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Labour and climate activists make recommendations for fossil fuel workers in new joint report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 19, 2021

At a press conference on October 13, representatives of Climate Action Network Canada , Blue Green Canada, United Steelworkers, and Unifor launched a new report,  Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions. The report considers the challenges to the fossil fuel industry, including automation, and projects that 56,000 alternative jobs will need to be created for current Canadian oil and gas workers in the next decade. The report offers seven recommendations for a Just Transition, building on policy proposals from Canada’s Just Transition Task Force for Coal Workers and Communities, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and Unifor (whose most recent statement is their submission to the Just Transition consultation process here. ) Key recommendations include: “Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, Canada must create Just Transition policy / legislation that holds the government accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Funding is seen to come from Covid recovery funds and the Infrastructure Bank, with another recommendation: “Tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees.”

Summaries of Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future appear in the press release from Climate Action Network, and in “With Canadian fossil fuel jobs about to be cut in half, it’s time to talk about a just transition” (National Observer, Oct. 15). The latter article highlights the enhanced impact of the bringing labour unions and climate activists together, and also emphasizes that workers must be included in all transition plans, using the cautionary tale of Algoma Steel. As explained in “Why Mike Da Prat boycotted the prime minister’s Algoma Steel announcement” (Soo Today, July 6 2021) the union was not adequately consulted on transition planning when the government awarded $420 million in July 2021 to help Algoma Steel transition from coal to greener, electric-arc furnace production.

Want to know what a just transition to a green economy looks like? Ask the workers

By Anna Markova - The Guardian, October 18, 2021

If you really want to know what a just transition looks like, don’t start with the official speeches of Cop26. Ideally, don’t even ask me. Ask those who need it most.

Ask a teenager in south Wales, where coal mining jobs have not been replaced by alternatives and unemployment levels are among the highest in the UK. Ask the oil rig worker who has been travelling to work by helicopter for 15 years but is having to pay £2,000 for yet another helicopter safety training course to be able to work on a wind turbine. Ask the Eurostar driver who does not know if the train she drives will still be running in two months’ time. Ask, if you can, one of the Uyghur people forced by Chinese authorities to work in a labour camp to make polysilicone for solar panels.

They can tell you about an unjust transition – the opposite of how we want to change our lifestyles and economies to meet net zero. Just transition mustn’t become a global policy-speak catchphrase, reduced to the intersection between environmental and social concerns, or vague promises of skills training. A real just transition makes sure people don’t lose out as their lives and livelihoods are transformed by climate action. Like the up to 600,000 workers in UK manufacturing and supply chains, whose future employment relies on government and industry investing to retool and decarbonise.

Here’s who is building a just transition: the Scottish fabrication yard worker, who is campaigning to make the foundations for offshore wind turbines being built in sight of their town. It’s the car engineer in Birmingham fighting to transition the factory to make electric vehicles. The Swedish steel mill worker making the world’s first batch of zero-carbon steel, soon to be used to make Volvo cars. The postie, perhaps the one who delivered your online shopping this morning, working with colleagues to manage the switch to an electric vehicle fleet for Royal Mail.

Or it’s the South African coalminer marching in the streets for a transition plan that gets her and her colleagues a clean power job in a public energy service. The teacher, perhaps in your child’s primary school, asking her class what they need from their education to face a future of climate chaos while the national curriculum lags far behind.

These people – all of them real union reps – might not be on the podium at Cop26 in Glasgow, but they are among the world’s real climate leaders.

Illinois sets U.S. standard for equity and labour standards in new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 6, 2021

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act  (SB2408) is a 900-page bill signed into law by the Governor of Illinois in September 2021. It is summarized by Natural Resources Defence in a blog titled “Illinois Passes Nation-Leading, Equitable Climate Bill”, by David Roberts in his new blog, Volts, and by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition press release

Why does David Roberts call it “ one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country”? Some highlights: the CEJA requires Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045 (including their coal power plant), while encouraging electrification of transportation and buildings, and reforms to the utility rate structure. It increases the existing Solar for All funding (by 5 times) to help low-income families to switch to solar energy, creates a Green Bank to finance clean energy projects. For workers, the Act requires that all utility-scale renewable energy projects must use project-labor agreements, and all non-residential clean-energy projects must pay prevailing wages. Diversity hiring reports will be required to prove that projects have recruited qualified BIPOC candidates and apprentices. The Act also provides funds for 13 Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs across the state, to deliver workforce-development programs to low-income and underserved populations. According to David Roberts, “The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Security will work together to develop a “displaced worker bill of rights,” with $40 million a year to go toward transition assistance for areas dependent on fossil fuel production or generation.”

The CEJA is a model not only for what it contains, but also how it was achieved. Roberts calls it “a model for how diverse stakeholders can reach consensus” and describes the years-long process in detail: “The state’s labor community was sensitive to the fact that it had largely been left out of the 2016 bill; the legislation contained no labor standards, and recent years have seen Illinois renewable energy projects importing cheaper out-of-state workforces. Labor didn’t want to get left behind in the state’s energy transition, so it organized a coalition of groups under the banner Climate Jobs Illinois and set about playing an active role in negotiations. Environmental and climate-justice groups organized as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. All the groups introduced energy bills of their own. And then they spent years banging their heads together. A special shout-out goes to the environmental-justice community in Illinois, which used three years of relentless grassroots organizing to build an incredible political force, without which the bill couldn’t have passed and wouldn’t have been as equity-focused.” The result, according to Roberts, “As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state’s energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.”

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Strong Unions, Sustainable Transport

Do trade unions have energy for change?

By Bert Schouwenburg - MorningStar, October 2021

AGAINST a backdrop of floods and heatwaves of unprecedented magnitude and frequency all over the world, the latest report from the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a stark warning that immediate action must be taken on emissions to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, if a global catastrophe is to be averted.

Its sobering assessment will set the scene at the forthcoming Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow, scheduled to commence at the end of October after being postponed from last year because of the Covid pandemic, where representatives of the international trade union movement will be in attendance.

Many of those unions are affiliated to Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), established in 2012 and based in New York City.

TUED describes itself as a global multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of land and people and responds to attacks on workers’ rights and protections.

It promotes an equitable energy system that can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power towards workers, communities and the public.

In order to achieve that goal, TUED advocates resistance to the agenda of the fossil fuel corporations, reclaiming privatised energy for the public ownership and restructuring it to a renewable, sustainable model.

Six of the 88 organisations belonging to TUED are the British trade unions — Unite, GMB, Unison, PCS, NEU and UCU. While they have all participated in TUED’s activities at one time or another and there is a general consensus on the call for public ownership, there are differences between them on matters of future energy policy in Britain and elsewhere.

Broadly speaking, the political debate about how best to avoid climate disaster has centred on whether the dominant neoliberal order can be adapted to provide market-based solutions to the crisis or whether a system based on perpetual growth and capital accumulation is completely at odds with the need to curb emissions.

It goes without saying that political elites in the richer countries of the global north, including Britain, subscribe to the former in their belief that some kind of green capitalism is both possible and desirable.

In this they are supported by the energy companies, whose principal concern is their bottom line.

TUED, on the other hand, is promoting the concept of a Just Transition from an economy based on fossil fuel consumption to one that largely relies on renewable energy.

Technological advances make that transition a realistic proposition but in order for it to be “just” it must take into consideration the livelihoods of energy workers who would see their jobs disappear.

This presents an enormous challenge to the governments of the day but were there to be a strategically planned conversion to a publicly owned green economy, there would undoubtedly be a huge demand in everything from retrofitting home insulation to the manufacturing of wind turbines that could more than absorb work lost in the transition.

The theory of a Just Transition within the framework of an oft-quoted Green New Deal is certainly plausible, but for British trade unions there is, justifiably, little faith in a right-wing Conservative regime doing the right thing by their members, many of whom currently enjoy relatively stable and well-paid employment in parts of the energy sector that would disappear.

Are ‘Green’ Jobs Good Jobs? How lessons from the experience to-date can inform labour market transitions of the future

By Dr Anna Valero, et. al. - London School of Economics, October 2021

As governments worldwide are increasing their commitments to tackling climate change, efforts are growing to quantify and characterise the ‘green economy’, and to identify opportunities to be seized and challenges to be overcome in the transition to the net-zero economy of the future. The aim of this report and accompanying policy brief is to shed light on the quantity and quality of current green labour markets, to inform policy action and future research for the net-zero transition.

Main messages

  • Research on green jobs often uses a narrow definition of the green economy that does not cover all the jobs that will be important for driving forward the net-zero transition.
  • In contrast, the authors apply a broad approach to the UK and European economies.
  • They find that around 20% of jobs in the UK and 14 European economies can be considered directly and indirectly green, taking a broad, occupation-level definition of the ‘greenness’ of jobs.
  • They find some evidence that greener jobs tend to be ‘better’ jobs.
  • Workers in some types of green jobs, particularly those that are new occupations related to greening the economy, are likely to be educated to a higher level and be on permanent contracts, though there are differences in these relationships across countries, sectors and regions.
  • For the UK, the authors also find that greener jobs tend to pay higher wages, and are more resilient to automation.
  • Greener jobs tend to be occupied by older workers and men. Policymakers will need to ensure equitable access to green, future-fit jobs. Educational and training requirements of ‘green’ jobs will need to be met with new education and skills policies, including improved incentives for firms and individuals to train.

Read the text (link).

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

Viewpoint: Climate Justice Must Be a Top Priority for Labor

By Peter Knowlton and John Braxton - Labor Notes, September 21, 2021

Today’s existential crisis for humanity is the immediate need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. All of us have to. Everywhere. For workers and for our communities there is no more pressing matter than this.

We need to begin a discussion among co-workers, creating demands and acting on them at the workplace and bargaining table. We need to show up at local union meetings, central labor councils, and town halls supporting demands that move us toward a fossil fuel-free future.

At the same time, we need to protect the incomes and benefits of workers affected by the transition off of fossil fuels and to make sure they have real training opportunities. And we need to restore and elevate those communities that have been sacrificed for fossil fuel extraction, production, and distribution. We should promote candidates for elected office who support legislation which puts those aspirations into practice, such as the Green New Deal.

If the labor movement does not take the lead in pushing for a fair and just transition, one of these futures awaits us: (1) the world will either fail to make the transition to renewable energy and scorch us all, or (2) the working class will once again be forced to make all of the sacrifices in the transition.

The time is long past ripe for U.S. unions and our leaders to step up and use our collective power in our workplaces, in our communities, and in the streets to deal with these crises. That means we need to break out of the false choice between good union jobs and a livable environment.

There are no jobs on a dead planet. Social, economic, and environmental justice movements can provide some pressure to mitigate the crises, but how can we succeed if the labor movement and the environmental movement continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to pit us against each other? Rather than defending industries that need to be transformed, labor needs to insist that the transition to a renewable energy economy include income protection, investment in new jobs in communities that now depend on fossil fuels, retraining for those new jobs, and funds to give older workers a bridge to retirement.

Like any change of technology or work practice in a shop, if the workers affected don’t receive sufficient guarantees of income, benefits, and protections their support for it, regardless of the urgency, will suffer.

We Make Tomorrow: Briefing for Workers and Trade Unions To Mobilise for COP26

By Workers Action: Cop26 Coalition Trade Union Caucus - We Make Tomorrow, Septmber 20, 2021

Introduction Briefing for Workers and Trade Unions

  1. View this briefing as a Google Slides presentation here or on our website here.

Introduction

This November, world leaders will meet in Glasgow at the global climate talks - COP26 - to discuss our future. 

The COP26 Coalition is a civil society coalition of trade unions, NGOs, community organisations mobilising a week of global action for climate justice

Our Plans

5 November - Supporting Global youth strikes

6 November - Global Day of Action

7-10 November - People’s Summit”

The Global Day of Action

  1. More information about the 5 Nov and Peoples Summit will be available soon

On the 6 November, we are organising decentralised mass mobilisations across the world, bringing together movements to build power for system change – from indigenous struggles to trade unions, and from racial justice groups to youth strikers.

Illinois Now Boasts the ‘Most Equitable’ Climate Law in America. So What Will That Mean?

By Brett Chase and Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, September 17, 2021

Illinois is now the first Midwestern state to set climate-fighting targets for phasing out coal and natural gas in favor of cleaner energy sources like wind and solar power.

The bill that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law on Wednesday sets a goal for Illinois to move to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

The new law promises thousands of new jobs in clean energy, with an emphasis on hiring people of color. It sets priorities for closing sources of pollution in so-called environmental justice communities. And it gives almost $700 million over five years to subsidize three Northern Illinois nuclear power plants owned by Exelon. 

The law was pushed through by a coalition of environmental, community and religious activists who held more than 100 community meetings over the last three years with thousands of people around the state. That process was in sharp contrast to what happened five years ago, when utility companies dominated the writing of the state’s last major energy law. 

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