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Philadelphia

Climate Activists Can’t Afford to Ignore Labor. A Shuttered Refinery in Philly Shows Why

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, January 10, 2020

In the early morning hours of June 21, 2019, a catastrophic explosion tore through the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) oil refinery in the southwest section of Philadelphia. The training and quick thinking of refinery workers, members of United Steelworkers Local 10-1, averted certain disaster and saved millions of lives. One month later, on July 21, PES declared bankruptcy—their second in as many years—and began to close down the refinery in the following months, laying off almost 2,000 people with no meaningful severance. According to workers who spoke with In These Times, the refinery stopped running crude oil in early August, although there are fewer than 100 workers who were kept on as caretakers for the waste water and steam generating units.

The fire on June 21 and the mass layoffs that followed impacted more than just the physical site of the refinery and the workers who made it run. It also ignited a debate throughout the city about what would become of the refinery site, which has been in operation for more than 150 years. On the one hand, the explosion underscored the dangers the refinery posed to the community immediately surrounding it, and the city as a whole. On the other, the subsequent closure of the refinery meant that workers were suddenly out of work, with no plan from PES or city officials of how to put them back to work.

This debate, while focused on Philadelphia, reflects much larger questions roiling supporters of a Green New Deal: how to ensure a just transition for fossil fuel workers who lose their jobs, and how to build bonds between unions looking out for their members, and climate organizers trying to stop fossil fuel extraction. Interviews with community organizers trying to curb the refinery’s toxic pollution, and workers laid off from the refinery, indicate that the answers are not easy, but require listening to workers, many of whom are already thinking about climate change—and forced, right now, to deal with the hardships of losing their jobs. In the words of Jim, a former worker who requested only his first name be used due to fear of retaliation, “Fossil fuels need to be phased out aggressively. That being said, I’m in the industry. You can’t just allow the people in that industry to become like the coal miners, just floundering.”

Statement of the Hospital and the Refinery

By John Kalwaic - Philadelphia IWW, September 10, 2019

We, the Philadelphia General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, condemn the eventual closing of Hahnemann Hospital in Center City, Philadelphia, as well as the safety and environmental negligence that led to the explosion at the Energy Solutions Refinery in South Philadelphia on June 21st.

The assets of Hahnemann Hospital have been gradually stripped away by a private equity firm, which did not seek any improvements or reinvestments in the hospital. Patients in the United States continue to deal with private insurance companies that do not cover the total costs of their clients’ health care. Real estate developer Joel Freedman bought the hospital and has plans to sell the building for the development of high-cost real estate. Hahnemann Hospital provides care for many low-income and unhoused patients; these patients are to be moved to other area hospitals, which may burden and disrupt Philadelphia’s healthcare networks and the working class people they serve. Hahnemann employs doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, record keepers, security guards and other workers to maintain the hospital and provide care for patients; these workers will lose their jobs and livelihoods in the event of a closure. We support the efforts of unions such as the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, or PASNAP, along with other unions and supporters in taking action against the closing of the hospital. The Philadelphia GMB, however, is wary of politicians that promise to stop the closure, or who use the cause to strengthen their campaigns. This is only one of many hospital closures in urban and rural areas in the United States for similar reasons.

The explosion at the Energy Solutions refinery in Southwest Philadelphia was partially caused by the company’s neglect of basic safety and environmental standards. The company should compensate both the community members affected by the explosion and the hazardous chemicals that were released, and the workers who will be made jobless due to the destruction of the plant. The Philadelphia IWW GMB calls for the company to liquidate itself to pay for these damages, and rejects calls for the plant to return to the hazardous fossil fuel industry. The workers in these industries, including those who formerly worked for the Energy Solutions Refinery, should be retrained to work in less hazardous industries.

Both of these closures represent a glaring failure and the inability of the capitalist system to meet the needs of the people and workers. The price of healthcare necessities has risen unchecked and basic safety precautions in a potentially deadly plant are phased out as too costly, all while CEOs and the stock market make record profits. These are not isolated incidents: this is the logical outcome of a system that demands continuous growth. This system must be stopped and the workers themselves, not politicians or NGOs, are the only ones with the power to do so. We must organize now for the abolition of wage slavery and the preservation of what is left of our environment.

American Federation of Teachers Resolution on A Just Transition to a Peaceful and Sustainable Economy

Passed by the Executive Council of the American Federation of Teachers on February 3, 2017:

WHEREAS, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate warming trends over the past century are due to human activities, and most of the world’s leading scientific organizations have issued public statements endorsing this position; and

WHEREAS, we are already experiencing the warming of the planet at a dangerously rapid rate, primarily as a result of our reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities that have caused a dramatic increase in the global level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; and

WHEREAS, according to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, there were already, in 2011, 150 million climate refugees around the world, with more certain to follow because “it is the working class, the poor and developing countries that will be most adversely affected by climate change”; and

WHEREAS, unless we curb the emissions that cause climate change, average temperatures in the United States could be at least 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher by 2100, with consequences including sea-level rise of at least 3 to 6 feet, more frequent extreme hurricanes, more powerful tornadoes, prolonged drought, larger and more frequent wildfires, much more severe winter storms in some areas, reduction to agricultural productivity with resulting food shortages and famine, spread of disease, and a spasm of plant and animal extinctions that threatens to eliminate up to half of all living species on earth; and

WHEREAS, scientists say that there may still be time to prevent the most catastrophic levels of global warming—if we eliminate the burning of fossil fuels worldwide within the next few years; and

WHEREAS, eliminating the burning of fossil fuels is perfectly feasible with existing technology; and

WHEREAS, the known and proven reserves of oil, gas and coal, if extracted and burned, would emit enough carbon to guarantee catastrophic, irreversible global warming within a few decades; and

WHEREAS, emergency measures must be taken to prevent catastrophic increases in global warming that will trigger irreversible changes to our biosphere; and

WHEREAS, at the present rate of carbon emission and consequent global warming, we could reach that tipping point by 2050 or sooner; and

WHEREAS, these developments have sparked a global movement for climate justice, which has taken direct action across North America and around the world to stop fossil fuel extraction, processing and transport; and

WHEREAS, the global movement for climate justice is demanding urgent action by our governments, including an encyclical by Pope Francis that lays out the moral imperative for transforming our economy and social practices; and

WHEREAS, members of the world’s governments, including President Obama, met again in Paris in December 2015 for the Conference of Parties held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) and called for significant reductions in the global use of fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, we will solve the climate crisis only when we in the labor movement put our unions at the center of the climate justice movement; and

WHEREAS, addressing the climate crisis means immediate emergency measures, including, minimally, leaving all fossil fuels in the ground and retooling our infrastructure to run on renewable sources of energy; and

WHEREAS, the Pentagon and the military-industrial sector that feeds it and feeds off of it together are the largest consumers of fossil fuels and create the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet; and

WHEREAS, we have been sold the myth that we must choose between military jobs that do not enhance our nation's security vs. having no job at all; and

WHEREAS, there is no good reason why the richest nation in the world cannot fund protection for its workers as we move toward less military spending and minimal reliance on fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, millions of good jobs can be created by moving toward greater energy efficiency, reliance on renewal energy, and the rebuilding of our civilian infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, there are several bills before Congress to tax carbon pollution, such as the Climate Protection and Justice Act, which would use the funds to provide rebates to households making less than $100,000 per year; and

WHEREAS, the Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act is an example of legislation that would protect workers whose jobs were lost because of the transition away from fossil fuels:

WHEREAS, the education and health sectors are, in fact, the epitome of green jobs—low in carbon emissions and vital to the wellbeing of our communities; and

WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers has previously passed resolutions at its national conventions calling for an end to the militarization of U.S. foreign policy:

RESOLVED, that the AFT will take its place at the center of the climate justice movement, extending wholehearted solidarity to—and, where possible,participating in—the full spectrum of community efforts for climate justice, including campaigns of public education, ofnonviolent direct action, and for legislative reform and theelection of public officials who genuinely understand the climatecrisis and support our movement’s program; and

Resolved, that the AFT is committed to a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy; and

RESOLVED, that it is the policy of the AFT that as much as possible most fossil fuels should be left in the ground; and that the AFT will unreservedly support community and legislative efforts such asthe New York state ban on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 201, and that the AFT will support similar bans in the future; and

RESOLVED, that it is the policy of the AFT to oppose the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure; and that the AFT will support AFT affiliate and community partner efforts to address new fossil fuel infrastructure construction in the way that works best for their community; and

RESOLVED, that it is the policy of the AFT to seek retooling of our infrastructure to run on renewable sources of energy where possible, to include, to begin with, massive expansion of public transit such as proposed by the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the rebuilding and retrofitting for renewable energy of our education and health infrastructure, much of which is crumbling due to long-term neglect by government and business; and

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers reaffirm its commitment to reduction in the Pentagon budget, with part of the money saved to go to green jobs in the education and health sectors; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will support legislation that enables a just transition for workers and communities directly affected by the transition to a renewable energy economy, and such legislation should include appropriate protections for workers in the fossil fuel industries and military industries; and that in order to speed the transition toward renewable energy, the AFTwill support legislation that places a fee on carbon pollution.

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