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Strike Together: Strengthening the Climate Movement and Trade Unions

By Nicolas Rother - Rupture, May 5, 2021

Leipzig, central bus yard, 15 October, 3:30 am - Normally, the first wave of public buses spreads out all over the city to bring day-time workers to their workplaces and the late shift home. But not today. This autumnal and drizzly Thursday morning is a special one. It’s strike day!

Germany’s second-largest trade union, ver.di, called all drivers of Leipzig’s public transport company, LVB, out for a warning strike. It’s the second within a few weeks. And it’s the second time that the picket line looks very different from what most drivers and their bosses expected. You can see bicycles and cargo-bikes standing by the usually empty bike racks. Roughly 20 other Fridays for Future (FFF) activists and I crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to support the strikers for the second time.

The first time we did this, three weeks before, we felt a bit like aliens. Most drivers were reserved and sceptical when we arrived and unfurled our banner. When we explained that we were there to support them, some openly refused to listen to ‘truants’ and ‘intellectuals’. But we stayed, listened, asked questions and discussed until sunrise.

This time we came again to show that we really care. We brought tea, cake, music and even a burn barrel to break the ice. Still, we had to deal with people who were socialised with Stalinist anti-intellectual propaganda in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) and who had a wide repertoire of hackneyed sayings and jokes about people who go to university. But they were doing this while drinking our coffee and standing around our burn barrel which made us feel that we were more than just supporters, we were actually part of this picket line. Our initiative was necessary because the union was extremely worried about getting bad press for supposedly organising a super-spreader event and wanted everybody to strike from home.

Who is hiding $2b in Bay Area transit rescue funds?

By Annie Lloyd and Joty Dhaliwal - East Bay Majority, May 4, 2021

As vaccinations increase and California reopens, local governments and boards will be responsible for their jurisdiction’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief spending package President Biden signed into law on March 11 provides a crucial lifeline for this recovery, but there is a hitch: State and local implementation is required to “turn on the money hose” to deliver jobs and vital services to struggling working-class communities of color. 

Before federal dollars can have their intended impacts on the ground, city, county and state governments—and in some cases, obscure unelected boards—must decide how and when to spend those funds. 

In the Bay Area, one of the obscure unelected boards managing the money is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). MTC now stands between the $1.7 billion in ARP funding for public transportation in the Bay Area and the local transit agencies it oversees—all of which desperately need the money to restore service and jobs. 

Rather than spending to recover from the crisis, which is the whole point of a stimulus package, MTC’s aim is to hold back as much of the ARP funds as it can for a future “rainy day,” by refusing to allocate the money in time for transit agencies to put it into their budgets for the ‘21-’22 fiscal year. Instead, they intend to allocate most of the funds at the end of July, weeks after the July 1 budget deadline. 

MTC is sinking a unique opportunity to accomplish a true recovery. Instead, they are playing into their own pessimistic outlook for public transit. In fact, MTC’s draft Plan Bay Area 2050 projects that pre-pandemic transit service will not be restored until 2035. 

As riders (including students returning to school) return to transit, they will find continuing low levels of service, long wait times, and overcrowded buses. Those with other options will abandon transit. And unemployed workers who might otherwise have access to a flood of openings for good-paying union jobs as operators and mechanics will be left to drive for Uber and Lyft. 

The Impacts of Zero Emission Buses on the Transportation Workforce

By staff - Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, April 21, 2021

TTD and our affiliated unions recognize the serious impacts from climate change and the severe consequences we face if we fail to respond with responsible measures that reduce our carbon footprint. Like automation, however, discussions about reducing our carbon footprint often focus on the potential benefits from new technologies, without looking at the entire picture and taking intentional steps to ensure that the impacted industries’ workers and the communities they live in benefit from technological change.

Advocates of automation and mobility-on-demand services, for example, often tout the exciting new job opportunities created by the technologies while turning a blind eye to the impacts those technologies have on the incumbent workforce, including job loss and life-long wage suppression. TTD’s views and concerns about the impacts of those technologies are detailed in our past policy statement, Principles for the Transit Workforce in Automated Vehicle Legislation and Regulations; comments on the Trump administration’s ill-advised AV 3.0 and AV 4.0 policies, as well as its so-called Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan; our report on the disastrous anti-worker policies and efforts to undermine public transportation by ride-hailing companies; and testimony by former and current TTD presidents Larry Willis and Greg Regan before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Federal and local policies have long ensured that expanding public transportation access plays a key role in greenhouse gas reduction strategy. CO2 emissions per passenger mile are significantly lower on the existing fleet of diesel- and natural gas-powered bus transit vehicles than single occupancy vehicle trips. However, as the entire transportation industry seeks ways to continue reducing its carbon footprint, the move to zero-emission vehicles will continue to become a focus of federal, state, and local policies.

While the adoption of zero emission vehicles stands to make the transit sector an even stronger tool for reducing carbon emissions, years of underinvestment in workforce training combined with unfocused and sometimes non-existent policies on workforce support and training place tremendous strain on the incumbent workforce who may soon be asked to maintain complex electric infrastructure and vehicles. By way of example, at one major transit agency it was estimated that only 15% of bus mechanics have been trained to use a voltmeter, a basic diagnostic tool for electric engines. Without investment in worker training programs as a prerequisite for government support, transit agencies are likely to contract out this work leading to a large number of our existing mechanics seeing their jobs outsourced to lower-paying, lower-quality employers.

Furthermore, electric engines require fewer mechanics to maintain than their diesel and natural gas counterparts, which currently make up more than 99 percent of the domestic U.S. bus fleet. Policies that encourage or require a rapid transition to an all-electric fleet without an accompanying increase in transit service (which will serve to further reduce greenhouse gases) paired with strong labor protections will put tens of thousands of workers on the unemployment rolls.

For over 100 years, transportation workers, their unions, and their employers have worked together in the United States, bound by labor protections, to adopt and implement the extraordinary technological changes that have been the hallmark of this sector. Good, middle-class, union jobs must continue to be the focus for policymakers in the context of environmental technology, just as it has been for other innovations.

Take the Plant, Save the Planet: Workers and Communities in the Struggle for Economic Conversion

Community Hearing on Transit Equity 2021: Findings and Recommendations

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Caitlin Kline and Gregor Semieniuk - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 2021

In February 2018, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) partnered with the Labor Network for Sustainability to launch Transit Equity Day in honor of Rosa Parks’ birthday, which is on February 4. We chose to honor Rosa Parks for the role she played in the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat at the front of the bus and, in doing so, lift up transit as a workers’ rights, civil rights, and climate-justice issue.

Since its launch, Transit Equity Day has grown each year. In 2020, there were events in 50 cities and a social media explosion that brought attention to transit equity beyond just the participating locations. Just as important, a Transit Equity Network emerged through the process. Consisting largely of grassroots advocates, the network has grown and relationships have deepened both locally and nationally.

After the success of Transit Equity Day 2020, participants were ready to work together on a national initiative. We wanted to develop a stronger sense of unity and shared values. We sought to shape a broad vision of what we wanted from our transit systems across the nation. But rather than creating a vision document ourselves, the Transit Equity Network leaders wanted first to hear directly and collectively from transit stakeholders—riders, workers, families reliant on transit, and community activists—about their needs, frustrations, and hopes.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and, with it, a transit crisis. With ridership plummeting and state and local budgets imperiled, it became clear that transit was facing an existential threat. The pandemic laid bare the crisis of inequality and highlighted the essential need for transit. While thousands of workers in sectors not considered essential stopped using transit, millions of essential workers continued to need to get to their jobs: workers in healthcare, public service, food and agriculture and others continued to work to keep us safe and healthy. Many of these workers were in low-wage jobs and dependent on transit, but transit services were being cut and health and safety was not adequately addressed in many systems that remained in service. The dangers associated with the pandemic were exacerbated for unemployed and low-income riders who rely on transit to get to healthcare appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other necessary retail establishments. The idea of holding a (virtual) community hearing on transit was born in this context. The crisis caused by the pandemic made it even more apparent that we needed to hear directly from transit riders and workers about how to address the crisis in the short-term and improve the system in the long-term. For Transit Equity Day 2021 we convened two days of live testimony–as well as pre-recorded testimony–over Zoom with hearing facilitators who came from the policy and social justice world, with Spanish interpretation and to the extent we were able, accommodations for the physically challenged.

This report is a summary of those hearings–rooted in the experience of workers and riders. We have tried to highlight recurring themes, distill the most salient points and remain faithful to the intent of the testimony. Transit riders and workers were very clear about the important role transit plays in their lives and in their community. At the same time, they identified problems with the current system and offered constructive solutions to address them. We structured each key theme of these findings in a similar fashion: 1) recognize the critical benefit of public transit to those who are most vulnerable; 2) identify the existing problems and inequities in public transit; 3) propose policy solutions to both fix and improve public transit. 

Read the text (PDF).

The Future of People Power in the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 25, 2021

What can we learn from the role of people power in the Great Depression and in the first year of the Coronavirus Depression? Based on the seven preceding commentaries on the New Deal and the popular movements of 2020, this commentary maintains that popular direct action can play a significant role in shaping the Biden era. It examines the emerging political context and suggests guidelines for navigating the complex landscape that lies ahead. To read this commentary, please visit this page.

Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project

By J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 17, 2021

The idea of “just transition” has recently become more mainstream in climate discourse. More environmental and climate justice advocates are recognizing the need to protect fossil-fuel workers and communities as we transition away from fossil-fuel use. Yet, as detailed in our report, transition is hardly new or limited to the energy industry. Throughout the decades, workers and communities have experienced near constant economic transitions as industries have risen and declined. And, more often than not, transition has meant loss of jobs, identities, and communities with little to no support.

While transition has been constant, the scale of the transition away from fossil fuels will be on a level not yet experienced. Fossil fuels are deeply embedded in our economy and society. Transition will not only affect the energy sector, but transportation (including passenger and freight), agriculture and others. Adding to the challenges of the energy transition, we are also transitioning to a post-COVID-19-pandemic world. As such, we cannot afford, economically or societally, to repeat the mistakes of the past that left so many workers and communities behind.

To better understand how transition impacts people, what lessons can be learned, and what practices and policies must be in place for a just transition, in the Spring of 2020 we launched the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP). The JTLP has captured the voices of workers and community members who have experienced, are currently experiencing, or anticipate experiencing some form of economic transition.

Those who have suffered from transitions are rarely the ones whose voices are heard. Yet, no one is more able to fully understand what workers and communities need than those who have lived that experience. The JTLP is the first major effort to center these voices. In turn, the recommendations provided can make communities and workers whole. In many ways, these recommendations are common sense and fundamental to creating a just society, regardless of transition. Yet, the failure of elected officials to deliver just transition policies points to the need for wide scale movement building and organizing.

This report summarizes lessons learned and policy recommendations in three overall concepts for decision-makers: Go Big, Go Wide, and Go Far.

Read the text (PDF).

A Santa Cruz Green New Deal: Yes to Social Justice! No to Green Capitalism!

By Ecosocialist Working Group - Santa Cruz Left, March 6, 2021

Proposed as a green jobs and justice program for the next ten years, the Green New Deal is both a social movement to unite diverse social justice struggles and a comprehensive platform for addressing climate change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced it in Congress in 2019, where it failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled senate. But endorsed by organizations including the Sunrise Movement, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Climate Mobilization, Bernie’s Our Revolution, and DSA, the GND remains a powerful vision to organize around for a world worth living in.

Warning of an unfolding climate holocaust, massive loss of life, suffering, and financial devastation, AOC and Markey’s GND resolution notably joins decarbonization to social justice and equity. It proposes infrastructural renewal, economic investment for the wellbeing of all, and guaranteeing clean air, water, and land, in ways that repair the “historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” In 2019, AOC narrated an amazing short video (brilliantly animated by Molly Crabapple) that pictures what a GND-inspired future might look like.

DSA’s Ecosocialists (national) have added their own priorities, including democratizing control over major energy systems and resources; centering the multiracial working class in the just transition to an economy of societal and ecological care; demilitarizing, decolonizing, and striving for a future of international solidarity and cooperation; and decommodifying survival by guaranteeing living wages, healthcare, and affordable housing for all. As such, they join Indigenous and environmental, and racial justice social movements that stress the need for a bottom-up, inclusive, and democratized approach, rather than top-down governmental policy directives.

Joining the GND to the decolonial Red Deal, as proposed by The Red Nation, also makes compelling sense. As Nick Estes argues in Jacobin, “The GND has the potential to connect every social justice struggle—free housing, free health care, free education, green jobs—to climate change. Likewise, the Red Deal places anti-capitalism and decolonization as central to each social justice struggle as well as climate change. The necessity of such a program is grounded in both the history and future of this land, and it entails the radical transformation of all social relations between humans and the earth.” And while such a program must not only be intersectionalist but also global in scope, it’s less clear what the GND would mean on a local level and how it might offer a useful instrument to connect diverse regional struggles. But it’s on the local scale that we can most meaningfully engage with this all-encompassing struggle, in support of its national and international horizons.

Silicon Valley Bus Drivers Restored Community Rides for Free—By Taking Matters into Their Own Hands

By Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, February 17, 2021

With Covid cases surging in their ranks, bus drivers in Santa Clara, California, demanded to resume rear-door boarding, which is proven to reduce the risk of infection.

Management of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) balked, even blaming the workers for getting sick. Pressure mounted from the leadership of Transit (ATU) Local 265, and from rider and community groups.

But it was rank-and-file bus drivers who forced management’s hand when they started planning to stop boarding at the front door whether the agency agreed or not.

Bosses prefer anything to allowing workers to run the company. On February 3, the agency announced that it would resume rear-door boarding.

COVID SURGE AT VTA

Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is where Covid claimed what was believed to be its first U.S. victim on March 6, 2020. (In fact, several February deaths in the county were later determined to be Covid-related.) By March 19, VTA had stopped collecting fares to reduce contact between bus drivers and passengers at the front door.

Rear-door boarding is a no-brainer during a pandemic. Bus drivers reported story after story of passengers fumbling to get their bills into the farebox or taking off their masks to chat. Boarding at the rear door created a safe distance between riders and the driver, protecting both.

Rear-door boarding also has a secondary benefit. Because the only farebox in a VTA bus is located at the front door, it meant the public would ride for free. At a time when many were calling for free public transportation, and some transit agencies in the U.S. and abroad had already eliminated fares, this additional shared interest attracted more community support for the union’s demands.

On August 1, however, claiming “We have done our part to protect our customers,” VTA resumed collecting fares at the front door. Little had changed to justify the move, other than the installation of what one bus driver described as a “janky plastic barrier” that did little to keep airborne microbes from finding their way from boarding passengers to the driver or vice versa.

VTA’s decision had serious consequences for transit workers. Only 15 had fallen ill with Covid before August, while riders boarded at the rear; 72 cases were confirmed from August through Christmas. One bus driver, Audrey Lopez, lost her life to Covid. The new year started off even worse, with more than 60 positive tests in January alone.

Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for West Virginia

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economy Research Institute, February 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in West Virginia, as with most everywhere else in the United States. This study develops a recovery program for West Virginia that is also capable of building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term transition.

In our proposed clean energy investment project, West Virginia can achieve climate stabilization goals which are in alignment with those set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018—that is, to reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent as of 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We show how these two goals can be accomplished in West Virginia through large-scale investments to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in the state and to equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy, including solar, geothermal, small-scale hydro, wind, and low-emissions bioenergy power. We also show how this climate stabilization program for West Virginia can serve as a major new engine of job creation and economic well-being throughout the state. Scaled at about $3.6 billion per year in both private and public investments, the program will generate about 25,000 jobs per year in West Virginia. We also present investment programs for West Virginia in the areas of public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration and agriculture. We scaled this overall set of investments at $1.6 billion per year over 2021 – 2030, equal to about 2 percent of West Virginia’s 2019 GDP. We estimate that the full program would generate about 16,000 jobs per year in the state. Overall, the combination of investments in clean energy, manufacturing/infrastructure, and land restoration/agriculture will therefore create about 41,000 jobs in West Virginia, equal to roughly 5 percent of West Virginia’s current workforce.

The study also develops a just transition program for workers and communities that are currently dependent on West Virginia’s fossil fuel-based industries. It estimates that about 1,400 workers per year will be displaced in these industries between 2021 – 2030 while another roughly 650 will voluntarily retire each year. It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, re-employment guarantees, wage insurance, and retraining support, as needed. We estimate that generous levels of transition support for all workers will cost an average of about $140 million per year.

The study shows how all of these proposed measures can be fully financed within the framework of the Build Back Better infrastructure and clean energy investment program proposed by President Biden during his presidential campaign.

Read the text (PDF).

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