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Sara Nelson

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.” 

Calling All Union Members

By Jonathan Guy - The Trouble, May 20, 2019

Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.

It’s no secret that the American labor establishment is ambivalent about the rising prospects for climate policy change. After battling environmental activists throughout the 2010s over a series of tar sands pipeline projects, unions from carbon-loving industries are balking at the prospect of a Green New Deal, even as the resolution bends over backwards to address their concerns. The AFL-CIO’s energy committee decried the flexible resolution as “unrealistic” and threatening “immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.”  Construction union LiUNA had even harsher words, calling the GND “the sails of fantasy” and its backers’ approach to inclusive coalition-building “exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality”.  In the fossil fuel sector, unions like Mine Workers of America cheer the demise of even modest climate regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, insisting beyond all evidence that carbon capture and storage technology is a viable alternative to renewable energy. Given these union leaders’ stunning obstinacy, even as the climate left dangles gigantic carrots in front of their faces—full severance pay, a job guarantee, project labor agreements, unionization mandates—it would be easy to write them off as inevitable foes.

Such a dismissal, of course, would be gravely mistaken. While the electoral and lobbying influence of unions has waned, they still play a key veto role inside the Democratic Party, and have enjoyed a revival over the past two years as public sector workers found their voice against the devastating Supreme Court decision Janus and endless austerity enacted at the state level in places such as West Virginia and Oklahoma. More to the point, labor unions represent our best hope for organizing the emerging majority-minority working class who must play the central role in a political realignment around a new, low-carbon social compact which emphasizes social equality and economic fairness. Any movement which does not address the concerns of labor—particularly the building trades—is surely doomed.

This article, however, is not yet another paean to the importance of centering a just transition. That genre is well-established. Lord knows that staffers and strategists at 350.org and Sunrise and Ed Markey’s offices have internalized the previous paragraph, and are already tearing their hair out day and night over how to get labor on board. Outside groups like these can surely have some positive impact; see for example, the successful efforts towards a consensus recently won in Maine. But after years of neoliberal environmentalists betraying unions, a lot of distrust has built up which frankly will not be worked out within the short timeframe we have left to avert a two-degree plus warming scenario. In order to really move the needle, pressure on locals and internationals alike will have to be applied from within.

Flight attendants know the real job killer isn’t the Green New Deal. It’s climate change

By Sara Nelson - Vox, April 17, 2019

“Pretty much everyone on the plane threw up” is not a sentence most travelers want to hear.

But that’s a direct quote from the pilots’ report after United Express Flight 3833 operated by Air Wisconsin hit extreme turbulence on approach to Washington, DC, in 2018.

Extreme turbulence is on the rise around the world. It isn’t just nauseating or scary — it’s dangerous.

In June 2017, nine passengers and a crew member were hospitalized after extreme turbulence rocked their United Airlines flight from Panama City to Houston.

A few weeks ago, a Delta Connection flight operated by Compass Airlines from Orange County, California, to Seattle hit turbulence so sudden and fierce, the flight attendant serving drinks — and the 300-pound drink cart — was slammed against the ceiling of the plane. The flight attendant’s arm was broken and three passengers were hospitalized.

In my 23 years as a flight attendant and president of our union representing 50,000 others, I know firsthand the threat climate change poses to our safety and our jobs. But flight attendants and airline workers have been told by some pundits that the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s environmental proposal, will ground all air travel.

That’s absurd. It’s not the solutions to climate change that kills jobs. Climate change itself is the job killer.

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