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Relief Programs for Displaced Oil and Gas Workers: Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Caitlin Kline and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economy Research Institute, August 2021

California’s oil and gas jobs currently offer significant compensation and benefits, providing workers in these jobs with security for themselves and their families. As California moves to meet its existing climate commitments—to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2045—the oil and gas industries will contract, and it is critical to invest in a strong, ongoing relief program to take care of displaced workers, their families and their communities.

An excerpt and fact sheet from A Program For Economic Recovery And Clean Energy Transition In California, by Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Caitlin Kline and Gregor Semieniuk.

Read the text (PDF).

For a Fair and Effective Industrial Climate Transition: Support measures for heavy industry in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany

By Yelter Bollen, Tycho Van Hauwaert, and Olivier Beys - European Trade Union Institute, August 2021

Europe’s industrial base needs to undergo a swift and persistent transformation towards carbon neutrality and circularity, but this transition must happen in a fair and socially just manner. In this working paper, we evaluate the support mechanisms for heavy industry which have been put in place over the past 20 years, comparing the state of play in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

We also compare recent developments in the industrial policy frameworks of these countries, considering European as well as domestic policy levers. We conclude that policy frameworks have largely been ‘defensive’, have lacked foresight, and have had negative distributional effects. Recent shifts in policy have opened up avenues for progress, but the level of ambition remains insufficient and uneven. Major economic incentives and support measures should cohere with a just transition, at the (sub-)national as well as the EU level.

Read the text (Link).

Food Sovereignty: 25 years in the making

By Jaime Amorim - La Via Campesina, July 28, 2021

Food sovereignty is intrinsically linked to the debate over what we envision for rural areas and what type of development should be applied, as well as what type of food to produce. And why do we want to produce?”

In the same year that La Via Campesina celebrates 25 years of defining, building, and fighting for “food sovereignty,” the United Nations (UN) will convene a summit for heads of state, members of large businesses and private corporations, multinationals and agribusiness representatives to discuss food systems processes.

The UN Food Systems Summit, or FFS, will take place in September of 2021 during the week of the High-Level panel of the United Nations’ General Assembly. Before the Summit, a pre-Summit will take place in Rome at the end of June.

I will take advantage of this space to debate(discuss?) the two subjects which complement each other in two separate articles. In this first one, I will discuss the 25th anniversary of the debate for food sovereignty. In the second will concern the contradictions surrounding the realization of the Summit on food systems, which will be convened by the Secretary General of the United Nations. This is the decade in which the UN and its member states must accomplish the activities and actions to which they committed by 2030, the objectives defined in order to reach their goals for building Sustainable Development.

The Summit on Food Systems will be held just as the world is experiencing a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than four million people worldwide, victims of COVID-19. At the same time, we see, as a consequence of the crises, the rise in the number of people who suffer hunger worldwide, as well as an increase in unemployment, poverty and violence.

US Energy Transition Presents Organized Labor With New Opportunities, But Also Some Old Challenges

By Delger Erdenesanaa - Inside Climate News, July 27, 2021

President Biden’s push for “good, union jobs” in clean energy has increased hope that organizing solar and wind workers can close the pay gap between them and fossil fuel workers.

President Biden’s push for “good, union jobs” in clean energy has increased hope that organizing solar and wind workers can close the pay gap between them and fossil fuel workers.

Two years ago, Skip Bailey noticed a lot of trucks from a company called Solar Holler driving around Huntington, West Virginia. A union organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Bailey saw an opportunity.

“We want to get in on the solar business,” he said, predicting the industry will grow in his home region, which includes historic coal communities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Bailey talked to Solar Holler about unionizing its employees who install photovoltaic panels on homes. IBEW showed the company its local training facility for electricians, and explained the health insurance and pension plans it offers. 

“It wasn’t a hard sell in either direction,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Dan Conant. He was already interested in securing union protections for his employees when Bailey contacted him, he said. The move fit with Solar Holler’s dedication to West Virginia’s legacy of energy production and strong union membership.

“It was not just good business, but it just really spoke to our history as a state,” he said.

Conant and Bailey’s efforts paid off in March 2020, when IBEW Local 317 and Solar Holler signed a contract. It’s just a start—Solar Holler only has about 20 unionized employees—but the agreement is an early example of the future Joe Biden is promising. The president frequently pledges to create millions of jobs while transitioning the U.S. to clean energy. Every time he does, he’s quick to add that these will be “good, union jobs that expand the middle class.”

“It’s a great talking point,” said Joe Uehlein, president of the Maryland-based Labor Network for Sustainability, an advocacy group pushing to unionize green jobs. But he added that Biden faces a difficult balancing act to achieve his pledge. 

Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas

By Lara R. Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Hunter Moskowitz, and Matt Phillips - ILR Worker Institute, Cornell, July 26, 2021

Texas is currently confronted by three major, intersecting crises: the COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which continues to take its toll on Texans through hurricanes, major flood events, wildfires, debilitating heat waves and the significant economic cost of these extreme weather events. These crises both expose and deepen existing inequalities, disproportionately impacting working families, women, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, immigrants, and the most vulnerable in our society.

A well-designed recovery from the COVID-19 global health pandemic, however, can simultaneously tackle these intersecting crises. We can put people to work in high-quality, family- and community-sustaining careers, and we can build the 21st century infrastructure we need to tackle the climate crisis and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Indeed, in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, it is essential that our economic recovery focus on developing a climate-friendly economy. Moreover, there are significant jobs and economic development opportunities related to building a clean energy economy. One study shows that 25 million jobs will be created in the U.S. over the next three decades by electrifying our building and transportation sectors, manufacturing electric vehicles and other low-carbon products, installing solar, wind and other renewables, making our homes and buildings highly-efficient, massively expanding and improving public transit, and much more.

Conversely, a clean, low-carbon economy built with low-wage, low-quality jobs will only exacerbate our current crisis of inequality. The new clean energy economy can support good jobs with good benefits and a pipeline for historically disadvantaged communities to high-quality, paid on-the-job training programs that lead to career advancement. Currently, the vast majority of energy efficiency, solar and wind work is non-union, and the work can be low-wage and low-quality, even as the safety requirements of solar electrical systems, for example, necesitate well-trained, highly-skilled workers.

Read the text (PDF).

LNS Executive Director Testifies Before House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Expresses Support of the Justice40 Initiative

By Judy Asman - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 21, 2021

‘The Goal of Creating Good Jobs and Protecting Our Environment Are Not Incompatible,’ Recommends Ways to Protect Workers Amid a Shift to a Green Economy.

On Wednesday morning, July 21, 2021, Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, Michael Leon Guerrero, joined fellow environmental justice leaders and activists to testify in support of the Biden-Harris Justice40 Initiative at a hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Led by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Committee highlighted its role in advancing the Justice40 Initiative–including ensuring a whole-of-government response, strong federal data collection, and a voice for state and local partners–to direct 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to the hardest hit communities.

An environmental justice organizer for much of his career, Leon Guerrero opened by saying, “I will speak to you today to affirm, as the title of this hearing suggests, that Environmental Justice is central to the American Jobs Plan, and in particular to affirm the importance of addressing the needs of workers and communities as we transition to a climate safe economy. Let me first say that the goals of creating good jobs and protecting our environment are not incompatible.”

A national network of unions and climate and environmental justice organizations working for urgent, science-based climate action, the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) strives daily to bridge the labor and climate movements to “secure an ecologically sustainable and economically just future where everyone can make a living on a living planet.”

“We commend President Biden […] for rooting his climate protection strategy in policies that foster job creation, the rights of workers to organize unions, and the ability of communities to achieve environmental justice,” Leon Guerrero added. “We support the Justice 40 Initiative as a strategy to assure that historically marginalized communities of color have equal access to the badly needed investments to rebuild our economy and infrastructure. We also want to express our support for the recommendations of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.”

The Justice40 Initiative is part of the American Jobs Plan and the Build Back Better Agenda, which Leon Guerrero said LNS feels–along with the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), and Justice 40–“set us on the path we need to address the multiple crises we face in health disparities, economic injustice and climate disruption.”

“These are troubling and turbulent times that require bold and creative action […] we are concerned that currently available details on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation package so far fall severely short of what is needed to address these crises,” said Leon Guerrero.

He went on to cite “Workers and Communities in Transition: A Report of the Just Transition Listening Project,” released by LNS earlier this year and which analyzes in-depth interviews of more than 100 workers and community leaders in 26 states “who work in a variety of industries including oil refining, auto and textile manufacturing, healthcare, education and agriculture.”

California unions endorse a plan for Green Recovery and fossil fuel phase-out

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 21, 2021

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, released in June, is the ninth in a series of reports titled Green Economy Transition Programs for U.S. States, published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and written by researchers led by Robert Pollin. In this latest report, the authors address the challenge of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and contend that it is possible to achieve California’s official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and zero emissions by 2045— and at the same time create over 1 million jobs. The investment programs they propose are based on the proposed national THRIVE Agenda, (introduced into the U.S. Congress in February 2021), and rely on private and public investment to energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The report discusses these sectors, as well as the manufacturing sector, and also includes a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in the fossil fuel industry.

In Chapter 6, “Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers”, the authors note that only 0.6% of California’s workforce was employed in fossil fuel-based industries in 2019 – approx.112,000 workers. They model two patterns for the industry contraction between 2021-2030: steady contraction, in which employment losses proceed evenly, by about 5,800 jobs per year; and episodic contraction, in which 12,500 job losses occur in just three separate years, 2021, 2026, and 2030. After developing transition programs for both scenarios, they estimate that the average annual costs of episodic contraction would be 80% higher ($830 million per year) than the costs of steady contraction ($470 million per year). As with previous PERI reports, the authors emphasize the importance of the quality of jobs to which workers relocate: “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees along with wage subsidies to insure they will not experience income losses, along with retraining and relocation support, as needed. Enacting a generous just transition program for the displaced fossil fuel-based industry workers is especially important. At present, average compensation for these workers is around $130,000. This pay level is well above the roughly $85,000 received by workers in California’s current clean energy sectors.” Relief Programs for Displaced Oil & Gas Workers Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers is a 2-page Fact Sheet summarizing the chapter.

Trade unions welcome UN HLPF Ministerial Declaration, but demand action

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation, July 19, 2021

Trade unions have welcomed the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) as it recognises decent work, social protection and climate resilient investments with just transitions as key pillars for recovery. But this must now be translated into government action.

This year’s HLPF focused on ways to ensure a sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 in line with the SDGs. This included a review of progress on SDG 8.

The Ministerial Declaration reaffirms governments’ commitment to the SDGs as the “global blueprint” to respond to the pandemic and build “a better future for all”.

Trade unions welcomed:

  • references to the decent work agenda;
  • a commitment to protection of labour rights and occupational health and safety for all;
  • a pledge to eradicate forced and child labour;
  • the creation of “conditions for decent work for all, including for those in the informal economy”;
  • the promotion of sustainable business practices;
  • the call for investments in the care economy;
  • the recognition of women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work;
  • and the need to close the gender gap in the labour market.

Even though the Declaration misses the opportunity to explicitly refer to universal social protection, it is vocal on the need for all countries to extend social protection coverage, including social protection floors.

Oil well clean-up can create jobs; but not the way Alberta spent Green Recovery funding

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 15, 2021

The Big Cleanup: How enforcing the Polluter Pay principle can unlock Alberta’s next great jobs boom was released in June by the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project . It makes thirteen recommendations, including the creation of an independent, non-profit Reclamation Trust to wind down end-of-life companies and use their remaining revenue to fund the cleanup of their wells. The report states that implementing all its recommendations will create 10,400 jobs and generate $750 million in wages, and contribute nearly $2 billion Alberta’s Gross Domestic Product annually for the next 25 years. The report also includes new calculations and analysis on the growing crisis of Alberta’s oil and gas well liabilities, stating that the average projected cost of cleaning up Alberta’s over 300,000 unreclaimed oil and gas wells is $55 billion dollars, with the top 20 Alberta municipalities alone facing $34 billion in cleanup liabilities in their boundaries.

In April 2020, the government of Canada announced its Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, including $1.72 billion directed toward the cleanup of inactive and abandoned oil and gas infrastructure across the western provinces. $1 billion of this funding was directed to Alberta. Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, had been one of the early critics of this program, for example in “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all” ( National Observer, April 21). In early July, a further evaluation was published by Oxfam Canada, the Parkland Institute, and the Corporate Mapping Project : Not Well Spent: A review of $1-billion federal funding to clean up Alberta’s inactive oil and gas wells . The report finds some alarming failures on many fronts – including that the program is not tracking methane emissions, so it is impossible to determine the emissions reduction impact. Author Megan Egler also cautiously argues that the public funds were used to accomplish what industry should have been responsible for, according to a polluter pays principle.

One of the stated goals of Alberta’s $1 Billion Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) was to create 5,300 jobs. However, Not Well Spent states: “ If this is met, funding of $1billion will create 5,300 jobs at $188,680 per job. This is $41,800 more per job than money injected into the industry through the Orphaned Well Association to do similar work in 2018. There has been no clear explanation from the Government of Alberta why the public dollars to create one job are higher in the SRP program.” The report also notes that 23% of the total amount of funds disbursed went to only five companies out of the 363; only 10% was allocated to clean-ups on Indigenous lands. The author makes recommendations for improvement in future funding, to ensure better accountability and transparency, which would be more consistent with a “polluter pays” objective.

Labor-Backed Report on Path to Equitable Green California

By Staff - Sunflower Alliance, June 10, 2021

Nineteen labor organizations—including unions representing refinery workers in Northern and Southern California and the Alameda Labor Council— have endorsed a detailed plan for an equitable transition to a clean-energy economy in California.

This major new report, A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, details programs for meeting California’s 2030 climate goal (40 percent economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s 1990 level) by creating roughly 418,000 jobs. It argues that state policy should ensure that the jobs created are good-paying jobs with full labor rights and access by historically excluded people.

The same strategies, the report says, could be continued to meet California’s longer-term goal of being carbon-neutral by 2045.

The report was commissioned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers Local 675. Its authors are faculty members of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, including Robert Pollin, a leading expert on just transition.

The report provides detailed calculations for strategies outlined in an earlier report, Putting California on the High Road, from the UC Labor Center. Both reports emphasize the need for measures to protect fossil fuel industry workers including:

  • Pension guarantee for all workers.
  • Re-employment and income-level guarantees for all displaced workers.
  • Retraining and relocation support as needed.
  • “Glide-path income support” for workers 60 – 64.

The report comes as the Newsom administration is developing a report on Just Transition in California.

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