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Are Refinery Workers Climate Enemies?

By an anonymous ex-member of the IWW (with a response by Steve Ongerth) - ecology.iww.org, April 28, 2022

Editor's Note: Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases and demanded cuts in union staffing that focused on health and safety in the refinery. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). Meanwhile, USW Local 5 members have been picketing the refinery 24-7, and have been, at times, joined by members of the local BIPOC and/or environmental justice community. After IWW EUC cofounder and long-time Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch member, Steve Ongerth, brought a call for solidarity with the striking workers to the April branch meeeting, a disgruntled member (who has since resigned from the organization), sent the following letter to the branch (name deleted for privacy reasons).

Message from a Disgruntled (former) Member:

I’m sorry to say how disappointed I am in the IWW. I’m a relatively new wobbly and although I believe in standing in solidarity with fellow workers it seems at some point lines must be drawn.

As I’ve read through these last emails about the USW Local 5 and the call to action for us to stand with them as they strike, many questions come to mind. The first one is what if fellow climate activists, many of whom are wobblies were to implement a protest blockade to stall production of this refinery in defense of the environment? I wonder if those refinery workers with whom we are picketing would come outside and join our protest line? I also wonder if they would be interested in the invitation to join the 2022 Global Climate Strike that you forwarded to us? In both cases I assume it is reasonable to conclude they would not.

As wobblies, where do we draw the line? What if oil pipeline workers go to strike for hazard pay because a tribal nation, whose land the pipeline is planned to cross blocks safe access to thier jobsite in protest of the poisoning of thier waterways? Would the IWW Environmental Caucus also put a call out to picket with those Union workers? We draw the line when it comes to police unions who’s membership is hellbent on beating and imprisoning people protesting civil injustices. Why are we supporting refinery workers? This makes no sense. Iunderstand that just about every industry is to some degree tainted with These workers primary job is to process and prepare for market the product that’s catapulted us into the current global warming apocalyptic meltdown!

Green Unionism on the Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Picket Line

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, April 15, 2022

Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). The strike has gotten a good deal of media coverage:

However, the capitalist (and progressive) media have mostly missed some important details.

First of all, the striking refinery workers and their elected union leaders continue to emphasize that their issues extend beyond narrow bread and butter issues, such as wages and benefits. A major concern that they continue to articulate is that Chevron continues to try and cut unionized safety jobs and refuses to hire sufficient workers to safely and adequately staff the facility. Workers have complained of 12-hour days and six-day workweeks. All of these deficiencies not only risk the health and safety of the workers, but the surrounding, mostly BIPOC communities as well. Worse still, they have adverse environmental effects, a problem that hasn't been lost on the striking workers. As stated by USW Local 5 representative, B.K White:

“If we had more people and could get a better pay rate, maybe our members wouldn’t feel obligated to come in and work as many as 70 hours a week to make ends meet. We don’t believe that is safe. (that and the use of replacement workers) is at the detriment of the city of Richmond and the environment.”

Even less noticed by the media has been the presence of environmental justice activists (including, but not limited to, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free California, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Sierra Club, Sunflower Alliance, Sunrise Movement, and 350), various socialist organizations (including DSA in particular), and members from the nearby front-line BIPOC communities, who have joined the pickets in solidarity with the workers, something the workers have also not hesitated to point out. Indeed, in spite of the fact that many environmental justice activists and community members are harshly critical of Chevron's role in turning the city of Richmond into a capital blight infested sacrifice zone, they recognize that the workers are not their enemies nor are the latter responsible for the damage done by the company. On the contrary, many recognize that the unionized workforce is one of the best mitigations against far worse capital blight (it bears mentioning that there has also been a good deal of support and picket line presence from rank and file workers and union officials from many other unions, including the AFSCME, IBEW, IWW, ILWU, SEIU, UFCW, and the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council).

Such seemingly unlikely bonds of solidarity, though delicate and, at times, fragile didn't arise out of thin air, but, in fact, have resulted from years of painstaking grassroots organizing.

Workers Say They Breathe Polluted Air at “Green” Insulation Facility

By Mindy Isser - In These Times - March 3, 2022

As the acceptance of climate change becomes increasingly commonplace, more and more companies will be created or adapted to ​“fight” or ​“solve” it — or, at the very least, minimize its effects. Kingspan Group, which began as an engineering and contracting business in 1965 in Ireland, has since grown into a global company with more than 15,000 employees focused on green insulation and other sustainable building materials. Its mission is to ​“accelerate a zero emissions future with the wellbeing of people and planet at its heart.” 

But workers at the Kingspan Light + Air factory in Santa Ana, Calif. don’t feel that the company has their wellbeing at its heart — and they say they have documented the indoor air pollution in their workplace to prove it. Differences between Kingspan’s mission and its true impact don’t stop there, workers charge: One of its products was used in the flammable cladding system on Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor public housing tower in London that went up in flames in June 2017, killing 72 people. Kingspan has been the target of protests in the United Kingdom and Ireland for its role in the disaster. Both Kingspan workers and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have called on the company to put public safety over profits.

Since the 1990s, union organizers say there have been multiple attempts from the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union to organize employees at Kingspan, but none were successful. The company says its North America branch employs ​“1,600 staff across 16 manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States and Canada.” Workers at the Santa Ana plant are tasked with welding, spray painting and assembling fiberglass to produce energy-efficient skylights. During the pandemic, when workers say Covid-19 swept through the facility, employees reached back out to SMART — not just because they wanted to form a union, but because they grew concerned about what they say is poor air quality in the facility. 

While SMART provided support for their campaign for clean air, the workers took control: In the summer of 2021, the Santa Ana workers came into work armed with monitors to measure indoor air pollution. Their goal was to measure airborne particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM 2.5). Such fine particulate matter constitutes a form of air pollution that is associated with health problems like respiratory and cardiovascular issues, along with increased mortality. The workers found that the average PM 2.5 concentration inside the facility was nearly seven times higher than outdoors. (To put that in perspective, wildfires usually result in a two- to four-fold increase in PM 2.5.) The majority of monitors found PM 2.5 levels that would rank between ​“unhealthy” and ​“very unhealthy” if measured outdoors, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards, the workers reported. 

Because this is the air workers were breathing in for 40 hours per week, in October 2021, they went public with both their campaign to form a union and their fight for a safe workplace — a campaign that continues to this day. 

Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan Group, Global Manufacturer of Building Materials

By Lauren Burke and Meredith Schafer - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 3, 2022

Santa Ana, Calif. — Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group, an Ireland-based global manufacturer of insulation and other building materials that markets its products as “green.” Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects.

“We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities,” reads the statement co-signed by the 45 organizations.

Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here

The groups are calling on the green building community to stop allowing Kingspan representatives to sponsor or speak at trade shows and conferences, and to discontinue offering continuing education courses taught by Kingspan until the Grenfell Inquiry is finished and changes are made to its Santa Ana factory. The statement points to whistleblower complaints by Kingspan workers on health, safety and stormwater pollution issues at its Santa Ana, CA factory filed in October 2021, as well as the revelations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry regarding its UK insulation business that came out in 2020-2021.

Read the CalEPA and CalOSHA complaints, and the Indoor Air Quality study

The 2020-21 testimony and evidence from the UK Government Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire revealed how Kingspan’s UK insulation division misrepresented and mis-marketed Kooltherm K15’s fire safety testing and certifications from 2006-2020. (Kooltherm K15 made up five percent of the insulation in the tower, which is why Kingspan is a core participant of the Inquiry.) The company began marketing K15 in the US in 2018, after the fire.

“Kingspan is not an appropriate source for continuing education courses or sponsorships of events for the green building community, including those that touch on fire safety.” Read about Kingspan and the Grenfell Inquiry here

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The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) engages workers and communities in building a transition to a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We work to foster deep relationships that help the labor movement engage in the climate movement and the climate movement understand the economics of climate change and the importance of organized labor as a key partner in confronting the climate crisis.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), AFL-CIO, is an international union whose affiliates represent sheet metal workers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as workers in transportation industries. Our members manufacture and install heating, ventilation, and air handling systems (HVAC), as well as architectural components such as metal roofing, facades, and other building envelope products.

LNS and 45 Environmental Groups Call on the Green Building Community to Stop Partnering with Kingspan

By Sydney Ghazarian - Labor Network for Sustainability - March 2022

Labor Network for Sustainability is proud to be among 45 climate and environmental justice groups calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan, an international building materials company that’s so-called ‘green’ manufacturing processes are polluting the indoor air and local watershed (learn more here).

We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities.Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here.

This effort is part of Clean up Kingspan, an inspirational campaign led by Kingspan factory workers in Santa Ana, CA who are holding the global manufacturing company accountable for health, safety, and pollution issues in their community and demanding a fair process to decide whether to unionize. In collaboration with UC Irvine pollution scientist Dr. Shahir Masri, these workers measured unhealthy levels of PM2.5 pollution inside their workplace.They also blew the whistle on Kingspan for misrepresenting its daily operations and water pollution clean-up efforts to the CalEPA.

What this campaign makes clear is that the struggle we face isn’t ‘jobs vs. the environment;’ it’s corporate greed vs. everyone else. LNS is proud to stand with workers, community activists, faith leaders, & environmentalists in this campaign for true economic and environmental justice. It’s time for the green building community to stand with us too.

Join us in calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan: https://cleanupkingspan.org/take-action/

Building Bridges from Intersectional Ecosocialism to Radical Climate Justice and Systemic Transformation

By John Foran - Resilience, October 14, 2021

Ecosocialist strategic thinker Ian Angus has observed, with reason that “There is no copyright on the word ecosocialism, and those who call themselves ecosocialists don’t agree about everything.”

That’s true. One puzzle that many ecosocialists, especially here in the “global North,” seem to share is: Why are there so few ecosocialists?  For most of us – I count myself as part of the ecosocialist movement – it feels intuitively natural to hold a political orientation to the world based on the principles of the interconnectedness of an ecological approach and the universal solidarity, egalitarianism, and social justice orientation of a democratic socialism. Indeed, what other kind can there be after the authoritarian horrors of the 20th century?

Why, then, are we so few?

In my country, some may suppose that this can be explained away by the U.S. working class’s lack of consciousness of a world beyond capitalism, or by the pull that the values of feminism and racial justice exert on a younger generation preventing activists from recognizing the economic roots of the evils of the capitalist system that saturates our lives.

But aren’t these all caricatures? Are there not ecosocialists who have understood that race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, and indeed all systems of division intersect with class? Are there not working people and unions who live every day with the economic and political abuses of capitalism?  And are there not young social-justice activists who are acutely aware of how capitalism works to cause untold suffering?

There are, fortunately, in all these cases, and their numbers are growing.

I began thinking about this essay early in 2020. Now, in the waning months of 2021, everywhere, people live in a world transformed by pandemic, rebellion, and the multiple pre- and post-pandemic crises that remain with us. In a way, this new world only underlines the importance of ecosocialism’s promise, as well as gives life and urgency to my thesis that 21st-century ecosocialism will either be intersectional or remain marginal to the needs of, and alternatives to, our collective moment.

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.

LA County Board of Supervisors Passes Historic Measure to Begin Phase-Out of Oil Drilling

By Gabby Brown - Sierra Club, September 15, 2021

Los Angeles, CA -- Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in support of a measure to begin the process of phasing out oil drilling on unincorporated Los Angeles County land. There are more than 1,600 wells in unincorporated LA County, with the majority located in the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country.

Today’s vote puts LA County on the path to being the first in the country to ban and phase out existing drilling. The Board also voted to create a program to ensure that wells are properly closed and cleaned up, and to expand the county's task force focused on a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities. 

Culver City voted in June to phase out oil production and require the cleanup of well sites in the city’s portion of the Inglewood Oil Field within five years. The City of Los Angeles is also working on developing its own policy to phase out oil drilling.

Environmental justice, climate, faith, labor, and public health groups have long called for an end to neighborhood oil drilling in Los Angeles, citing serious health risks for nearby communities and the need to stop fossil fuel extraction to avert the worst of the climate crisis. Ahead of the vote, groups submitted letters signed by 150 organizations and more than 4,000 petitions and comments to the Board urging them to protect Los Angeles communities by supporting the phase-out of dangerous oil drilling. 

“We have an opportunity and responsibility as the home of the largest urban oil field in the nation to lead by example in creating an equitable path for phasing out oil drilling. Collectively, the motions that passed today center the needs of the communities and workers most impacted by oil drilling and build on Los Angeles County’s momentum in fighting climate change and sunsetting oil and gas operations,” said Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell. “I applaud the Board for continuing to move LA County forward on this critical issue and the countless advocates that have helped get us to this point. Our work is far from done but this is a promising step for environmental justice.”

"Responsibly phasing out oil drilling and cleaning up old wells is critical to ensuring we protect public health as part of a just transition in LA County," said April Verrett, President of SEIU 2015. "We applaud the Board of Supervisors for taking this historic vote, and hope that it can represent a model for the rest of the state to protect both workers and public health."

Redefining Work to Save the Planet

By Jared Spears - The Progressive, August 30, 2021

All summer, fed-up employees across the United States have been refusing to work. From frustrated food service employees to exhausted factory line workers, they are banding together to push back against punishing schedules, precarious conditions and unresponsive management.

Despite these workers being lauded as “essential” at the onset of the pandemic, major news outlets have been more interested in billionaires’ private space-race than in covering, say, Western farm pickers’ petition to OSHA for extreme-heat protections or the Teamsters’ drive to unionize Amazon workers nationwide. 

Meanwhile, the urgency of climate change is only growing more intense. And, with so many workers across the country struggling against subsistence wages and conditions, the prospect of organizing a society-wide response to meet the emissions reductions outlined in the latest IPCC report still seems far off. We upended our lives during the pandemic, but our response to what we know is happening to the planet has remained business-as-usual. 

Government can and should assume a much larger role, coordinating industries and reshaping markets to address our urgent threats while guaranteeing better, more humane and socially beneficial work for all. This is precisely why the demand for a Green New Deal was never limited to energy transition alone: it was also tied to quality of life issues such as raising the minimum wage and providing universal health care access.

The term evokes a broader realignment between labor, government and the private sector — as occurred during the Great Depression — that would unleash the nation’s untapped potential. If our red-hot summer of wildfires, heatwaves and labor confrontations underscores anything, it’s to drive home the wisdom of the Green New Deal. 

Sierra Club and Sunrise Movement react to criticism for toxic workplace cultures

By Adam Mahoney - Grist, August 24, 2021

In a summer dictated by converging climate disasters, two of the nation’s largest progressive climate organizations have been preoccupied with their own crises.

Both the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement face criticism for workplace cultures that attempted to cover up episodes of racism and abuse, while the Sierra Club is also facing allegations of repressing acts of misogyny and sexual misconduct. The Sierra Club is facing internal upheaval after a former staff member came forward with allegations of being raped by a “celebrated” Sierra Club employee in the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement, known for its diversity and pivot away from the historically majority-white climate movement, is facing allegations of “tokenizing” its members of color for political advantage. 

The fallout comes at a critical time in their fight against climate-induced disasters and the fossil fuel industry. As leaders in the struggle for environmental justice — which inherently involves defending women and communities of color — their efforts may be thwarted by not supporting these vulnerable groups within their respective organizations. Both groups, aware of the bad optics, are trying to react swiftly.

Earlier this month, Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which is the largest environmental organization in the U.S., announced his resignation. Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz says the organizational shake-up is part of a years-long process to re-examine how the organization affects its community. “We recognize the impacts of our organization’s history and harm, and we are deeply dedicated to fundamental transformation,” Cruz told Grist. “We are making substantial changes to our policies and committing substantial resources to much needed capacity, and we know that the trajectory for transformation will be a long one.”

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