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ecological movements and organizations

Coal River Mountain Watch Workers Anticipate Union Recognition

By Christian Prince - Industrial Worker, August 18, 2021

In late July, workers at Coal River Mountain Watch in Naoma, West Virginia, requested voluntary union recognition from the environmental nonprofit organization’s board of directors. They anticipate full recognition of the Coal River Mountain Watch Union, organized with the Industrial Workers of the World, by month’s end.

The campaign to unionize CRMW is being led by Junior Walker, a longtime employee. CRMW workers had considered forming a union previously, but only committed after witnessing the campaign at another West Virginia-based environmental nonprofit, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which is also organized with the IWW. Workers at OVEC, a larger nonprofit that has collaborated with CRMW in the past, faced significant resistance to union recognition from both management and their board of directors. Walker began speaking with the West Virginia branch of the IWW, which is supporting both campaigns, about unionizing CRMW in solidarity in March. 

Last month, CRMW workers submitted their request for voluntary union recognition to management with no resistance. Workers are now awaiting formal consent from the board of directors, who meet only every few months, thereby slowing the process. Regardless, Walker says that workers have received every indication that the CRMW Union will be recognized by the end of August.

Walker emphasizes that managers at CRMW are “about as good as they come.” Workers are seeking the right of union representation to preserve their current working conditions and, as mentioned, to express solidarity with organizing efforts at allied organizations, like OVEC.

On a personal level, Walker describes the CRMW Union as carrying on a family legacy. His grandfather was a longtime member of the United Mine Workers of America and went on strike against Massey Energy, the first non-union coal company in the area, in the 1980s. Massey was also the parent company of a subsidiary that is now seeking a permit for mountaintop removal mining, which CRMW opposes due to its devastation of mountainside biodiversity and release of carcinogenic blasting dust.

“The fact that I now have a union card in my pocket makes me really proud,” says Walker. “This is the first time I’ve been in a union in my life.”

Are you interested in forming a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Long Hours, Sleepless Nights: Nonprofit Workers Unionize in the Appalachian Coalfields

By Caitlin Myers - Strike Wave, August 13, 2021

Nonprofit workers can be a self-abnegating bunch. As a sector tasked with solving the world’s ills in ways the state can’t or won’t, from filling gaps in social services and campaigning for environmental justice to running charities and educational programs to ostensibly end poverty, nonprofits can induce in their workers a sense of moral obligation not to complain. After all, almost everyone else is worse off, right? 

That sense of obligation kept the staff of one West Virginia environmental nonprofit quiet for many years. As paid community organizers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), their principal duty was to organizational members, with whom they fought against mountaintop removal coal mining, natural gas development, and petrochemical buildout through lobbying, direct action, and sustained campaign work. In coalitions such as the Alliance for Appalachia and Reimagine Appalachia, OVEC organizers have contributed to policy proposals and lobbying efforts designed to bring the region an explicitly pro-labor, ecologically sustainable economic transition away from coal.

When he was hired, Dustin White was thrilled to be able to dedicate his life to the fight against strip mining, and like many organizers, built a deep and complex network of relationships in communities like the one that raised him. But, he says, paid organizing is time-consuming, travel-intensive, and deeply emotional work, and he found it draining to a degree he felt management simply didn’t understand. 

“Self care ended up being work, too,” said White. As a result of long-term issues with burnout, he and others on staff privately reached out to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the winter, and hoped to go public on Earth Day. 

“I have had long work hours, sleepless nights, countless hours on the road, hundreds of blisters on my feet, and more during my time with OVEC,” White wrote in a letter to the staff and board. “Time after time I have been told that we trust and support each other and our board of directors would always have our back.” 

A staff member spilled the beans early, though. According to White, management was incensed, and after months of vitriol he and fellow staffer Brendan Muckian Bates were fired. White was fired allegedly for violating the organizational handbook’s civility rules, and Bates for organizing as a manager. Both were prominent in the union effort, though, and believe management’s goal was to discourage others involved in the unionization effort. White had experienced a series of health problems; Bates was a new father. But the lesson from this historically pro-labor organization was this: unions are great for coal miners, but you don’t need one. You have it easy. 

Center for Biological Diversity Recognizes Employee Union After Card Check: Workers For Biological Diversity Joins Communications Workers of America

By Beth Allen, Communications Workers of America, Ross Middlemiss, Workers for Biological Diversity, and Jean Su, Center for Biological Diversity - Center for Biological Diversity, August 6, 2021

The Center for Biological Diversity recognized its new employee union today following a union card count showing that 68% of the eligible workers support joining the union.

Workers at the national conservation organization announced the formation of Workers for Biological Diversity/CWA in mid-June, in partnership with Communications Workers of America Local 9415. Center leadership pledged to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of workers signed cards supporting union membership.

The new union includes paralegals and lawyers, organizers, media specialists, scientists, membership, development and IT staff. Today’s count was verified by Elizabeth Bunn, national policy director at the Labor Network for Sustainability.

“Joining the labor movement makes the Center for Biological Diversity an even stronger advocate for threatened communities, wildlife and wild places. At this pivotal moment for our planet, we’re standing with workers against big polluters and other powerful interests,” the Workers for Biological Diversity Organizing Committee said. “We’re stronger when we band together. And we want to thank our partners at the Communications Workers of America for helping us elevate and amplify our work.”

“Since the Center’s beginning, we’ve stood alongside the labor movement to fight pollution, dangerous working conditions and corporate attacks on the environment, human health and the climate,” said Jean Su, a member of the Center’s Executive Conservation Team. “Such collaboration is more important than ever as we face a climate emergency and the need to shift from a dirty economy to one with good-paying, unionized renewable energy jobs. We support and empower every person who works at the Center, and we look forward to partnering with Workers for Biological Diversity as we continue this vital work for all people and the planet.”

The Center’s new union is part of a growing unionization trend among workers at environmental and other nonprofit organizations, including the Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, 350.org, Defenders of Wildlife, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We are very pleased to welcome these new members to CWA Local 9415,” said Decovan “Coby” Rhem, president of CWA Local 9415. “As a local union that has long worked to join our movement with those working in progressive nonprofits to create systemic changes, we see the Workers for Biological Diversity/CWA as an important addition to our CWA family, in particularly strengthening our commitment to supporting the work of environmental justice and to oppose climate change.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is based in Tucson, Ariz. and has offices throughout the country and in Mexico. Its conservation programs include Endangered Species, Environmental Health, Oceans, Public Lands, Carnivore Conservation, Urban Wildlands, Population and Sustainability, International, Energy Justice, Environmental Equity and Justice, Government Affairs and the Climate Law Institute.

Building eco-socialism: A review of Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal

By David Camfield - Tempest, July 22, 2021

There’s nothing more important today than the politics of climate change. How societies respond to global heating will increasingly shape all political life.

A People’s Green New Deal by Max Ajl, an associated researcher with the Tunisian Observatory for Food Sovereignty and the Environment and a postdoctoral fellow with the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, gives us some insightful analysis of different political approaches to global heating (a term I prefer since it packs more punch than global warming) and many good ideas about how society should be changed to respond to capitalism’s ecological crisis. However, the book is much less helpful for thinking about the political strategy we need to make these changes.

Although some hard right-wing politicians are still intoxicated by the climate change denial nonsense that organizations funded by fossil capital have been spewing for years, smarter ruling-class strategists are planning for what Ajl calls “Green Social Control.” This “aims to preserve the essence of capitalism while shifting to a greener model in order to sidestep the worse consequences of the climate crisis.”

The European Commission’s announced measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union are an example of this approach. It’s what Joe Biden had in mind when he appointed John Kerry as a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. It’s also the vision of the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, a group of finance capitalists headed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. It’s a vision that Ajl skewers.

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) and the KFTC staff union agree on first union contract

By KFTC Staff - Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, July 19, 2021

After the announcement of the KFTC staff union’s formation in October 2019, and recognition by KFTC’s Steering Committee, we took the bold step of building an initial contract through Interest Based Bargaining (IBB). This process – usually used for contract renewal –involves two sides coming together to find and negotiate around shared interests, instead of the more traditional confrontational method. We felt that this democratic and collaborative model fit best with KFTC’s values.

It also took considerably more time, especially done during the COVID 19 pandemic. After 18 months and over 40 virtual meetings between teams from management and the staff union, as well as federal mediators, we are proud of the contract we created. Not least because our mediators believe that we have the very first initial contract agreed to by IBB!

The contract, approved by the Steering Committee and Staff Union on May 13, is an expression of our shared commitment to the value and rights of KFTC staff, and of all working people. Highlights include:

  • Increasing funding for professional development leave
  • Raising our base hourly rate to $15 (from $14.53) and raising our base salary by $1,000 annually (to $37,030)
  • Doubling our compensation time available for employees to bank when they work overtime, and doubling the amount of comp time available for use per week
  • Adding Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a paid holiday and making Juneteenth a paid holiday, replacing the day after Thanksgiving
  • Expanding the definition of family in several clauses, including for bereavement leave and family leave
  • Tripling our existing parental leave policy to 60 days, while preserving other available family leave
  • Establishing how coaching, progressive discipline, and termination will be handled, as well as a clear process for addressing grievances
  • Establishing a Labor Management Committee to engage workers, management, and member leaders in an ongoing conversation to strengthen our bonds and our work to transform Kentucky
  • Agreeing that if the organization revives the Organizing Apprentice Program in the future, KFTC management will consult with union members about it first through the Labor Management Committee. 
  • Maintaining our fantastic, current health insurance plan through the life of the contract, which runs through November 2022

KFTC and the KFTC Staff Union are committed to the transformative, grassroots mission that is possible through a unique organization like ours. KFTC has been building power as a democratic, member-led body for 40 years, with a staff that has grown along with us. With this contract, we pave the way for strengthened collaboration between members and all levels of staff. 

From all of us at KFTC – we hope you will join us in celebrating this milestone, and join us as we push for new power and a new Kentucky where all of us can thrive. Let’s organize!

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Vote on Union

By Arbaz M Khan - Industrial Worker, July 14, 2021

Update: According to OVEC, a majority of workers voted to certify the union!

Recently, the fight for a union at Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition shifted gears from collective direct action to the ballot box, as workers voted on whether or not to certify their union, which is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World. Following almost five months of demanding that management voluntarily recognize their union — which included a one-day strike on Earth Day, April 22 — workers at the nonprofit organization finished casting votes in a union election managed by the National Labor Relations Board on July 9. 

Workers at OVEC publicly announced their intention to unionize in March. Besides voluntary recognition from management, their demands included a standardized pay scale, equitable discipline policy and the right to union representation at any meeting where matters affecting pay, hours, benefits, advancement or layoffs are discussed. Voluntary recognition would entail management agreeing to negotiate with the union, but OVEC’s board of directors have thus far withheld it — instead suspending, then terminating, OVEC’s former director of organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, allegedly for his involvement in the union. 

“I was fired less than two weeks after my third child was born — and management knew,” says Muckian-Bates. “I don’t think they cared about how their actions affected me or my family. I sent management a picture of my son and demanded some humanity from them — anything at all — but they refused and haven’t been in contact with me since.”

OVEC workers’ Earth Day strike was spurred in part by Muckian-Bates’ dismissal. Despite the reprisal from management, he remains a staunch supporter of the union and looks forward to the election results.

“My commitment to the OVEC Union has not waned,” he says. “I’ve been inspired by the work that my fellow workers do everyday and how they’ve stuck it out despite the retaliations. They’re truly some of the best organizers I’ve met, and it’s a level of commitment you don’t often come across.”

“Management could have recognized the union in March, kept on their current staff levels, and we could have already begun negotiating some of the necessary changes we think are needed to keep OVEC going,” he continues. “But we know that we’ll win the election, and we want management to be ready to negotiate with us fairly and in good faith once that’s done.”

Ramona Strategies: Executive Summary of Recommendations (for addressing Sierra Club internal organizational dynamics)

By Elizabeth Brown Riordan, Katherine Kimpel, and Kathryn Pogin - Ramona Strategies, August 2021

This Executive Summary was prepared by Ramona Strategies to relay the substance of the Recommendations to the broader set of stakeholders that make up the Sierra Club community. Ramona Strategies exercised control over the scope and substance of this Executive Summary at all times.

About the Restorative Accountability Process:

In the summer of 2020, public allegations surfaced that a celebrated former employee and thencurrent Volunteer Leader had raped a Sierra Club employee when he was her boss; others came forward to share similar experiences of inappropriate and degrading experiences with that same man. Those reports prompted not only a targeted investigation of his tenure at the organization, but also this broader Restorative Accountability Process. This Restorative Accountability Process was commissioned to help the organization rise to the challenges that confront it in this definitional moment.

The opportunity to participate in the Restorative Accountability Process was extended by the Club through a series of emails from Leadership directed at both staff and volunteers. No one who expressed an interest in participating was turned away. Most interviews were conducted between September 2020 and January 2021, although a few interviews happened outside of that time frame. Individuals were under no obligation to contribute to the process; however, between unsolicited participants and those organizational representatives to whom we reached out to directly, members of the Office of General Counsel, the Human Resources Department, the Chapter Services Department (also known as “Office of Chapter Support”), the Volunteer Accountability Working Group (also known as the “Volunteer Accountability Process Reform Team”), and some individuals in union leadership spoke with us to explain more about the details of the processes used for complaints, investigations, and resolutions and to explain recordkeeping systems and materials related to prior issues.

Participants in the interviews were not guided to any particular perspectives, conclusions, themes, or narratives; in general, we encouraged participants to share what they thought was important to be known and then we listened. We did not ask participants to comment on information or perspectives shared by others, and we did not engage in cross-examination. However, we did probe for details, and we did listen for corroborating factors across interviews. To the extent that the Process identified individual matters that require investigation and/or further intervention, those individual matters were relayed to the teams that handle Employee and Volunteer Relations (‘EVR”)' in a manner that protects the anonymity of the participants and the confidentiality of the Process but also ensures the organization is attending to those situations.

Read the text (PDF).

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Stand Firm Despite Management Offensive

By staff - IWW, June 14, 2021

HUNTINGTON, WV — While public concern for urgent action on the environment remains high, one of West Virginia’s most prestigious environmental organizations, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), is poised to miss crucial organizing opportunities this summer as it enters into the fourth month of a brutal dispute over their employee’s right to unionize.

In March 2021, workers of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition organized with majority support as the OVEC Union (OVECU) under the IWW, requesting voluntary recognition.

Despite majority support among the members of OVEC’s Board of Directors for a positive and good faith engagement with staff, the organization has chosen to fight tooth and nail. With Mike Sullivan at the helm of the Board, and Tonya Adkins & Vivian Stockman in Co-Direction, OVEC has chosen to effectively whittle down its capacity to organize as it suspends, fires, and threatens its staff into submission.

Upon learning of the union drive, OVEC management immediately launched an internal hunt for instigators, placing their Director of Organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, on suspension. While the organization claimed that Brendan was a supervisor and consequently not entitled to participate in union activity, OVEC was unable to convince the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which ruled that Brendan was to be included in the bargaining unit at a formal hearing earlier this month.

Upon learning of their loss at the NLRB, OVEC management opted to double down by terminating their Director of Organizing as well as their Project Coordinator, Dustin White. While Brendan’s suspension and termination is bad enough — arriving as it does mere days following the birth of a new child — Dustin’s termination is especially egregious given his unimpeachable credentials in the environmental movement.

Heralding from 11 generations of working class ancestry in the so called “coal fields” of Southern West Virginia, and family ties to the UMWA including a great grandfather who fought at Blair Mountain, Dustin became involved in the environmental movement as a volunteer with OVEC around 2007 before joining the staff in 2012. Dustin has lobbied on both the state and federal levels on numerous issues leading to important legal changes. Recognized with an award by OVEC, Dustin has testified before Congress, conducted ground tours with Congressional representatives, held numerous meetings with state and federal agencies, and worked with the United Nations and Human Rights Watch for reports on the conditions in Appalachia. Having been featured in media locally, nationally, and internationally, including a recent feature in a National Geographic series, just prior to his termination Dustin conducted two tours with German Public Broadcasting and independent filmmakers.

In a move that demonstrates tremendous integrity and honor, non profit organizations working on environmental issues, such as the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action have moved to suspend their partnerships with OVEC, sending a comradely but firm signal that the organization will be welcome back into the fold when it returns to good standing with their employees.

An NLRB election is presently taking place and votes will be counted on July 9.

The IWW stands ready to reduce tensions, and negotiate a lasting agreement with OVEC that will enable them to return to their important work.

Breaking Things at Work: An Interview with Gavin Mueller

Gavin Mueller interviewed by Harry Holmes - Viewpoint Magazine, May 27, 2021

[Bright Green] Culture editor Harry Holmes interviews Gavin Mueller, author of the newly released Breaking Things at Work from Verso Books. Gavin Mueller is a lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint Magazine.

So first, for those who won’t have read it yet, can you tell us a bit about the book?

The book is essentially thinking about technology from the perspective of labour struggle. The left was in this accelerationist moment for a few years where there was an idea that technologies, particularly those tied to automation in the workplace, were leading to a ‘post-work’ or ‘post-capitalist’ future based on their own course of development. I was troubled by this discourse, which set me off on the research that led to this book.

From my perspective, and what I argue in the book, is that actually quite a lot of these technologies are not leading to a ‘post-work’ future. They are certainly not leading to a ‘post-capitalist’ future. Instead, they are actually weapons that make it difficult for workers to struggle, to establish autonomy at work, and to move the economy in a more egalitarian direction.

I wrote this book to show there is a different way of thinking about technology, one that I argue is more closely aligned to the political self-activity of workers. It also suggests that for those who care about more egalitarian futures we must start politicising technology and having a critical approach to it, rather than assuming it’s developing in a progressive way on its own.

In actually existing struggles both in our contemporary moment and in history, a critical perspective on technology has been there all along. This is why I start the story with the Luddites, who are famous, in quite a pejorative way, for opposing technology. I think there is quite a lot we can understand once we learn their history a little better and relate it to our present condition.

How much is this Luddite approach a strategic one about being able to be in solidarity with workers currently at the sharp end of technology’s impact, for example in an Amazon warehouse, or do you see it as part of a wider approach to technology in general? Is it an opposition to technology per se or a more qualified position based on current workplace struggles?

My political and intellectual influences are these ‘from below’ histories and thinking about struggle from that perspective, as well as being very alive to when there are tensions within the workers’ movement between rank-and-file struggles and the leadership, whether trade union, political party, or intellectual. It’s important to know this history because we have to learn from it.

So I think that’s where I always start, but politics is a sophisticated thing, I don’t think that all politics is oriented on the shop floor. We have to mediate to different levels, but I want to keep that kernel of struggle in our perspective.

We are seeing a lot of encouraging and exciting things. I don’t consider myself that old, but things that have never happened in my life before are happening – like lots of people identifying as socialist. We see these impressive electoral challenges, but they don’t quite ever get over the finish line. One reason for this is the base is still quite depoliticised and fragmented.

My idea of how you solve that problem is really to recognise the ways in which people are already engaged in struggle, particularly people in these incredibly exploited positions. There’s always resistance. But that resistance doesn’t always get amplified, it doesn’t always get connected or articulated with other forms of resistance. To me, that’s something that has been missing from these left-wing political challenges.

Maybe launching out a lot of policy proposals can be very exciting and interesting, but it doesn’t seem to quite do what we’ve hoped it would do. One reason for this is it still has this top-down perspective of ‘we are going to help you out.’ A lot of people don’t relate to that, they don’t believe in it, or they don’t hear those messages because I don’t think we’ve done the work of really building a base that will then get attached to policies and start actually informing policies. So that’s one reason I really orient the politics of the book in these struggles, because it is important to do at this moment.

My belief is we need to meet people where they are, which for most people is in the everyday struggles they have at work and in their wider life. Technology is a huge part of that, and often something many people already have already a critical approach to. They don’t like the way it is, they want things to be changed. They don’t want to hear a science fiction story about the robots allowing them to stay at home all day. I don’t think that will resonate. So that is a big motivation for the book. It’s an intellectual perspective I have, but I do think there is political value in it as well.

Strike Together: Strengthening the Climate Movement and Trade Unions

By Nicolas Rother - Rupture, May 5, 2021

Leipzig, central bus yard, 15 October, 3:30 am - Normally, the first wave of public buses spreads out all over the city to bring day-time workers to their workplaces and the late shift home. But not today. This autumnal and drizzly Thursday morning is a special one. It’s strike day!

Germany’s second-largest trade union, ver.di, called all drivers of Leipzig’s public transport company, LVB, out for a warning strike. It’s the second within a few weeks. And it’s the second time that the picket line looks very different from what most drivers and their bosses expected. You can see bicycles and cargo-bikes standing by the usually empty bike racks. Roughly 20 other Fridays for Future (FFF) activists and I crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to support the strikers for the second time.

The first time we did this, three weeks before, we felt a bit like aliens. Most drivers were reserved and sceptical when we arrived and unfurled our banner. When we explained that we were there to support them, some openly refused to listen to ‘truants’ and ‘intellectuals’. But we stayed, listened, asked questions and discussed until sunrise.

This time we came again to show that we really care. We brought tea, cake, music and even a burn barrel to break the ice. Still, we had to deal with people who were socialised with Stalinist anti-intellectual propaganda in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) and who had a wide repertoire of hackneyed sayings and jokes about people who go to university. But they were doing this while drinking our coffee and standing around our burn barrel which made us feel that we were more than just supporters, we were actually part of this picket line. Our initiative was necessary because the union was extremely worried about getting bad press for supposedly organising a super-spreader event and wanted everybody to strike from home.

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