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LNS Supports Workers’ Demand to Build Green Locomotives

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 30, 2023

1400 workers in Erie, PA have been out on strike since June, demanding that their employer, Wabtec, start producing green locomotives. In a statement of solidarity, the Labor Network for Sustainability said:

The unions were denied their basic rights to strike over grievances, and most importantly, over the company’s refusal to move forward with worker-supported, environmentally necessary green locomotive production.

 This strike may well represent the first instance ever of unionized workers striking to force their employers to make products to protect the climate. That’s historic. 

 The Labor Network for Sustainability supports the United Electrical Workers in their fight to manufacture more sustainable transportation. Their decision to strike represents their decision to prolong life on our planet by making lower emission locomotives to carry freight across this great country. Their decision also upholds the livelihood of many communities that these railroads run through that face negative effects from the current engines.

 The railroad industry is still behind with making the necessary steps in maximizing their efficiency with their right-of-way, including: electrifying the last-mile of their urban rail yards, sharing their tracks with electrified inter and intracity transit, and upgrading their locomotives to non-pollutant green locomotives, ones touted by the UE workers in Erie.

Employment Creation through Green Locomotive Manufacturing at Wabtec’s Erie, Pennsylvania Facility

By Alex Press - Jacobin, June 24, 2023

On the evening of June 22, members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) crowded into Iroquois High School to vote on whether they would accept what their boss was offering them. They are employed by Wabtec (an abbreviation of Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation), at a four-million-square-foot locomotive manufacturing plant in Lawrence Park, on the east side of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Lawrence Park was built by General Electric (GE), which ran the plant for more than a century before the company spun off its $4-billion-a-year transportation arm in 2019, transferring ownership to Wabtec. The area still feels like a company town: the roughly four thousand residents are tied to the plant in countless ways, and UE signs dot Lawrence Park’s Main Street, affixed to telephone poles and stuck in front lawns.

At Iroquois High, the members of UE Local 506 and Local 618 (the latter consists of the plant’s clerical employees whose jobs have not been eliminated by automation, now numbering in the single digits) were voting on Wabtec’s last, best, and final offer for a new four-year contract. They struck for nine days to win that first contract in 2019, defeating some of Wabtec’s most egregious proposals but giving up certain provisions they had enjoyed under GE, some of which they hoped to win back during the current negotiations. The company’s 1,400 workers have now been without a contract since June 10, when that first contract expired.

Months of bargaining failed to produce a tentative agreement, and the company’s actions only increased the workers’ frustration. Hours before the contract expired, Wabtec informed Local 506 president Scott Slawson that it was considering permanently subcontracting out 275 union jobs, which members read as a threat. That interpretation was only confirmed when the company then told Slawson on June 20 that it would rescind that move should the workers accept the offer.

UE Locals 506 and 618 Strike Wabtec Locomotive Plant, Demanding Green Jobs

By Scott Slawson - United Electrical Workers, June 22, 2023

After rejecting the company’s last, best and final offer today, the 1400 members of UE Locals 506 and 618 are on strike at Wabtec’s locomotive plant in Lawrence Park.

“Building green locomotives is essential to the future of our country, and will benefit the local economy here in Erie,” said UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “Unfortunately, Wabtec’s unwillingness to work with us to resolve problems, either through the grievance process or through contract negotiations, is a major impediment to that bright future.”

Slawson also denounced the company’s announcement during bargaining that they are considering moving at least 275 jobs out of the plant.

“While the union is working hard to bring new work into the plant and new jobs to Erie through our Green Locomotive Project, the company is refusing to work with us on this project, and is instead holding the community of Erie hostage with the threat of moving work,” Slawson said. “We will not give in to their blackmail.”

A recent report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that the production of green locomotives at the Erie plant could bring thousands of new, high-quality jobs to northwest Pennsylvania, an area that has been especially hard-hit by de-industrialization. During contract negotiations, the union has proposed language that would guarantee that green locomotive work be done in Erie.

In addition to the green locomotive proposal, the union has proposed returning to the dispute resolution process used for over eight decades prior to the plant’s sale to Wabtec in 2019. Under that process, workers had the right to strike after exhausting the grievance procedure, which gave the company an incentive to settle disputes at the lowest possible level. Since the union’s first contract with Wabtec went into effect in June 2019, the number of grievances reaching the final stage of the grievance procedure has increased tenfold.

Episode 4: Exploring the Intersection of Labor and Climate Policy

The New Math for Wind and Solar Manufacturing Supports Good Jobs and U.S. Manufacturing

By Yohan Min, Maarten Brinkerink, Jesse Jenkins, and Erin Mayfield - Blue Green Alliance, June 9, 2023

Researchers at Dartmouth and Princeton released a BlueGreen Alliance-funded report on the estimated impacts the Inflation Reduction Act will have on the U.S. wind and solar industry, including changes in wind and solar manufacturing, labor standards for clean energy workers, job creation, and demand for materials. Specifically, the report explores the impacts of the law’s clean electricity production and investment tax credits (PTC and ITC) and the 45x Advanced Manufacturing Production Tax Credit.

The report finds that the Inflation Reduction Act offers wind and solar developers an airtight business case to use U.S.-manufactured components and pay workers fair wages. It has always been the right thing to do. Now it’s also the most economical thing to do. 

By transforming the economics of wind and solar power, the Inflation Reduction Act will spur the creation of millions of new U.S. solar and wind manufacturing and deployment jobs, with strong incentives for fair wages and career pathways.

The findings show strong, unprecedented potential to build our clean energy future on a foundation of good jobs, clean manufacturing, a reliable industrial base, and greater equity.

Climate Justice in the North Sea

Green Job Creation Projected to 'Offset' Fossil Fuel Job Losses in GOP States

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, May 31, 2023

"Total employment in the nationwide U.S. energy sector could double or even triple by 2050 to meet the demand for wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission lines," according to a new study.

Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by mid-century would lead to a net increase in energy-related employment nationwide, and Republican-voting states whose leaders have done the most to disparage climate action would see the largest growth in green jobs.

That's according to research published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy. The new study, summarized Tuesday by Carbon Brief, undercuts the old right-wing canard that environmentally friendly policies are inherently bad for workers.

Four academics led by Dartmouth College engineering professor Erin Mayfield found that shifting to a net-zero economy could create millions of jobs in low-carbon sectors—enough to "offset" losses in the declining fossil fuel industry, not only in the aggregate but also in most dirty energy-producing states, which tend to be GOP strongholds.

"Total employment in the nationwide U.S. energy sector could double or even triple by 2050 to meet the demand for wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission lines," Carbon Brief reported. Such growth in clean power generation and dissemination "would outweigh losses in most of the country's fossil fuel-rich regions, as oil, coal, and gas operations close down."

The study adds to mounting evidence that so-called "red" states now dominated by Republicans and fossil fuel interests—including particularly sunny and windy ones like Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming—stand to reap the biggest rewards from the green industrial policy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden last year.

At the same time, the authors acknowledge that some GOP-controlled dirty energy-producing states, such as North Dakota, are likely to see net decreases in energy sector employment, and they stress that "many communities will still require help to ensure a 'just transition' away from fossil fuels," as Carbon Brief noted.

Hot Take: Urgent Heat Crisis For Workers

By Juley Fulcher - Public Citizen, May 25, 2023

Key Findings

  • Heat exposure is responsible for as many as 2,000 worker fatalities in the U.S. each year.
  • Up to 170,000 workers in the U.S. are injured in heat stress related accidents annually. There is a 1% increase in workplace injuries for every increase of 1° Celsius.
  • The failure of employers to implement simple heat safety measures costs the U.S. economy nearly $100 billion every year.
  • The dangers of heat stress are overwhelmingly borne by low-income workers. The lowest-paid 20% of workers suffer five times as many heat-related injuries as the highest-paid 20%.
  • Worker heat stress tragedies disproportionately strike workers who are low-income, Black or Brown.
  • At least 50,000 injuries and illnesses could be avoided in the U.S. each year with an effective OSHA heat standard.
  • Employers pay a substantial price for failing to mitigate workplace heat stress including the costs of absenteeism, turnover and overtime due to worker illness or injury, reduced worker productivity, damage to machinery and property from workplace accidents, increased workers’ comp premiums, law suits, and loss of public trust and customers.
  • The physical and mental capacity of workers to function drops significantly as heat and humidity increase. Productivity of workers declines approximately 2.6% per degree Celsius above a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) of 24°C (75.2°F). The WBGT is a measure that combines temperature, relative humidity, radiant heat sources (like direct sunlight or heat-generating machinery) and wind speed.
  • There are many simple ways employers can mitigate heat stress in the workplace, like access to cool drinking water and adequate “cool down” breaks in a shaded or air-conditioned space.
  • It is essential that OSHA issue an interim rule to immediately prevent heat-related illness, injury and death in indoor and outdoor workers, both to protect workers and to reduce the clear burden on the economy.

The right to a safe workplace is a basic human right. Exposure to excessive heat is one of the most dangerous problems facing workers today. Tens of thousands of workers suffer heat illnesses, injuries and fatalities every year in the U.S. This is a toll disproportionately borne by Black and Brown workers, and low-income workers with limited options for safer employment. This is most clearly demonstrated by the plight of farmworkers, who have the highest rate of heat-related worker deaths, and are overwhelmingly immigrant workers with little power to demand workplace reforms from their employers.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

What a World Beyond Fossil Fuels Will Mean for Workers, Families, and Communities

Progressives Call for Embrace of 'Green Steel' Manufacturing

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, May 24, 2023

"It's time that the steel industry take the growing need and demand for fossil-free steel seriously," said one advocate.

Progressive organizers on Wednesday urged steelmakers to swiftly adopt the clean manufacturing methods needed to achieve a shift from coal-based steel to "green steel."

At the Great Designs in Steel conference held in a Detroit suburb, Public Citizen and Mighty Earth activists used a series of digital ads and mobile billboards to call on industry insiders and automotive executives to accelerate the nascent transition from dirty to clean steel by fully embracing low- to zero-carbon production processes—one of many changes that scientists say are necessary to avert the worst consequences of the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.

"Steel manufacturing remains one of the most energy-intensive and polluting aspects of making a vehicle, but there are solutions to clean it up," Erika Thi Patterson, supply chain campaigns director at Public Citizen, said in a statement. "As companies and governments work to meet net-zero climate commitments, it's time that the steel industry take the growing need and demand for fossil-free steel seriously and embrace the cleaner technologies that exist today."

"Insiders at this conference," Patterson continued, "need to recognize the inevitability of green transportation and move in that direction quickly and forcefully."

At the conference venue, mobile billboards denounced steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.'s recent announcement that it plans to stick with coal-powered blast furnaces in the near term. Rival company U.S. Steel, by contrast, is ramping up the use of lower-emission electric arc furnaces at its mini-mills.

Billboards with the message, "Cleveland-Cliffs: Ditch the past, embrace the Green Steel future!" circled the venue for the duration of the meeting.

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