This is the idea behind a ​“just transition,” which aims to move to an environmentally sustainable economy while making sure all workers have safe and dignified work. 

State by state, organizers are working hard to make a just transition a reality and, fortunately, there are a few wins to point to. Unions and environmental groups won a joint victory this June, when the Climate and Community Investment Act, SB 999, passed in Connecticut. The legislation will do three important things: require prevailing wages for construction workers on renewable energy projects, ensure renewable energy projects create good, union jobs for Connecticut residents from disadvantaged communities, and negotiate community benefits agreements, which are agreements that describe a developer’s obligations to the broader community.

This state-level legislation is a step toward an urgent — and existential — need. Kimberly Glassman is the director of the Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that represents both building trades unions and union contractors to monitor public works’ projects for compliance with wage and other labor laws. She told In These Times, ​“As we transition away from fossil fuel dependent energy into green energy, [we have to make sure] that the workforce that has built their livelihoods in the fossil fuel industry has a way to transition and has access to good paying jobs in the green energy sector.” 

Spurred by unions, states make strides on climate action

By Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Pat Devaney, Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO - Climate Jobs National Resources Center, November 4, 2021

With Washington still negotiating critical climate provisions in the reconciliation bill, you’d be forgiven for feeling impatient. The dual crises of climate change and extreme inequality are a threat to our society, and every one of us has a stake in pushing our elected leaders to build a climate-safe and equitable future.

Fortunately, workers and their unions are making tremendous progress in advancing bold legislation at the state level to address these two existential crises. Just last week, labor unions united under the Climate Jobs Illinois coalition scored a massive victory for workers and the planet when Illinois enacted a landmark climate bill that sets the state on a path to a carbon-free power sector by 2045 with the strongest-in-the-nation labor and equity standards.

Thanks to the labor movement’s leadership on climate change, the Illinois bill will slash emissions, create thousands of new clean energy union jobs, expand union apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities, increase energy efficiency for public schools, and safeguard thousands of union workers at the state’s nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois’ zero-emissions energy. It also contains a transition program for families and communities currently reliant on jobs in the fossil fuel industry. This win shows what’s possible when workers and their unions lead on pursuing bold climate action at the scale that science demands.

Illinois isn’t alone. This summer, unions and environmental groups in Connecticut organized to pass strong labor and equity standards for renewable energy projects through the state legislature. The legislation they won includes prevailing wage and project labor agreement provisions and requires energy developers to partner with in-state apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, which will expand access to good union jobs, specifically in communities of color that have seen generations of underinvestment and underemployment.

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

Labor is Leading: Building the Climate Jobs Movement Now!

Connecticut Labor-Climate Movement Pushing Just Transition Law

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2021

Labor-climate advocates in Connecticut have just proposed a Climate and Community Investment Act. Modeled on a similar bill in New York, its goal is to be sure green jobs created in Connecticut are good jobs, and that they are filled by Connecticut workers. Advocates describe it as an economic relief bill. At its core is an apprenticeship/pre-apprenticeship workforce development program designed to create a strong clean technology workforce. The bill has support from the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs and allies in the building trades unions

States of Change: What the Green New Deal can learn from the New Deal In the states

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 2020

With the likelihood of a federal government sharply divided between Republicans and Democrats, states are likely to play an expanded role in shaping the American future. The aspirations for a Green New Deal may have support from the presidency and the House, but they are likely to be fiercely contested in the Senate and perhaps the Supreme Court. Bold action to address climate and inequality could emerge at the state level. Are there lessons we can learn from the original New Deal about the role of states in a highly conflicted era of reform?

The original New Deal of the 1930s was a national program led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But states played a critical role in developing the New Deal. The same could be true of tomorrow’s Green New Deal.

There is organizing for a Green New Deal in every one of the fifty states. But our federal system is often ambiguous about what can and can’t be done at a state level and how action at a state level can affect national policy and vice versa. The purpose of this discussion paper is to explore what we can learn about the role of states in the original New Deal that may shed light on the strategies, opportunities, and pitfalls for the Green New Deal of today and tomorrow.

Read the text (PDF).

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Maine, Texas, Illinois and Connecticut

Connecticut refuses key steps on climate

By Christine Marie - Socialist Action, September 5, 2017

Many cheered when Connecticut joined other states in proclaiming that they would stick to the Paris Agreement although the U.S. was pulling out. Unfortunately, the limits of that gesture became clear very soon.

On July 26, the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment released a long-awaited report, a draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The document, which was years in the crafting and supposedly influenced by a newly established Governor’s Council on Climate, in which the AFL-CIO and its Roundtable on Climate and Jobs had invested considerable energy, missed proposing the necessary steps to prevent climate catastrophe, and create the related jobs, by a disastrous margin.

Activists from the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, 350 CT, and many other organizations are protesting the state’s failure to take climate change seriously. They plan to use a series of public hearings in August and September to make their case to the broad public.

The authors of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), on the one hand nicely acknowledged all the concerns of climate activists and, on the other, projected business as usual in major areas of energy and environmental justice policy.

CT DEEP refused to commit to turning around the fracked gas build-out that has made New England a driver of and epicenter for disastrous levels of methane emissions. In fact, they entitle a section of their report “Shifting Toward Natural Gas as the Primary Fuel for Electric Generation.”

According to Dr. Robert Howarth, stopping the drilling, transportation, and burning of fracked gas—methane being a greenhouse gas up to 100 times more potent than CO2 in the very short term—is the single best tool that we have to buy time for a full transition to genuinely renewable solar, wind, and geothermal sources, and for carbon drawdown via agro-ecology, aforestation, and other reasonable methods.

Failure to act on methane could render any other measures moot, as the sudden rise of fracked gas emissions, if unchecked until 2040, is a factor that could push the earth over a climate tipping point all by itself.

Connecticut activists demand 100% renewable energy, jobs and justice

By Susan Rogers - Socialist Action, January 26, 2017

“To Change Everything, It Takes Everyone!” Under this mantra of the new climate justice movement, 400 Connecticut activists joined a “March for Jobs, Justice, and a Livable Earth” on Dec. 3. Picket signs carried the slogans voted up by the planning committee and included: Emergency Transition to 100% Renewable Energy Grid! Mass Electrified Transit for All! No to the Fracked Gas Buildout! No to Environmental Racism! No to the State Budget Cuts! and Yes to Jobs & Justice!

The event broke new ground for the climate movement in the state, garnering significant union endorsement and the participation of some of the newest strikers from the Hartford Fight for Fifteen.

The speaker’s platform and march route demonstrated the organizers’ goal of making concrete the relationship of the fight to halt runaway climate change and the struggles for jobs and racial justice. For example, at the kickoff rally of the event, activists heard from John Harrity, the president of the state machinists’ council, who spoke of the contribution workers can make to building a fossil-fuel-free world. Bishop John Selders, of Moral Majority CT, a group well-known for actions against police brutality, educated the crowd about the power of the Black radical tradition and the need for social movements to learn this history.

The first stop on the march was Union Station, a train and bus depot, where Mustafa Salahuddin, the president of the Bridgeport, Conn., Transit Workers Local 1336, spoke of his union’s commitment to fight for green mass transit for all. At TD Bank, activists expressed solidarity with the water protectors and veterans at Standing Rock.

At the Main St. Burger King franchise, Vanessa Rodriquez, a Dunkin’ Donuts worker who was arrested in the recent Fight for 15 day of action, explained why she had chosen to sit down in the street. “I did it because we are all strong together. Whether it is the Fight for 15, climate change, or immigration, if we stand together we will win!”

Although the protest was launched by the usual trinity of the most active state climate organizations—that is, 350 CT, the Connecticut Sierra Club, and the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network—organizers hammered away in the call on the need for a climate movement that was linked to the everyday struggles of working people. The call began, “The fight to preserve our planet and halt climate warming is inextricably tied to the struggle for all the other elements of a decent human life: jobs, health, equality, and justice.”

The drive for endorsements was accompanied by more language about this commitment and said: “The climate movement stands ready to campaign with the labor movement, the Movement for Black Lives, Native Americans, climate refugees, immigrant communities, environmental justice activists, conservationists, and other community movements for a massive program of good green jobs and a turn to focusing on the needs of people over fossil fuel profits.”

Immigrant rights activists who were approached about participating in the march asked for more explicit attention to the threat hanging over them of more deportations, and the 350 chapter voted to add that the march was not only against environmental racism but would “Stand with Immigrants and Climate Refugees.”

In the end, the protest was endorsed by not only a large number of local climate action and peace groups, but also by the Connecticut chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and by four major state labor organizations. The latter included the State Council of Machinists, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Greater Connecticut Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, and the Connecticut UAW Cap Council.

The increased willingness of labor unions to endorse local climate actions is likely based, in part, on the opening created when many national AFL-CIO affiliates openly bucked the reactionary position on Standing Rock that was expressed by the federation president, Richard Trumka. But the now daily media coverage of the growing evidence that catastrophic change is inevitable without drastic encroachments on the prerogatives of big business is also having its impact on the ranks of the labor movement.

All this speaks to the potential of the April 29 People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., to put hundreds of thousands of working people in the streets and to kick off a new wave of organizing the unorganized millions who are ready to fight for a decent life in an unpolluted world.

Governor Malloy, Singin’ in the Methane

By Dan Fischer - Capitalism vs. the Climate, March 29, 2016

Fracked-gas pipeline projects and power plants receive stamp after stamp of approval from governor Dannel “Methane” Malloy. With such a friend of fracking in power, gas companies are in paradise. Welcome to CH4 Connecticut!

CH4—that’s scientific shorthand for methane, the climate-cooking main component of natural gas. It’s made of one atom of carbon and four of hydrogen. Malloy has known the substance is deadly since at least 2010, when he travelled across the state campaigning to be governor. That February, a gas plant exploded in Middletown, killing six workers and injuring dozens. “As towering plumes of dark smoke poured into a dazzling blue sky, scores of ambulances, fire engines, police cars and helicopters streamed to the scene on the west bank of the Connecticut River,” the New York Times reported.

For some, that deadly explosion may have been a wake-up call, but drowsy Dannel hit the snooze button. Once elected, Malloy went ahead with his plan to vastly expand gas infrastructure, despite these projects being backyard bombs and greenhouse-gas grenades. In 2013, Malloy signed into law the Comprehensive Energy Strategy, committing the state government to “expanding natural gas across Connecticut,” in the executive summary’s words. In 2015, Malloy signed Senate Bill 1078, making ratepayers pay subsidies to corporations expanding gas pipelines.

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