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Multiplying Labor's Power

Unions Making a Green New Deal From Below: Part 2

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 2022

This second of two commentaries on “Unions Making a Green New Deal from Below” portrays what it looks like when unions in a town decide to create a local Green New Deal or when unions in a state decide to transform their economy to expand jobs and justice by protecting the climate.

Workers and unions are among those who have the most to gain by climate protection that produces good jobs and greater equality. That’s why unions in the most diverse industries and occupations are creating their own Green New Deal-type programs in localities around the country. Here are some examples:

AFT and UAW Call for Electric School Buses

Viewpoint: Climate Justice Must Be a Top Priority for Labor

By Peter Knowlton and John Braxton - Labor Notes, September 21, 2021

Today’s existential crisis for humanity is the immediate need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. All of us have to. Everywhere. For workers and for our communities there is no more pressing matter than this.

We need to begin a discussion among co-workers, creating demands and acting on them at the workplace and bargaining table. We need to show up at local union meetings, central labor councils, and town halls supporting demands that move us toward a fossil fuel-free future.

At the same time, we need to protect the incomes and benefits of workers affected by the transition off of fossil fuels and to make sure they have real training opportunities. And we need to restore and elevate those communities that have been sacrificed for fossil fuel extraction, production, and distribution. We should promote candidates for elected office who support legislation which puts those aspirations into practice, such as the Green New Deal.

If the labor movement does not take the lead in pushing for a fair and just transition, one of these futures awaits us: (1) the world will either fail to make the transition to renewable energy and scorch us all, or (2) the working class will once again be forced to make all of the sacrifices in the transition.

The time is long past ripe for U.S. unions and our leaders to step up and use our collective power in our workplaces, in our communities, and in the streets to deal with these crises. That means we need to break out of the false choice between good union jobs and a livable environment.

There are no jobs on a dead planet. Social, economic, and environmental justice movements can provide some pressure to mitigate the crises, but how can we succeed if the labor movement and the environmental movement continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to pit us against each other? Rather than defending industries that need to be transformed, labor needs to insist that the transition to a renewable energy economy include income protection, investment in new jobs in communities that now depend on fossil fuels, retraining for those new jobs, and funds to give older workers a bridge to retirement.

Like any change of technology or work practice in a shop, if the workers affected don’t receive sufficient guarantees of income, benefits, and protections their support for it, regardless of the urgency, will suffer.

Fossil fuel unions in Texas sign on to a climate jobs plan

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 7, 2021

A July report from the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University Industrial Relations School examines the state of play in Texas and makes a series of recommendations “that can help Texas simultaneously combat climate change, create high-quality jobs, and build more equitable and resilient communities.” Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas identifies the current challenges : a COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which has brought weather disasters to the state.

Texas is an interesting case study: it is the state with the most greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in the U.S., with 42.4% of emissions from its well-established oil and gas industry. Oil and gas (including extraction, refining, petrochemical production) employs over 450,000 Texans, with a state-wide unionization rate of 4.8%. But Texas also leads the states in wind power installations and has wind power manufacturing facilities. Into this mix, the researchers crafted a series of concrete recommendations for jobs-driven strategies to achieve a low-carbon, more equitable economy. These include targets for the installation of wind, solar and geothermal energy, along with an upgraded electricity grid to handle renewables; a target of 2040 to electrify school buses and State and Local government vehicle fleets ; construction of a High-Speed Rail Network between the five largest cities in Texas; a target to reduce energy use in existing buildings by 30% by 2035, and a mandate for Net-Zero Emissions for new construction by 2050; and the creation of a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission. The report also applies many of these recommendations for the cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

Each of these state-wide recommendations is described in detail, with costing, GHG emissions reductions estimates, and job creation estimates by sector. Total direct jobs created over a range from 10 to 25 years is estimated at 1,140,186, with another 1,125,434 indirect and 913,981 induced jobs.

The report was written by Professors Lara Skinner and J. Mijin Cha, with research assistance from Hunter Moskowitz and Matt Phillips, in consultation with 27 Texas labour unions. It accompanies the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project , an offshoot of the Texas AFL-CIO. Lara Skinner describes the report and the Climate Jobs Project in “Why Texas Fossil Fuel unions signed onto a climate plan” (Grist, July 30). A press release from Texas AFL-CIO includes a summary of recommendations and endorsements from various unions.

Texas Unions Launch Major Effort to Combat Climate Change, Tackle Inequality in US Energy Capital

By Bo Delp - Texas AFL-CIO, July 27, 2021

A new and growing coalition of Texas labor unions Monday launched the Texas Climate Jobs Project (TCJP), a major joint effort to fight climate change and reverse income inequality in the energy capital of the country.

A new report by climate and labor experts at Cornell University, Northeastern University, and Occidental College, in consultation with 27 Texas labor unions, accompanied the launch and outlays out a comprehensive climate jobs action plan to put Texas on the path to building an equitable clean-energy economy. A provision of the plan includes the installation of 40 GW of solar energy and 100 GW of wind energy and the electrification of school bus and public vehicle fleets by 2040.

The launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project comes a day before the Texas AFL-CIO convention, at which the state’s labor leaders are expected to pass a resolution backing the coalition’s mission and its foundational report.

“Texans are facing several converging crises: a changing climate that is hurting working people first and worst, skyrocketing income inequality, and deep racial injustice,” said Rick Levy, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “Today, the Texas labor movement is coming together to endorse a historic proposal that would tackle these crises by creating good union jobs across our state and combating climate breakdown. As the unions that power the energy capital of America, we believe the Texas Climate Jobs Project can lead the way in transforming our economy in ways that lift up working families and communities while protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must make sure that the workers who have powered this state for generations are not left behind.”

The Texas Climate Jobs Project will advocate for long-term solutions to these intertwined crises by pushing state and local lawmakers to tap the state’s massive renewable energy potential and create millions of new family-sustaining union jobs, as outlined in the report’s recommendations.

In addition to outlining targets for renewable energy development and vehicle electrification, the report calls for the retrofitting and installation of solar panels systems on all Texas public K-12 schools by 2035, the creation of a Just Transition Commission, and the construction of a high-speed rail network.

“Climate change is hurting every working person in Texas,” said Bo Delp, Executive Director of Texas Climate Jobs Project. “Today, unions from across our state are advancing their vision of a pro-worker, pro-climate agenda that gives everyone a fair shot to succeed in our clean energy transition.” 

Rutgers Divests!

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2021

Members of Rutgers American Association of University Professors – American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) are joining with student allies in celebrating a vote to divest from fossil fuels by the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.

The decision, set in motion last year by a formal request from a broad student coalition, backed by Rutgers unions, will commit the university to cutting financial connections to any company or investment fund whose primary business is in oil, coal, or natural gas, from exploration and extraction to pipelines and transportation.

Divestment is the culmination of years of efforts by students, faculty, and staff to get Rutgers to take concrete action toward the goal of climate justice, said David Hughes, past president and current treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty and graduate workers. “This is seven-and-a-half years in the making,” Hughes said, “and it will give greater strength to the divestment movement at exactly the moment when the new Biden administration is beginning to take up climate change.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also highlighted the years of organizing. “The university community at Rutgers has shown that when people come together around an issue like climate sustainability, change is possible,” Weingarten said. “Hopefully the work Rutgers is doing on fossil fuel divestment will set a standard for other institutions. For our universities to truly become institutions of climate mitigation and resiliency, we must also invest in solarizing buildings and other measures that generate clean energy.”

Climate Justice, Jobs, and Freedom to Thrive

How to “Build Back Better”

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

Anyone interested in how to address the concerns of both labor and environmentalists in upcoming legislation should take a look at the new Sierra Club report “How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal.” Although the Sierra Club is an environmental organization – in fact, the country’s largest–this “blueprint for economic renewal” has been designed with the needs of workers and discriminated-against groups front and center.

The plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and Service Employees International Union.

  • By investing $1 trillion per year, an economic renewal plan based on the THRIVE Agenda would create over 15 million good jobs–enough to end the unemployment crisis–while countering systemic racism, supporting public health, and cutting climate pollution nearly in half by 2030.
  • These investments must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.

Why Unions Are the Key to Passing a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizomodo, September 25, 2020

There’s a persistent conservative myth that the clean energy transition must come at the expense of employment. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. The Congressional resolution on a Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last February, includes a proposal guarantee employment to all those who want it. And increasingly, climate activists are focusing on the potential to create millions of good jobs in clean energy.

These pro-worker proposals—and the knowledge that it will take an economy-wide effort to kick fossil fuels and the curb to avert climate catastrophe—have won the platform support from swaths of the labor movement. Yet some powerful unions still oppose the sweeping proposal. The president of the AFL-CIO—the largest federation of unions in the U.S.—criticized the Green New Deal resolution, and heads of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Mine Workers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have outright opposed it. That poses a political roadblock to achieving the necessary transformation of the U.S. economy. 

“The Green New Deal movement needs broader support from the labor movement to be successful,” Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability and former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department, said. “As long as labor isn’t a central player in this movement, they will they have the power to block pretty much anything. on Capitol Hill. They contribute in electoral campaigns. They’re a very powerful force.”

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