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Labor Unions Rally Behind California’s Zero-Emissions Climate Plan

Robert Pollin interviewed by C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, June 10, 2021

Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has been spearheading national and international efforts to tackle the climate crisis for more than a decade. Over the past few years, he and a group of his colleagues at PERI have produced green economy transition programs for numerous states. The latest such program is for California, and it is being released today.

The massive study — nearly 200 pages long — shows how California can become a zero emissions economy by 2045 while expanding good job opportunities throughout the state. Nineteen unions have already endorsed the green transition plan, making clear that they reject frameworks that falsely pit labor priorities and the environment against each other, and more are expected to do so in the days and weeks ahead.

In this interview for Truthout, Pollin, co-author with Noam Chomsky of Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (Verso 2020), talks about the climate stabilization project for California and the national implications of union support for a green economy transition.

C.J. Polychroniou: California has been at the forefront of the climate fight for years now, but the truth of the matter is that its efforts have fallen short. Now, you and some colleagues of yours at PERI have just completed a commissioned climate stabilization project for California. How does the project envision the clean energy transition to take place in a manner consistent with the emission targets set out by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018, and how will it be financed?

Robert Pollin: This study presents a recovery program for California that will also build a durable foundation for an economically robust and ecologically sustainable longer-term growth trajectory. California has long been a national and global leader in implementing robust climate stabilization policies. This includes the 2018 Executive Order B-55-18 by then Gov. Jerry Brown. This measure committed the state to cut CO2 emissions by 50 percent as of 2030, to become carbon neutral no later than 2045, and to produce net negative emissions thereafter. These goals are somewhat more ambitious than those set out by the IPCC in 2018. Our study outlines a program through which the state can achieve its own established goals.

Our study shows how these 2030 and 2045 emissions reduction targets can be accomplished in California through phasing out the consumption of oil, coal and natural gas to generate energy in the state, since burning fossil fuels to produce energy is, by far, the primary source of CO2 emissions, and thereby, the single greatest factor causing climate change. The project we propose is to build a clean energy infrastructure to replace the existing fossil fuel-dominant infrastructure. The clean energy infrastructure will require large-scale investments to, first, dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in the state and, second, to equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy supplies, including solar and wind primarily, with supplemental supplies from low-emissions bioenergy, geothermal and small-scale hydro power. We show how this climate stabilization program for California can also serve as a major new engine of job creation and economic well-being throughout the state, both in the short- and longer run.

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty,Caitlin Kline, and Gregor Semieniuk - Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI); University of Massachusetts-Amherst, June 10, 2021

This study presents a robust climate stabilization project for California. It demonstrates that achieving the state’s official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and reaching zero emissions by 2045—is a realistic prospect. This climate stabilization project can also serve as a major engine of economic recovery and expanding economic opportunities throughout the state. This includes an increase of over 1 million jobs in the state through investment programs in energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The study also develops a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in California that are currently dependent on the state’s fossil fuel industries for their livelihoods. In particular, we focus here on condi­tions in Kern, Contra Costa, and Los Angeles counties.

The study is divided into nine sections:

  1. Pandemic, Economic Collapse, and Conditions for Recovery
  2. California’s Clean Energy Transition Project
  3. Clean Energy Investments and Job Creation
  4. Investment Programs for Manufacturing, Infrastructure, Land Restoration and Agri­culture
  5. Total Job Creation in California through Combined Investment Programs
  6. Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers
  7. County-level Job Creation, Job Displacement, and Just Transition
  8. Achieving a Zero Emissions California Economy by 2045
  9. Financing California’s Recovery and Sustainable Transition Programs

Nineteen labor unions throughout California have endorsed this study and its findings.

Read the text (PDF).

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

Young Workers and Just Transition

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 26, 2020

In case you missed it, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. Eastern, the Labor Network for Sustainability and friends hosted "Young Workers and Just Transition," the fourth in a series of webinars as part of the Just Transition Listening Project.

Moderated by Climate Justice Alliance Policy Coordinator, Anthony Rogers -Wright, the panel featured young workers in the labor and climate justice movements: 

  • Celina Barron, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 RENEW
  • Eboni Preston, Greening for Youth; Georgia NAACP, Labor and Industry Chair
  • Judy Twedt, United Auto Workers, Local 4121
  • Ryan Pollock, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520
  • Yolian Ogbu, This is Zero Hour

Watch this event now to glean insight into who the challenges these young movement leaders face when initiating dialog around transitioning to a sustainable economy that offers equitable and just opportunities for future workers. Also learn about LNS' Young Worker Project and to hear what's next:

Special thank you to the following on the Labor Network for Sustainability team: Joshua Dedmond, Veronica Wilson and Leo Blain; and Vivian Price, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, California State University Dominguez Hills for their organizing and technical support before and during this important conversation.

Take the Plant Save the Planet (pamphlet)

By Green Jobs Oshawa - Socialist Project, March 22, 2020

On November 26, 2018, General Motors announced a number of plant closures in North America, the largest of which was in Oshawa, Ontario. The Oshawa facility, once the largest auto complex on the continent, was to end all its assembly operations by the end of 2019.

The issue is not simply a matter of bringing the environmental movement and the labour movement together; each must be transformed if the sum is to be more than the currently limited parts. The environmental movement must raise itself to a new level by concretely engaging the working class and the labour movement must escape what for it has become an existential crisis. The threats and opportunities of the environmental crisis offer a chance for labour revival, but only if this incorporates a renewed approach to organizing, struggle, radical politics, and the maximization of informed membership participation.

Read the report (PDF).

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

Take the Plant, Save the Planet (article)

By Russ Christianson - The Bullet, September 22, 2019.

It is a tragic irony that General Motors (GM) chose its hundredth anniversary in Oshawa to announce the December 2019 closure of its Oshawa assembly plant. This means the loss of over 15,000 jobs in Ontario: 2,200 GM assembly jobs, 300 salaried positions, 500 temporary contract positions, 1,000 inside and 1,000 outside supplier jobs, and a related 10,400 multiplier jobs. The closure of Oshawa’s assembly plant is estimated to decrease Ontario’s GDP by $4-billion per year until 2030, also reducing federal and provincial revenues by about $1-billion a year.1

Over the months following the November 26, 2018 plant closure announcement, GM and Unifor (formerly the Canadian Auto Workers’ union) negotiated the Oshawa Transformation Agreement (May 2019)2 that promises:

  • 300 stamping and parts assembly jobs and a $170-million investment.
  • Donating the 87-acre Mclaughlin Bay Reserve to the City of Oshawa.
  • A 55-acre test track for autonomous vehicles.

It has yet to be seen, whether GM will keep its promise. But even if they do, it will still mean losing over 13,000 jobs and a major hit to the economy.

This preliminary feasibility study offers an alternative. The Government of Canada can provide the leadership to acquire the GM Oshawa assembly plant and repurpose the production to building battery electric vehicles (BEVs). There is a strong business case for this alternative, based on a triple bottom line analysis that considers the economic, social and environmental benefits:

  • A public investment estimated at $1.4 to $1.9-billion to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for BEV production, and potentially manufacturing other products.
  • Manufacturing and selling an estimated 150,000 BEVs in the first five years of production, for total sales of $5.8-billion.
  • Estimated government procurement of one quarter of the BEVs produced in the first four years, representing about 23,000 vehicles with an estimated value of $900-million.
  • Reaching a breakeven point in year 4, and making a modest profit in year 5.
  • Creating over 13,000 jobs: up to 2,900 manufacturing-related (including 600 parts supplier jobs) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions by 400,000 metric tonnes by year 5.

18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2019

The Green New Deal projects a broad vision of creating a climate-safe America through an economic and social mobilization on a scale not seen since the New Deal and World War II.

That mobilization can provide a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs, virtually eliminate poverty, provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security, and counteract systemic injustices. So far discussion about the Green New Deal has rightly focused on values and goals. But there are many practical problems that will have to be solved as well.

The LNS discussion paper 18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work lays out how the Green New Deal can realize its goals.

Read the report (PDF).

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

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.

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