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Industrial Policy Without Industrial Unions

By Lee Harris - The American Prospect, September 28, 2022

In August, as President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, pledging to build American semiconductor factories, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker posed on the White House lawn, flanked by the chief executives of vehicle companies Ford, Lion Electric, and Rivian. Thanks to billions of dollars in federal and state investments, Pritzker said, his constituents could expect a manufacturing revival, and “good-paying, union jobs.”

Illinois is refashioning itself as a center for electric vehicle (EV) production and a cluster of related industries, such as microchips. The state just passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, its flagship industrial-policy plan, and has passed MICRO, a complement to federal CHIPS subsidies. Pritzker is hungry for Chicago to host the upcoming Democratic convention and take a victory lap at factory openings.

But he may have to trot out non-union autoworkers at the ribbon cuttings.

Ford, a “Big Three” union automaker, boasts that the F-150 is a “legendary union-built vehicle,” but battery production is being outsourced to non-union shops. Bus producer Lion Electric is under pressure to use organized labor, but has yet to make public commitments on allowing a union election without interference. Electric-truck startup Rivian, which is 18 percent owned by Amazon, has been plagued by workplace injuries and labor violations. Illinois’s attorney general recently uncovered a scheme to renovate its downstate plant with workers brought in from Mexico, who were cheated out of overtime pay.

Democrats are giddy about the arrival of green industrial policy. With last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, CHIPS, and the new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Congress has poured money into setting off green growth. The main messaging behind this policy is that government investment can create attractive jobs, and a new political base, by manufacturing the clean technologies of the future.

If you squint, you could almost mistake the IRA’s robust Buy American provisions for worker protections. They are often mentioned in the same sentence. But while new spending is likely to onshore manufacturing, it largely lacks provisions ensuring that those new jobs will adhere to high-road labor standards, let alone that they will be unionized.

Instead, the political logic of the bill is a gamble. The energy sector is still dominated by oil and gas. To accelerate the transition, it will be necessary to create large countervailing industries. After decades of offshoring, the first aim for green manufacturing is to make sure that it happens here at all. The IRA alone could produce as many as nine million jobs over the next decade, according to an analysis by University of Massachusetts Amherst and the labor-environmental coalition BlueGreen Alliance. Many of those jobs will be in old Democratic strongholds where the party is now hemorrhaging support, like mining in Nevada and auto production in the Midwest.

Supporters hope that once new green jobs are created, a mass labor coalition could follow. As Nathan Iyer, an analyst at the climate consultant RMI, told the Prospect in a recent podcast, “It’s hard to have a workers-based movement, and build workers’ power, if there are no workers.”

UAW Joins BlueGreen Alliance

By staff - BlueGreen Alliance, September 21, 2022

The BlueGreen Alliance today announced the United Auto Workers (UAW) will join its growing national labor-environmental partnership and its fight for a clean, prosperous, and equitable economy. The announcement comes at a vital time in the domestic auto industry. The industry is at a crossroads, with the United States poised to be a global leader in clean vehicle and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing—helping to bring back high-skill, high-wage, union jobs.

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) has more than 400,000 active members and more than 580,000 retired members in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico and more than 600 local unions. The UAW currently has 1,750 contracts with some 1,050 employers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

“The growth of EVs is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing while addressing the pressing needs of climate change,” UAW President Ray Curry said. “Our union works continuously to make sure that these jobs will be good-paying union jobs that benefit our communities. By joining BlueGreen Alliance, we know our voices will be amplified and our advocacy strengthened.”

Leadership from both organizations said they look forward to working with the Biden administration as it implements the massive investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—and CHIPS and Science Act to create good-paying union jobs, fight economic and racial injustice, and reduce the emissions driving climate change.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act provide significant resources to build out our nation’s manufacturing base, create good union jobs and secure a cleaner future,” said Tom Conway, United Steelworkers (USW) International President and co-chair of the BlueGreen Alliance. “We’re proud to welcome the UAW to our alliance, as we continue to work with the administration to ensure these investments strengthen workers and their communities for generations to come.”

“President Biden and Democrats in Congress have taken historic action to address the climate crisis through the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. These efforts are not only critical for the future of humanity, but they also will create millions of good-paying union jobs,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and co-chair of the BlueGreen Alliance. “The UAW is leading the charge to create good-paying jobs building zero-emission vehicles, and we are thrilled they are joining the BlueGreen Alliance as we work together to create an equitable and just future for all.”

Founded in 2006 by the USW and Sierra Club, the BlueGreen Alliance now unites 14 labor unions and environmental organizations collectively representing millions of members and supporters.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to build a clean, prosperous, and equitable future for all,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “The good news is we’re not in this alone. We have worked alongside UAW for years to get investments and policies in place to manufacture clean cars, EVs, and their components in the United States—with union labor. The leadership and members of the UAW are on the front lines of building that future and we welcome them to our partnership.”

'Public Pressure Works': Postal Service to Boost Electric Vehicle Purchases After Backlash

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, July 20, 2022

Pressure from progressive advocacy groups and lawmakers bore fruit on Wednesday when the U.S. Postal Service announced that it would be making 40% of its new delivery vehicles electric, up from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's initial plan to electrify just 10% of the mail agency's aging fleet.

The news comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed in late April by a coalition of environmental organizations that accused the USPS of conducting an unlawfully shoddy analysis of the widely condemned plan's climate impacts. More than a dozen state attorney generals and the United Auto Workers (UAW) also sued to halt DeJoy's anti-green and anti-labor procurement scheme pending a comprehensive review of its ecological and public health consequences.

"Public pressure works, and today's announcement from the Postal Service is proof of that," Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement. "The agency's original plan for a fleet of 90% fossil fuel trucks should have never been a consideration."

"Still, making only half of its delivery fleet electric does not go far enough to address climate change or improve air quality in neighborhoods across the nation," said García. "There is also no guarantee in today's announcement that union workers will be building these pollution-free vehicles."

"This is an opportunity to transform the postal fleet to be 100% union-built electric vehicles," she added. "We won't settle for anything less."

Union Alliance Calls for Electric School Buses

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

On May 31, autoworkers and teachers rallied in Washington, DC to call on states, local governments, and school districts around the country to electrify the nation’s school bus fleet with union-built, climate-safe, pollution-free electric school buses.

AFT President Randi Weingarten called the rollout a “win-win-win” for children’s health, for the climate and for the economy. “We need to make sure these electric buses are made in America at unionized factories. We need to ensure that students and drivers are protected from environmental hazards. We need to address the climate crisis.”

UAW President Ray Curry said he wants to see electric buses not only in a handful of cities but in every school district in the country—for “a future that all of us can thrive in.” The workers who build these vehicles need a voice on the job, he said, so that each bus will be built to union standards.

The UAW represents workers at two of the largest bus manufacturers in the nation, Thomas Built in North Carolina and IC Bus in Oklahoma. As a result of the federal infrastructure bill, Thomas Built and IC Bus plan on significantly increasing their hiring to meet the demand for electric school buses. Thomas Built Buses, for example, will supply hundreds of electric school buses to Montgomery County, MD, which will provide the largest single deployment of electric school buses in North America.

You can rewatch the AFT-UAW press conference and rally here.

AFT and UAW Call for Electric School Buses

Webinar: Investing in Workers for a World Beyond Fossil Fuels

Reconnecting With the Radical Roots of Earth Day

By Johanna Chao Kreilick - Portside, April 22, 2022

Happy Earth Day! I was only four years old when the first Earth Day took place. But as I began to work on climate change, I found it inspiring to look back at the photos from April 1970 and learn about what motivated 20 million people to action—and the impact of public mobilization on policy and practice in the years that followed.

Many of my friends in the climate movement are understandably cynical about what Earth Day has become today—in many ways, it has been reduced to calls for small individual acts (like picking up trash or composting coffee grounds) over the larger systemic changes and solutions that require much harder choices and trade-offs. Some companies have co-opted the day to sell more “environmentally friendly” products, or worse, to provide polluters with an opportunity to greenwash their miserable track records. But as a lifelong student of history and an unbridled optimist, I still find hope and inspiration in its radical roots.

California Climate Jobs Plan Continues to Gain Union Endorsements

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus - March 11, 2022

The California Climate Jobs Plan, popularly known as "the Pollin Report"--which has been described as a "sholvel ready just transition/Green New Deal" plan--and was immediately endorsed by nineteen California based labor unions, including three United Staeelworkers Union locals which primarily represent refinery workers upon its unveiling has since gained the support of many additional unions. The following unions (so far) have since endorsed the plan (knowing that while the plan isn't perfect, it's at least a step in a positive direction):

November 2021:

  • Inland Boatmen's Union (IBU), SF Bay Region (an affiliate of the ILWU)
  • Railroad Workers United
  • IWW San Francisco Bay Area General Membership Branch

February 2022:

  • International Lonshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Northern California District Council (NCDC)

The council is composed of delegates from the following ILWU Locals:

  • ILWU Local 6 (Bay Area Warehouse)
  • ILWU Local 10 (Bay Area Longshore)
  • ILWU Local 34 (Bay Area Shipping Clerks)
  • ILWU Local 75 (Bay Area Dock Security Guards)
  • ILWU Local 91 (Bay Area “Walking Bosses”)
  • ILWU Local 14 (Eureka; combined)
  • ILWU Local 18 (Sacramento; ditto)
  • ILWU Local 54 (Stockton)
  • Bay Area IBU (already endorsed individually)
  • and the pensioners from all of the above.

However, the NCDC's endorsement does not automatically mean that each of its constituent locals have individually endorsed the plan.

The more unions that endorse and take an active role in motivating the proposal either by lobbying at the California state level, engaging in public actions to promote the goals of the plan, or even engaging in workplace actions (whereaver relevant and practiceble), the greater chances the plan has of being realized.

(That said, it should be noted that this is not an IWW organizing project, although IWW members have been active in securing additional union endorsements).

A sample resolution (a copy of the text adopted by the SF Bay Area IBU) is available here.

Download the plan - here.

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.” 

The Challenge of Building a High-road Electric Vehicle Industry with Anti-union Employers

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