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The Huntley Experiment

By Richard Lipsitz and Rebecca Newberry, Labor Network for Sustainability, May 9, 2017

As the Huntley coal-fired power plant in Tonawanda, NY, a working class suburb of Buffalo, NY, began cutting back on its production, the company began cutting back on its payments to the town; as a result, three schools were closed and 135 school employees lost their jobs. The workforce at the plant was slashed from 125 to 75. In response to the likely closing of the plant, the Kenmore-Tonawanda Teachers Association, the IBEW, the Western New York Area Labor Federation, and the Clean Air Coalition formed the Huntley Alliance.

They won funding from the new state Fossil Fuel Plant Closure Fund to offset lost tax revenue. And they are continuing to campaign for jobs and/or retraining for those employed at the plant and reuse of the plant for activities that will enhance the economic and cultural life of the community. Richard Lipsitz, President of the Western New York Labor Federation, and Rebecca Newberry, Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, tell the inside story of this successful effort in “Huntley, a Case Study: Building Strategic Alliances for Real Change.”

[Full Text] of the case study

Building Trades Activists Stand Up to Trump

By Dan DiMaggio - Labor Notes, April 05, 2017

When they heard President Donald Trump would address the Building Trades national legislative conference, activists from Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 569 knew they had to do something.

“We couldn’t let him come and speak to us and just sit there,” said William Stedham, a “workaday Joe” and executive board member of the San Diego-based local. “If we hadn’t, everyone would think that the Building Trades was on board with him 100 percent, and we’re not.”

So a few minutes into his speech, six of them stood up with signs that said “Resist” and turned their backs on the billionaire-in-chief. The gesture flew in the face of a directive from Building Trades leadership that attendees should “be on their best behavior.”

Demonstrators included the political director and business manager of Local 569 as well as the president and political director of the San Diego Building Trades.

San Diego activists are hot about Trump’s decision to appoint a top lobbyist from the anti-union Association of Building Contractors to a key role on his incoming Department of Labor team.

They’re also furious that former Heritage Foundation staffer James Sherk is now the White House Domestic Policy Council’s labor and employment adviser. Sherk has written a seemingly infinite number of articles attacking union workers. A sample: frequent pieces attacking minimum wage increases, an argument in favor of requiring unions to be re-certified every two to four years a la Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, and a report titled “Right to Work Increases Jobs and Choices.”

“The things we’ve been fighting hard for—more project labor agreements, more local-hire agreements, and better training and workplace safety—none of them are being supported by the Trump administration,” says Gretchen Newsom, political director of Local 569.

California’s Clean Energy Revolution: More Than Just Jobs; Study finds Renewables Portfolio Standard brings worker training, living wages, good benefits

By Betony Jones, Dr. Carol Zabin, and Jeremy Smith - UC Labor Center, July 12, 2016

California’s leadership on climate policy solutions has brought much attention to the quantity of jobs created in the state’s renewable energy industry. Yet the quality of those jobs has largely remained a mystery, and clean energy jobs aren’t automatically good jobs. A new UC Berkeley report released this morning at a press conference at the IBEW-NECA Sacramento Area Electrical Training Center finds that California’s principal climate policy, the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), has created good jobs with a career path for non-college bound workers. This is a virtuous cycle: the renewable projects create paid training for workers through state-certified apprenticeship programs, and they help fund the training of future workers through joint employer and employee contributions made for every hour worked.

The report finds that the RPS has created a “high road” renewable energy industry, which contrasts markedly with “low road” strategies of states such as Texas in which job training is rare, wages are low and benefits often nonexistent.

What’s more, the high-quality jobs resulting from California’s RPS largely have been created in regions of the state where they are most needed, with high unemployment and low income.

The report, “The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future,” was published by the Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy, part of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

“What’s unique about California is that the boom in renewables has created quality jobs that lead to real careers,” said Betony Jones, Associate Chair of the Donald Vial Center and a co-author of the report. “These are not just jobs to get by. Workers on these projects are getting health care, pension contributions, and paid comprehensive training that leads to career stability,” she said.

“This benefit package helps maintain a skilled workforce that benefits not only the construction industry but also the state’s broader economy,” said Dr. Carol Zabin, co-author of the report.

Senator Kevin de León remarked, “This research offers powerful new evidence of the positive economic impact California’s climate policies are having for blue-collar working families across our state, especially in our most disadvantaged communities. California is poised to build on this success over the coming years with even more ambitious goals for clean energy generation established under Senate Bill 350.”

Jose Muñoz, a journeyman electrician and father of three from Calexico, has worked on several commercial-scale solar projects, wind farms and energy storage projects in San Diego and Imperial Counties since 2006. “The benefits and training that come with these jobs are the most important things,” he said. “One job site can have about 600 electricians and lot of those are local guys who come from fast food jobs or working in the fields,” said Muñoz. “They have never had benefits for themselves and their families before.”

Key Findings:
The report calculated the following effects of California’s RPS from 2002-2015:

  • Creation of 25,500 blue-collar job-years (about 53 million hours of blue-collar construction work), with greatest job gains in counties such as Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial, where unemployment rates are far above the state average and income is far below average.
  • California’s Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley together have seen 65% of these jobs.
  • Almost all the large-scale renewable projects are built under project labor agreements, which provide union pay rates, health insurance and pension programs for all workers, whether or not their employers are union.
  • Utility-scale photovoltaic construction projects have funded 1,700 apprentices, providing them with earn-while-you learn classroom and on-the-job training, and putting them on a pathway to mastery of their trade and a middle-class career.
  • This high-road construction industry not only provides full family health care and retirement benefits, but also is the primary funder of the apprenticeship training system, with the state paying only a portion of the classroom training.
  • In contrast, the renewable energy construction industries in other states such as Texas or Arizona are more commonly non-union, provide lower wages, do not participate in apprenticeships, and lack health care and retirement benefits.

Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to be shut down, power replaced by renewables, efficiency, storage

By Damon Moglen and Julia Peek - Friends of the Earth, June 21, 2016

An historic agreement has been reached between Pacific Gas and Electric, Friends of the Earth, and other environmental and labor organizations to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors with greenhouse-gas-free renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage resources. Friends of the Earth says the agreement provides a clear blueprint for fighting climate change by replacing nuclear and fossil fuel energy with safe, clean, cost-competitive renewable energy. 

The agreement, announced today in California, says that PG&E will renounce plans to seek renewed operating licenses for Diablo Canyon’s two reactors -- the operating licenses for which expire in 2024 and 2025 respectively. In the intervening years, the parties will seek Public Utility Commission approval of the plan which will replace power from the plant with renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage resources. Base load power resources like Diablo Canyon are becoming increasingly burdensome as renewable energy resources ramp up. Flexible generation options and demand-response are the energy systems of the future.

By setting a certain end date for the reactors, the nuclear phase out plan provides for an orderly transition. In the agreement, PG&E commits to renewable energy providing 55 percent of its total retail power sales by 2031, voluntarily exceeding the California standard of 50 percent renewables by 2030.

"This is an historic agreement," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "It sets a date for the certain end of nuclear power in California and assures replacement with clean, safe, cost-competitive, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. It lays out an effective roadmap for a nuclear phase-out in the world's sixth largest economy, while assuring a green energy replacement plan to make California a global leader in fighting climate change."

A robust technical and economic report commissioned by Friends of the Earth served as a critical underpinning for the negotiations. The report, known as “Plan B,” provided a detailed analysis of how power from the Diablo Canyon reactors could be replaced with renewable, efficiency and energy storage resources which would be both less expensive and greenhouse gas free. With the report in hand, Friends of the Earth’s Damon Moglen and Dave Freeman engaged in discussions with the utility about the phase-out plan for Diablo Canyon. NRDC was quickly invited to join. Subsequently, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, Environment California and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility partnered in reaching the final agreement. The detailed phase out proposal will now go to the California Public Utility Commission for consideration. Friends of the Earth (and other NGO parties to the agreement) reserve the right to continue to monitor Diablo Canyon and, should there be safety concerns, challenge continued operation.

The agreement also contains provisions for the Diablo Canyon workforce and the community of San Luis Obispo. “We are pleased that the parties considered the impact of this agreement on the plant employees and the nearby community,” said Pica. “The agreement provides funding necessary to ease the transition to a clean energy economy.” 

Diablo Canyon is the nuclear plant that catalyzed the formation of Friends of the Earth in 1969. When David Brower founded Friends of the Earth the Diablo Canyon was the first issue on the organization’s agenda and Friends of the Earth has been fighting the plant ever since. This agreement is not only a milestone for renewable energy, but for Friends of the Earth as an organization.

For more information, see the final, signed Joint Proposal and the Joint Letter to the State Lands Commission.

Labor Rallies Against Fossil Fuel At Climate Rally In Oakland on November 21, 2015

By Steve Zeltser - Labor Video Project, November 21, 2015

Trade unionists from Northern California rallied and marched on November 21, 2015 against fossil fuel and further carbons in the planet. The march and rally was endorsed by the bay area labor councils. IBEW 595 officials also talk about the Zero Carbon building the union has built in San Leandro to train apprentices and their members on technology and energy efficiency.

How to Support Clean Energy and Not Be a Jerk; As the nation turns away from coal, what do we owe coal workers?

By Jonathan Tasini - Sierra, July-August 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Michael Phillippi makes $28.50 per hour working as a mechanic at Murray Energy's Monongalia County coal mine in West Virginia. That's almost double what he made as a crane operator before snagging this coveted job four years ago. With healthcare and pension, that figure is close to $60 per hour, all because he's a member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW). That's a hefty paycheck in a state where the minimum wage is $8 per hour and the poverty rate is one of the highest in the nation.

The amiable, broad-shouldered Phillippi brings home more than twice what his wife makes as a teacher's assistant. He puts 10 percent of his paycheck into a 401(k) and invests another chunk in education savings for his three kids. He pays the bills and still has enough left over for a boat and a little camp where his family spends time in the summer. "I know guys making eighteen, twenty thousand," he says. "We had a banker start a few months ago—he was in charge of loans at a bank. He makes more money and has better benefits as a coal miner."

If the mine closed, Phillippi says, he'd have to learn to live off $15 an hour or less. To find a salary comparable to his current job's, he'd have to drive 75 miles north to Pittsburgh. But he probably wouldn't. "I won't move," he says. "I am from here. My family is from here. My grandparents are from here. My wife and her family. This is our community. I want to raise my children here. I plan on dying here. It's the sad truth that the good jobs aren't here."

Phillippi's paycheck also matters to the small businesses he sprinkles money on, like the mom-and-pops he stops at on his 35-minute drive from his home in Morgantown to the mine. Sitting in a small conference room in the UMW regional office in Fairmont, Phillippi points across the table to Mark Dorsey, who worked underground for 34 years before retiring in 2010: "For every hour I work, I'm helping to pay his pension." 

There are hundreds of thousands of Michael Phillippis spread out across the nation, from the coalfields of West Virginia and Kentucky to the more than 500 coal-generating power stations located in virtually every state. These workers now face the loss of their good-paying jobs due to the declining competitiveness of coal compared to other energy sources and new Environmental Protection Agency regulations intended to address air pollution and climate change. 

Those regulations, of course, have clear benefits for Phillippi, Dorsey, and everyone who breathes. Stronger soot standards alone would prevent 35,700 premature deaths per year and 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma. Shifting to renewable energy, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, would create three times as many jobs—although likely not as well paid—as an equivalent investment in fossil fuels. And the value of avoiding catastrophic climate change is incalculable. 

But it won't pay the mortgage. As the coal industry withers, what will happen to Phillippi, Dorsey, and the communities they live in? The classic free market answer: That's life. Economies change, so suck it up. When the car replaced the horse and cart, buggy manufacturers moved on. 

That is not the only answer. Slowly, tentatively, unions and environmentalists are beginning to talk about an entirely different option called Just Transition, a guarantee that the cost of bringing down the curtain on the coal industry will not be paid by coal workers alone, but will be spread across society. It would be a huge undertaking, ideally encompassing the tens of thousands of workers directly employed in coal, from mining to electric-power generation, plus the communities that depend on their spending and taxes.

Rail Worker Rights Leaving 19th Century Behind

IBEW Press Release - IBEW.org, July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The author is also not affiliated with Railroad Workers United. This article is reposted in accordance with Fair Use guidelines.

J.J. Giuliano has been local chairman of the Selkirk unit of Albany, N.Y., Local 770 since 2003. Keeping his members safe is Giuliano’s top priority, and along with the leaders of the other trades at Selkirk, he sat on the shop’s safety committee.

“For 10 years we made recommendations to management and for 10 years not one of them was funded by the company,” Giuliano said. “I stayed on because I wanted to look out for my guys. But at a certain point we were letting the company get away with avoiding solving safety problems.”

In September 2013, Giuliano was done with the charade. He sent a letter to the plant superintendent telling him that he was quitting the committee. He listed 21 safety violations that threatened the health of IBEW members, public safety or both that had repeatedly been brought to the company’s attention and never fixed. They included everything from managers green-lighting locomotives for use without testing safety equipment to requiring workers to repair trains covered in pigeon feces but refusing to provide, or even allow the use of, protective clothing.

“When local management decides to act as though safety is a priority, this organization will re-evaluate its position in this matter,” he wrote. “Until that time, should it ever come, our concerns will be brought elsewhere.”

Giuliano handed over the letter Friday and posted a copy of it to the local’s glass-enclosed bulletin board. Two and half hours into his next workday, Giuliano was cited for violating safety rules and was later suspended for five days.

“It’s typical. Instead of fixing a problem, they attack the person who points it out,” Giuliano said.

Up until 2008 that would have been the end of the story. As a 2007 congressional hearing found, punishing workers instead of fixing safety hazards has been standard in the rail industry since the days of the robber barons more than a century ago. It was nearly that long ago that President Theodore Roosevelt signed many of the laws still regulating the rail industry.

As Social Security, workers’ compensation insurance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight and whistleblower protections were made standard for most working people, rail workers were left outside looking in.

The first safety protections for rail workers weren’t even enacted until the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970, said Larry Mann, an attorney and noted rail safety expert. But Mann says the scope of the law was extremely limited and enforcement by the Federal Rail Administration, which has historically been run and staffed by former rail company managers, was lax at best.

But in 2007, the late congressman from Minnesota, James L. Oberstar, inserted a few paragraphs into the massive bill implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Section 100 of 106, in part written by Mann, dramatically expanded the rights and protections of rail workers. Oberstar later said that the goal of the law was a complete overhaul of a safety culture” preoccupied with blame, with fault and with individuals.”

The law protected rail workers from retaliation for reporting safety hazards and injuries (see sidebar for full list of protections and prohibited retaliations) that echo whistleblower protections for aviation, nuclear, pipeline and financial industry workers.

The penalties for doing so were purposefully harsh. Workers were to “be made whole” meaning if they lost their job, had their credit rating ruined and lost their house, the company would have to reinstate the worker, pay to fix their credit rating and recover the house or pay for its loss if it was found guilty. All that in addition to back wages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

“We snuck it in,” Larry Mann. “The companies didn’t see it coming, thank God.”

It wasn’t just the companies who were surprised. Charles Goetsch, one of 14 attorneys designated by the IBEW to represent injured railworkers. (Find the full list here). He found out about it only after it passed.

“I thought ‘I’ve been waiting for this law for 30 years,’” Goetsch said. “It was huge transfer of power to the workers and they didn’t have to negotiate away a thing to get it.”

IBEW, Fitters Locked Out by Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

By Alex Lotorto - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

To: Executive Board, Officials, and Business Agents, et al.

  • United Association Local Union 524
  • IBEW Local 81
  • IUOE Local 542
  • Teamsters Local 229
  • LIUNA Local 130

From:  Alex Lotorto

Electrical Workers, Fitters are Locked Out By Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

The proposed Milford and Easton Compressor Station expansions are part of Columbia Gas Transmission Co.’s (subsidiary of NiSource) East Side Expansion Project. Both proposed expansions do not utilize industry best practices to reduce or eliminate emissions that also require more manhours to install. This means that NiSource, which earned $5.7 billion in net revenue last year, is minimizing its costs, effectively swindling trade union members out of the best possible Project Labor Agreements. In this case, the cause of labor is also aligned with the cause of local environmentalists who seek to limit unnecessary harm to public health and air quality.

Specifically, it has been established by the gas industry associations and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Natural Gas Star program, that electric compressors, gas capture technology, and limiting production tank emissions are now the best practices for protecting air quality during transmission and distribution of natural gas. Columbia Gas is a partner in the EPA’s Natural Gas Star program and should be aware of their own recommendations.

In fact, technology like electric compressors and gas capture methods that eliminate blowdowns of methane during maintenance and inspections can pay for themselves as more methane is shipped to downstream customers. Methane that is now released into the atmosphere during blowdowns could be injected into the intersecting Tennessee and Transco pipelines at the Milford and Easton facilities, respectively, and sold to market. This would generate savings for NiSource within one to three years, depending on the price of methane. Above, you will find links to fact sheets for these technologies from the EPA, produced via industry partnerships.

Commonly, best practice recommendations become codified in EPA regulations once they have been shown to work in the field. This is the case for production tank rules limiting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions to less than four tons per year, about to be enforced in January 2015 . Both Milford and Easton facilities will have waste liquid and condensate tanks that will be required to be fitted with VOC control technology next year. However, NiSource stated to Milford residents in pre-filing meetings that they will not be installing this technology, meaning lost work for union members and more exposure for neighboring families. In fact, there is nothing in their Resources Report submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describing VOC controls. There is also nothing in the Resources Report describing how hazardous waste will be tended, removed, and disposed of from the facilities, a responsibility best handled by trained union labor.

PG&E "Union" Mounts Attack on Clean Power SF

By Tim Redmond - San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 11, 2012

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. This article is published in accordance with "Fair Use" guidelines

The union that represents PG&E workers -- and has opposed every single public-power initiative in modern San Francisco history -- just launched an attack on Clean Power SF. And the union's business representative is having a hard time explaining exactly why he's working with PG&E to try to undermine this modest step toward public power.

Hunter Stern, with IBEW Local 1245, sent a press release out Sept. 11 announcing the start of a campaign to convince the supervisors not to approve the Clean Power SF plan. The line of attack: Shell Energy, which got the contract to supply sustainable energy to customers in the city, in competition with PG&E. The pitch:

San Francisco city government is considering a proposal to partner with Shell Energy of North America to inaugurate SF’s so-called “clean power” program. If the Board of Supervisors approves the proposal, San Francisco would pay millions to Shell, one of the most notorious environmental violators in business today.

Shell's a pretty bad company. So is PG&E. So is just about everyone in the energy business. Not justifying Shell's behavior, just noting: If you want a contractor to deliver electricty to San Francisco, you aren't going to get a cool independent small business. You aren't even going to get Google. These folks are evil, all of them.

Oh, and by the way: Shell Energy also sells power to PG&E (pdf). Stern's boss has a contract similar to what the city is going to get. So the PG&E power we all pay for today is in part Shell power. And as Sup. David Campos points out, it wasn't as if the city chose Shell over some better competitors: There was no other company out there anywhere in the world that responded to the city's bid process and offered to work with Clean Power SF.

The key point here is that Clean Power SF is going to use Shell as a bridge -- the private outfit will deliver power generated at renewable facililities to the city's power operation, which will resell it to customers ... for a while. The goal is to use the revenue stream from the sales of power to back bonds that will allow the city to build its own renewable energy system. Five, maybe ten years down the road, San Francisco will have solar generators on city property (including large swaths of Public Utilities Commission property in the East Bay), wind generators, maybe at some point tidal generators, and will be able to sell cheap, clean, local power to customers. Shell will be gone.