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Sunrise Movement

Can Biden unite Labour and climate activists with his American Jobs Plan?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 8, 2021

On March 31, U.S. President Biden announced his “American Jobs Plan,” which outlines over $2 trillion in spending proposals, including $213 billion to build, modernize and weatherize affordable housing, $174 billion for incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles; $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience; $85 billion investment in modernizing public transit and bringing it to underserved areas; $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, including incubators and demonstration projects; $16 billion employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, and $10 billion to launch a Civilian Climate Corps to work on conservation and environmental justice projects. All of these are proposals, to be subject to the political winds of Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting a date of July 4 for a vote on legislation.

The White House Fact Sheet outlines the specifics . Robert Reich calls the plan “smart politics” in “Joe Biden as Mr. Fix-it” in Commons Dreams, and according to “Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change” in Inside Climate News, “President Joe Biden aims to achieve unprecedented investment in action to address climate change by wrapping it in the kind of federal spending package that has allure for members of Congress of both parties.” David Roberts offers a summary and smart, informed commentary in his Volt blog, stating: “Within this expansive infrastructure package is a mini-Green New Deal, with large-scale spending targeted at just the areas energy wonks say could accelerate the transition to clean energy — all with a focus on equity and justice for vulnerable communities on the front lines of that transition. If it passes in anything like its current form, it will be the most significant climate and energy legislation of my lifetime, by a wide margin.”

Julian Brave NoiseCat writes in the National Observer on April 6, summing up the dilemma: …” Each policy has the potential to unite or divide the Democrat’s coalition of labour unions, people of colour, environmentalists and youth activists. Some policies, like the creation of a new Civilian Climate Corps …. are directly adopted from demands pushed by activists like the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Others, like investments in existing nuclear power plants and carbon capture retrofits for gas-fired power plants, will pit labour unions against environmental justice activists from the communities those industries often imperil. Uniting the environmental activists who oppose the development of fossil fuel pipelines with the workers who build them will be among the Democrats’ greatest challenges.”

This Is What the Beginning of a Climate-Labor Alliance Looks Like: The PRO Act is emerging as the left’s answer to a classic political tension

By Kate Aronoff - New Republic, March 10, 2021

Tuesday night, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act passed the House by 225–205 votes. If it passes the Senate and becomes law, it will peel back over half a century of anti-union policies, including core provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. It would override state-level right-to-work protections—the darlings of the Koch brothers machine—and create harsher penalties for employers who interfere with employees’ organizing efforts. But in myriad ways, the act might also do something unexpected: set the stage for sweeping climate policy.

A coalition led by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, or IUPAT, and the Communication Workers of America is mobilizing to push the PRO Act over the finish line in the Senate. The youth climate group Sunrise Movement was an early recruit, and the Democratic Socialists of America—including its ecosocialist working group, which is also pushing for a Green New Deal—will be deploying its members in key districts around the country to ensure it’s passed. After a kick-off call over the weekend featuring Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA head Sara Nelson, and Naomi Klein, DSA is holding trainings for its members throughout March as well as events around the country pushing key senators to back the bill in the lead-up to May Day. Sunrise last week launched a Good Jobs for All campaign, which is urging on a federal job guarantee introduced recently by Representative Ayanna Pressley. Over the next several weeks, Sunrise hubs will be working alongside progressive legislators and holding in-district protests to advance five priorities for upcoming infrastructure legislation, including the PRO Act. After its passage through the House last night, a press release from the groups praised the measure as a “core pillar of the Green New Deal.”

The alliances forming around the PRO Act buck long-held wisdom in Washington about what it would take to get labor unions and environmentalists to work together. James Williams Jr., IUPAT’s vice president at large, has been frustrated by years of seeing the two talk past one another. Construction unions, in particular, have come to loggerheads with climate hawks over infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “I would blame labor a lot of the time for this,” he says, “but there have to be deeper conversations about the fact that labor is going to lose jobs that have been really good jobs for a really long time.” 

Response to Greg Butler's critique of the Green New Deal and the Rank-and-File Strategy

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2021

As stated in our standard disclaimer (at the end of this editorial), the opinions expressed in this text are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of the IWW or the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. This piece includes very strongly worded opinions, therefore the author deemed it best to emphasize that point.

There are certainly plenty of constructive, comradely criticisms of the Green New Deal, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Kim Moody's "Rank-and-File Strategy", The North American Building Trades Unions, and Jacobin (none of which are either mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, Greg Butler's The Green New Deal and the "Rank-and-File Strategy", published on December 17, 2020, by Organizing Work, is not a good example. In fact, Butler's piece is little more than a sectarian swipe at a number of targets which are only indirectly related to each other, and worse still, it's full of inaccuracies and unfounded claims that have no evidence to support them.

Overwhelming odds, unexpected alliances and tough losses: how defeating Keystone XL built a bolder, savvier climate movement

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, January 29, 2021

When President Biden rescinded a crucial permit for the Keystone XL pipeline last week, it marked the culmination of one of the longest, highest-profile campaigns in the North American climate movement. The opposition to Keystone XL included large environmental organizations, grassroots climate activist networks, Nebraska farmers, Texas landowners, Indigenous rights groups and tribal governments. Few environmental campaigns have touched so many people over such large swaths of the continent.

The Keystone XL resistance was part of the ongoing opposition to the Canadian tar sands, one of the most carbon-intensive industrial projects on the planet. Yet, it came to symbolize something even bigger. Many activists saw stopping Keystone XL as a measure of success for the climate movement itself.

“Keystone XL isn’t just any project,” said longtime activist Matt Leonard, who coordinated several major protests against the pipeline. “Its defeat is a testament to what movement building and direct action can accomplish.”

A stroke of President Biden’s pen finally killed Keystone XL. But paving the way for this victory were countless battles at the grassroots level, where activists tested new tactics and organizing strategies that built a bolder, savvier climate movement. Some of the groups involved took radically different approaches to politics, leading to unexpected alliances and occasional bitter feuds. And there were losses — other major oil pipelines, including the southern leg of Keystone XL itself, were completed even as the fight over the more famous northern half dragged on.

Yet, resistance to the Keystone XL’s northern leg succeeded against overwhelming odds. While there is always a possibility it could be resurrected someday, chances of that happening anytime soon seem slim. Understanding how this victory happened — and what it means for the climate movement — requires examining how 10-plus years of tar sands resistance played out in far-flung parts of North America.

Sunrise Movement Staff Form Union with Communications Workers of America

By Zoe PiSierra - Sunrise Movement, December 15, 2020

With Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) Serving as Sunrise Movement’s Third-party Validator, More than 95% of Staff Vote in Support of Forming Union with CWA Local 1180;

Sunrise Workers Take Important Step Towards Stronger and More Accessible Workplace with Recognition and Support from Management;

Sunrise Movement Becomes Latest Nonprofit to Organize, with Less than 5% of Nonprofit Workers in Unions Nationally

WASHINGTON - Today, workers with Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement organization advocating to stop climate change and create millions of American jobs, voted to form a union with Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1180 in New York. More than 95% of Sunrise Movement staff members voted in support of forming a union with CWA, and management has agreed to recognize the staff union.

In a virtual meeting today with Sunrise Movement staff and management, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) verified the union vote count as Sunrise’s third-party validator, announcing support from 79 out of 82 workers.

“As a youth-led grassroots organization dedicated to climate justice and bringing millions of living-wage jobs to the American workforce, forming a union was a clear step of action for us at Sunrise, and one that we believe embodies our movement’s values and will guide its growth,” said Gabbi Pierce, Internal Communications Coordinator at Sunrise Movement and member of CWA Local 1180. “We know that workplaces are stronger when workers have a voice and are empowered through unionization, and we are thankful for the recognition of our union by Sunrise management, who has supported our organizing efforts from the start. This is a huge step for our movement in our fight against climate change, and for nonprofit organizations everywhere which are increasingly advocating in support of worker rights.”

“The organizing efforts by Sunrise workers show that unions are essential in creating a foundation for a strong, equitable environment that elevates the voices of all workers,” said Senator Markey. “I’m proud of these passionate young people who embody the true value of unions in the strongest traditions of the labor movement and are stepping out as advocates for workers’ rights and good American jobs. Their dedication to empowering their team with strong support from management sets an important precedent for our country's workplaces.”

Just Transitions, Power and Politics

What Use Is a Good Job If You Don’t Have a Home to Come Home To?

Solidarity School #1: Our Fight for A Just Recovery

Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform

By staff - Demos, July 22, 2020

As communities across the country, as well as countless people all over the world, face accelerating impacts and risks of climate change, federal, state, and local leadership in the United States is critically important for advancing immediate and aggressive climate action in public policy.

The science shows we no longer have the luxury to act incrementally. We must rapidly transform every sector of society if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But urgent action on climate change cannot come at a price of expedience and further sacrifice for frontline communities. Frontline communities are primarily communities of color, indigenous communities, and struggling working-class communities most impacted by fossil fuel pollution and climate change—which are all the more vulnerable due to historic and continuing racism, segregation, and socioeconomic inequity.

In tackling the urgency of the climate crisis, prioritizing the most impacted communities for the protections and benefits of an economy-wide renewable energy transition is a moral imperative. This is, in large part, the meaning of a “just transition.” The economic transition we need to reverse the climate crisis must not leave behind impacted communities and workers. Racial and economic equity must be at the core of all climate solutions.

The executive branch can set the stage for a transformative climate justice agenda by taking immediate action at this intersection of climate, racial justice, and economic transformation. The Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform speaks to this opportunity by identifying regulatory rulemakings and other executive actions to advance an equitable climate agenda from day one. While major legislation in many areas will ultimately be needed to advance a bold federal agenda of climate action, this platform proposes a set of actions the executive branch can take without new legislation, major new appropriations, or other Congressional authority. However, many of the proposed executive actions can be harmonized with, be complementary to, or set a direction for statutory advancement of transformative climate action when that becomes possible.

This platform identifies actions in 4 basic categories that speak to the policy work and movement-building that frontline leaders in the climate movement have developed over many years, as they have forged a clear vision of equitable and resilient social and economic transformation:

  1. Environmental Justice: Protecting frontline communities from continuing harms of fossil fuel, industrial, and built environment pollution.
  2. Just Recovery: Ensuring just and equitable recovery from, and resiliency against, climate disasters.
  3. Climate Equity Accountability: Elevating equity and stakeholder decision-making in federal climate rules and programmatic investments.
  4. Energy Democracy: Remaking the monopoly fossil fuel energy system as a clean, renewably-sourced, and democratically-controlled commons.

In each of these areas, the platform presents a policy outline of possible rulemakings, executive orders, or other presidential actions that, taken together, aim to put frontline needs and priorities at the center of climate policy, including empowering grassroots stakeholders to be decision-makers in the process.

Read the summary (PDF).

Read the text (PDF).

Sunrise Movement Allegedly Fires Employee for Union Activity

By Lia Russell - Strike Wave, July 10, 2020

Note: This story has been updated to include comment from the employer and to clarify that retaliation is alleged.

An employee for the progressive climate change organization Sunrise Movement has told Strikewave that they were fired for organizing a union and that they have filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

Akshai Singh, whose pronouns are they/them, is a regional organizer based in Cleveland for Sunrise Movement. They said that the organization fired them on July 10 after their manager had told them they failed to meet performance standards.

“I was let go based on not being up to standards,” Singh said. “In reality, I was fired, not laid off. It was clear based on the other employees I talked to, that they were completely unaware of this.” 

Singh alleges their firing was retaliation for their role in organizing Sunrise Movement staff with help from the Chicago and Regional Midwest Board of Workers United (CMRJB). 

They said that they had not spoken to their manager in a month and a half, after they had been given a performance improvement plan during their three-month evaluation.

Singh filed an unfair labor practice with the NLRB after their alleged firing, arguing that they had been punished for union activity. Federal labor law prohibits employers from discriminating or relating against an employee for supporting a union or engaging in union activity. 

“I [felt] like there was a lot of instances where it was clear I supported collective action at the workplace,” Singh said. “Looking back, it’s clear I was being tracked very closely and isolated on the job.” 

Because they were fired, not laid off, Singh says they’re not eligible for unemployment insurance. 

They said that Sunrise offered them one month’s severance pay and has agreed to continue their healthcare benefits, something they’re grateful for as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. However, Singh said that Sunrise did not extend those same benefits to their now-former domestic partner, despite it being “standard practice in non-profits” to do so. 

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