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Why Every Job in the Renewable Energy Industry Must Be a Union Job

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, September 3, 2020

The renewable energy industry in the United States is booming. Prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has put millions out of work, over 3 million people worked in clean energy — far more than those who worked in the fossil fuel industry. And though the decline of fossil fuel jobs appears unstoppable, the unions that represent those workers are very protective of their members’ jobs. Similarly, they’ve also been resistant to legislation like the Green New Deal, which would create more green jobs while also transitioning away from work in extractive industries. Environmental activists believe that green jobs are the future — for both workers and our world — but unionization rates in the renewable energy industry are extremely low. In order to get unions on board with green jobs, the environmental movement will have to fight for those jobs to be union. And unions will have to loosen their grip on fossil fuels in an effort to embrace renewables.

Fossil fuel jobs can pay well (both oil rig and refinery workers can take home around $100,000 per year), but due to automation and decreased demand, the number of jobs is shrinking. And so are the unions that represent them. At its peak, the United Mine Workers of America boasted 800,000 members, but hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off in the last few decades. Now UMWA is mostly a retirees’ organization and only organizes a few thousand workers in the manufacturing and health care industries, as well as workers across the Navajo Nation. When a union like UMWA hemorrhages members, many see it as an insular problem that doesn’t concern anybody else — environmentalists may even celebrate the closure of mines and refineries, potentially paying lip service to lost jobs, without doing much to create new ones.

“An injury to one is an injury to all” is not just a slogan in the labor movement because it sounds good, but because it’s true. When union density is low and unions are weak, the jobs that are created are more likely to have low pay, lack benefits, and be unsafe. And because union density in this country is already so low (33.6% in the public sector, 6.2% in the private), every time an employer of union labor outsources or shuts down, it affects not only those newly unemployed workers, but all workers, union and not. When oil refineries and other fossil fuel employers close their doors, union members and other workers lose their jobs. And while that may feel like a win for environmentalists, it’s also a loss for all working people, even those concerned about climate change. Unions are one of the only ways working people have power in this country — without them, there will be very few organizations equipped to fight for the programs and services we deserve, including ones that are tasked with fighting climate change. These kinds of contradictions have caused tension between both movements, and corroded trust between them. And while there have been some inroads made in the last few years — including unions endorsing the Green New Deal — there’s still a long way to go until unions eschew fossil fuels.

Young Workers and Just Transition

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 26, 2020

In case you missed it, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. Eastern, the Labor Network for Sustainability and friends hosted "Young Workers and Just Transition," the fourth in a series of webinars as part of the Just Transition Listening Project.

Moderated by Climate Justice Alliance Policy Coordinator, Anthony Rogers -Wright, the panel featured young workers in the labor and climate justice movements: 

  • Celina Barron, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 RENEW
  • Eboni Preston, Greening for Youth; Georgia NAACP, Labor and Industry Chair
  • Judy Twedt, United Auto Workers, Local 4121
  • Ryan Pollock, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520
  • Yolian Ogbu, This is Zero Hour

Watch this event now to glean insight into who the challenges these young movement leaders face when initiating dialog around transitioning to a sustainable economy that offers equitable and just opportunities for future workers. Also learn about LNS' Young Worker Project and to hear what's next:

Special thank you to the following on the Labor Network for Sustainability team: Joshua Dedmond, Veronica Wilson and Leo Blain; and Vivian Price, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, California State University Dominguez Hills for their organizing and technical support before and during this important conversation.

The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What's Stopping the AFL-CIO?

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, August 12, 2020

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO — all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D‑Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, ​“We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, ​“We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, ​“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

Southern Struggles in Transit During Covid-19: Safe Jobs Save Lives Campaign

By various - Southern Workers Assembly, July 12, 2020

Transit workers, particularly in the public sector, have been on the frontlines of struggle in the midst of both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprising. Numerous successful job actions, work stoppages, and strikes have been held by workers in Birmingham, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia, among many other cities throughout the South and the U.S.

These struggles have largely elevated health and safety demands for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), better sanitizing of buses and transit centers, and social distancing - for transit workers and passengers alike - alongside calls for hazard pay. Many frontline essential workers rely on public transit to get to and from their jobs, a reality that has been reflected in many of the fights that have broken out in transit during this period.

Because of the failure of reactionary state governments that have capitulated to the demands of capital and other right-wing forces who have called for a quick return to business as usual, alongside the woefully inadequate for profit healthcare system in this country, COVID-19 cases are once again spiking across the U.S. and particularly in the South.

In April, the Southern Workers Assembly launched the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign to advance the organization of workers at the workplace and to build solidarity formations such as local workers assemblies, particularly in light of the many struggles breaking out in response to the crisis and a system that values profit above all else. The SWA views the development of this type of organization as critical to confront the two pandemics facing workers, particularly Black workers - COVID-19 and racism.

What can all workers learn from the struggles waged by transit workers during this period? How can we continue to build a regional Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign, alongside the formation of workers unity council and workers assemblies? Join us for the discussion that will take up these and other questions.

Rebuilding our Economy for All: BC Federation of Labour Submission to the Economic Recovery Taskforce

By staff International BC Labor Federation, May 2020

The economic shutdown resulting from this pandemic is historically unprecedented. Never before have we collectively decided to close entire sectors of our economy, and dramatically curtail others in service of a greater good – our collective health. BC has weathered both this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in large part because of the sacrifices and courage of working people. They have continued to do the important work of treating the sick, providing vital public services, and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed that essential portions of BC’s economy depend on frontline workers.

But as public respect for the value of their work has grown, so has our recognition of the many gaps this pandemic has exposed. For example, we better understand the paramount importance of workplace safety and standards, the need for robust public services and social supports, and our collective responsibility to address the continued marginalization of vulnerable populations.

We have the chance as our economy emerges from hibernation to address those gaps, and to do much more. The choices we make in the coming weeks and months can help us build an economy – and a province – equipped to address climate change while prospering along the way. Our choices must acknowledge and genuinely embrace reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our choices must secure opportunities and equity in every community of this province.

There will always be voices who suggest we move in the opposite direction: that the public sector should retreat from the economy and the community; that working people who were this province’s lifeline revert back to less protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages; that vulnerable populations remain vulnerable; that we should abandon years of progress toward reconciliation. They will argue that all of this will make business more competitive and generate jobs.

But even in an unprecedented situation, we can learn from history. And history tells us again and again – from the Great Depression through countless recessions and downturns – that ’austerity‘ only serves to freeze out working people and the most vulnerable, enriching a handful of already-wealthy people while hollowing our communities and leaving most of us to fend for ourselves. Austerity, in fact, is why we have many of the gaps this pandemic has so glaringly exposed in the first place. We also know that this pandemic will not impact people or communities equally, and thus our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. We can’t cut and slash our way back to where we were before – let alone to a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

Read the text (PDF).

Solidarity for Climate Action

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, July 2019

Americans face the dual crises of climate change and increasing economic inequality, and for far too long, we’ve allowed the forces driving both crises to create a wedge between the need for economic security and a living environment. We know this is a false choice—we know that we can and must have both, and we need a bold plan to address both simultaneously.

Many solutions are already being put into place across the country. For example, tradespeople built the Block Island offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island, autoworkers are on the factory floors building cleaner cars and trucks in Michigan, and previously unemployed workers in St. Louis and Los Angeles are gaining access to high-skilled jobs in energy efficiency retrofitting, pipefitting, and transit manufacturing, while mine workers are extracting palladium to be used in catalytic converters. These are all good, union jobs building a clean energy and climate-resilient economy today.

At the same time, not enough of the new jobs that have been created or promised in the clean energy economy are high-quality, family-sustaining jobs, nor are these jobs in the same communities that have seen the loss of good-paying, union jobs.

Wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and sea-level rise driven by climate change are hurting communities across the country and will only worsen if we don’t take decisive action. Lower income workers and communities of color are hit the hardest and are less able to deal with these impacts as wages have fallen and their economic mobility and power in the workplace has declined.

It is critical that working people are front and center as we create a new economy: one that values our work, our families, our communities, and our environment. It is with that imperative that we call for a new plan to create jobs and protect the environment for the next generation. This plan must respond to the climate crisis on the scale that science demands, while simultaneously addressing inequality in all its forms.

Read the report (PDF).

Justice in the Fields: A Report on the Role of Farmworker Justice Certification and an Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Seven Labels

By Kerstin Lindgren - Fair World Project, October 2016

A growing number of eco-social certifications are available on food products at a variety of retail locations. These certifications cover a range of environmental and social values and include claims like fair trade, humane, and environmentally friendly. As the historically invisible contribution of farmworkers in the agriculture system gains more attention, so too do the dangerous, often unsanitary conditions and low pay of farm labor. In recent years, eco- social certifications claiming to benefit farmworkers have emerged in response to this growing recognition. This has coincided with the decreasing prominence of and membership in labor unions, the traditional tool for addressing labor issues. The emergence of farmworker labels has also coincided, especially in the U.S., with the surge of wage victoriesat the state and local level, led by the Fight for $15 labor activists. Political advocacy, collective bargaining through worker associations, and social certifications can serve to reinforce each other to achieve the broad goals of fair pay and decent working conditions. This report looks at the role that certification can play and compares seven certification schemes.

Read the report (PDF).

Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition

By Carol Zabin, Abigail Martin, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Manuel Pastor and Jim Sadd - UC Berkeley Labor Center, September 13, 2016

California’s leadership role in climate policy has once again been confirmed by the passage of Senate Bill 32 (Pavley, 2016), which commits the state to the ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—staying the course to an 80-percent reduction by 2050. A central issue in the SB 32 political debate, as well as the many related policies that preceded it, is the impact of climate policy on equity: how to ensure that low-income and working-class Californians do not dis-proportionately bear the costs and are included in the benefits of California’s transition to a low-carbon economy. This report presents a Climate Policy Equity Framework to assist California decision-makers interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in ways that promote economic, social, and environmental equity. We suggest that policymakers, regulators, community groups, advocacy organizations, and business interests should develop a “social contract” to manage a transition to a low-carbon economy that both maximizes the benefits of low-carbon economic development and minimizes the risks to working people and disadvantaged communities. This social contract can strengthen the broad political coalition needed to stay the course on the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, particularly in the face of accelerating greenhouse gas emission reductions and a legal challenge to the constitutionality of California’s cap-and-trade system. The Climate Policy Equity Framework can then guide policy development and program implementation to reflect and support the social contract.

But what is climate equity? How can it be defined in a way that promotes both good jobs and prioritizes those communities that are hardest hit by climate change, multiple environmental hazards, and socio-economic stressors? What key criteria can then be used to develop and assess policies such as renewable portfolio standards, incentives for energy retrofits, cap and trade, transit-oriented development, low-carbon fuels and vehicle deployment, and much more? And finally, when faced with trade-offs between different equity criteria or tensions between environmental justice and labor interests, how can decision-makers maximize equity outcomes?

To answer these questions, this report proposes a “Climate Policy Equity Framework” that operates at three levels to:

  • Articulate equity principles and goals to guide policy design;
  • Present key criteria to analyze how close a particular climate policy or program comes to meeting these equity goals; and
  • Propose indicators that point the way to mechanisms and strategies to advance climate equity.

We then apply these equity criteria to assess progress on environmental justice, economic equity, and public accountability goals, using the limited data currently available. Our assessment highlights positive developments, remaining challenges, and the data gaps that must be filled to facilitate more complete assessments in the future. We also apply the criteria and indicators to two specific climate policy arenas—energy efficiency and renewable energy—to illustrate how to improve the equity outcomes of specific climate policies and programs. Finally, we present a preliminary set of recommendations to illustrate some concrete opportunities for equitable climate initiatives.

Read the report (PDF).

REGISTER NOW!: The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment

By Railroad Workers United and Others - railroadconference.org, March 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment is the title of two back-to-back conferences; the first on Saturday, March 14, 2015 in Richmond, California; the second on Saturday, March 21 in Olympia, Washington.

Everyday a tragic trail derailment occurs, often transporting highly flammable Bakken Shale or Tar Sand, from North Dakota or Alberta, to refineries across North America. The 47 -- preventable-- deaths in Lac-Mégantic has wakened people to the dangers of oil trains and the movement of trains in general through their communities. Environmental activists are up-in-arms about the amounts of fossil fuels moving by rail. Farmers and other shippers are concerned about the congestion that has occurred in recent months, but in part to the oil boom. The rail networks in the U.S. and Canada and clogged with crude-by-rail, displacing the already heavy traffic of grains headed to port for export.

The public generally has no idea what goes on daily on America’s railroads. Chronic crew fatigue, single employee train crews, excessively long and heavy trains, draconian availability policies, short staffing, limited time off work create challenging safety issues of concern not just to railroaders, but to the entire population.

Please join us at this cutting edge conference that brings together railroad workers, environmentalists, community activists and concerned workers from other sectors, in order to build the movement for a safer and greener railroad, on that is more responsive to the needs of workers, trackside communities, citizens in general, and society as a whole.

Richmond is a perfect confluence for this conference as it has always been a company town, first for Santa Fe Railroad as the western terminus of its transcontinental railroad in 1900, then for Standard Oil (later becoming Chevron) in 1901 and its massive refinery complex, and again for Kaiser Industries with its four assembly line-like shipyards in the late 1930s through World War II. From 1910 until 1959 the Pullman Company located its largest West Coast rail car repair shop adjacent to the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe lines in the center of Richmond. It also fronts the San Francisco Bay with access to a channel of 40-60 feet deep, allowing the largest seagoing ships (mostly oil tankers these days) to call its ports. Despite still being the location of the Burlington Northern Sante Fe rail yard and Chevron's massive refinery, Richmond is a bottomed out deindustrialized city that puts its largely working class people of color population in the toxic shadow of oil, chemical and other polluting heavy industries.

In adjacent cities of Rodeo there is the Conoco Phillips Refinery, Benecia has Valero Refinery, and Martinez has both Shell and Tesoro Refineries (the latter currently on strike). They are served by both BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads and maritime wharfs. This area along the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays is statistically known as a "cancer cluster."

Europe's energy transformation in the austerity trap

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2015

Our planetary limits demand a radical transition from the energy-intensive economic model based on the extraction of finite resources, which has been dominant since the first industrial revolution, to a model that is both sustainable and equitable.

Unfortunately however, energy transformation in Europe has, after a promising start, fallen hostage to austerity and to the main philosophy underpinning the crisis management policies in which overall competitiveness is reduced to the much narrower concept of cost-competitiveness. Regulatory uncertainty, design failures built into incentive systems, and unjust distribution of the costs, have also contributed to the reversal of progress in energy transformation currently observable across Europe.

In this book three country case studies highlight the different facets of these conflicts, while additional light is thrown on the situation by an account of the lack of progress in achieving energy efficiency.

By way of conclusion, a mapping of the main conflicts and obstacles to progress will be of help in formulating policy recommendations. Ambitious climate and energy policy targets should be regarded not as a burden on the economy but rather as investment targets able to pave the way to higher employment and sustainable growth. It is high time for this perception to be recognised and implemented in the context of Europe’s new Investment Plan, thereby enabling clean energy investment to come to form its central pillar. A shift in this direction will require an overhaul of the regulatory and incentive systems to ensure that the need for just burden-sharing is adequately taken into account.

Read the report (Link).

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