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International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

Winning Fossil Fuel Workers Over to a Just Transition

By Norman Rogers - Jacobin, March 18, 2024

This article is adapted from Power Lines: Building a Labor-Climate Justice Movement, edited by Jeff Ordower and Lindsay Zafir (The New Press, 2024).

I have a dream. I have a nightmare.

The dream is that working people find careers with good pay, good benefits, and a platform for addressing grievances with their employers. In other words, I dream that everyone gets what I got over twenty-plus years as a unionized worker in the oil industry.

The nightmare is that people who had jobs with good pay and power in the workplace watch those gains erode as the oil industry follows the lead of steel, auto, and coal mining to close plants and lay off workers. It is a nightmare rooted in witnessing the cruelties suffered by our siblings in these industries — all of whom had good-paying jobs with benefits and the apparatus to process grievances when their jobs went away.

Workers, their families, and their communities were destroyed when the manufacturing plants and coal mines shut down, with effects that linger to this day. Without worker input, I fear that communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry face a similar fate.

This nightmare is becoming a reality as refineries in Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana, California, and New Mexico have closed or have announced pending closures. Some facilities are doing the environmentally conscious thing and moving to renewable fuels. Laudable as that transition is, a much smaller workforce is needed for these processes. For many oil workers, the choice is to keep working, emissions be damned, or to save the planet and starve.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 — a four-thousand-member local in Southern California, of which I am the second vice president — is helping to chart a different course, one in which our rank-and-file membership embraces a just transition and in which we take the urgent steps needed to protect both workers and the planet. Along with other California USW locals, we are fighting to ensure that the dream — not the nightmare — is the future for fossil fuel workers as we transition to renewable energy.

Ford’s Battery Flagship Socked by Mold Sickness, Workers Say

By Schuyler Mitchell and Keith Brower Brown - Labor Notes, February 22, 2024

The smell of mold hit James “Lucky” Dugan the moment he walked into the plant.

Last fall, Dugan was one of thousands of union construction workers to arrive in small-town Glendale, Kentucky, to build a vast factory for Ford and SK On, a South Korean company. The plant, when completed, will make batteries for nearly a million electric pickup trucks each year.

When Dugan walked in, huge wooden boxes containing battery-making machines, largely shipped from overseas, were laid across the mile-long factory floor. Black streaks on those wooden boxes, plus the smell, immediately raised alarm bells for workers. But for months, those concerns were met with little remedy from the contractors hired by BlueOval to oversee construction.

Dugan and scores of others now believe they are in the midst of a health crisis at the site. “We don’t get sick pay,” Dugan said. “You’re sick, you’re out of luck.”

The BlueOval SK Battery Park, billed to open in 2025, is a banner project for President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a program of public subsidies and financing to companies moving away from fossil fuels. The Department of Energy has pledged to support the construction of three BlueOval plants in Tennessee and Kentucky with a $9.2 billion low-cost loan.

But under all the high-tech green fanfare, several construction workers, including some who wished to be anonymous, say the site has been gripped by mold and respiratory illness—medieval hazards that workers feel managers neglected in the pressure to quickly open the plant.

What Do Clean Energy Programs Mean for Workers?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 30, 2024

It’s not every day that workers get to tell representatives of Congress how federal programs affect their work lives. But that’s just what happened when union members working on clean energy projects in Illinois, Maine, and New York spoke about the impact of federal climate investments in their communities to the Clean Energy Workers Roundtable hosted by the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC).

Kilton Webb, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 567 told the Roundtable how his union is training clean energy workers in Maine:

I’m in my final year as an apprentice, and after five years, I have put in 8,000 work hours on commercial, industrial, and solar fields. The work is hard, but rewarding because I am part of this new clean energy industry that is doing great things for the state of Maine. It’s also exciting because of the potential of having more union jobs ready for the next generation of workers. Students who were in middle and high school when I started my journey of becoming an electrician are now apprentices that I work with and teach every day.

Workers and the World Unite: Labor in an Ecosocialist Green New Deal

Environmental Justice Community & Labor Victory at Ava Community Energy

Workforce and Env Justice: Local Advocacy Sets the Standards for Community Choice energy agencies

An Electrician’s Dispatch: Solidarity at 90 Feet

By Jeff Marshall - Labor Notes, December 15, 2023

Last summer I was working at the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, on a four-man electrical crew, replacing the existing lights with new LEDs. Our work area was 90 feet off the ground, maybe 20 feet below the roof decking, with no air circulation. You could feel the heat radiating from the ceiling pan.

Our crew has safety discussions every morning. Back in May we had discussed Washington’s heat laws—exposed workers are entitled to water and, if the temperature goes above 90 degrees, an additional rest break.

As the summer heated up, one of our crew members brought in a digital thermometer to check the actual temperature where we were working, not just the weather app. We paraded it by the foreman, as if to say, “We’re keeping a close eye on the situation.”

All summer we never crossed the 90-degree mark, though we came within two degrees. Still, one day a crew member reached his own limits. He notified the foreman and was allowed to come down and take a break, then redirected to a task in a milder climate.

Our time up there is very valuable—management has to coordinate with Boeing day by day for access to the “crane space” above the factory floor. Credit to our foreman: he toed the line on our behalf, prioritizing safety over production.

Labor unions are still giving Democrats climate headaches

By Alex Nieves - Politico, December 4, 2023

One of California’s most powerful unions is not loosening its grip on oil jobs.

Despite the Biden administration and California lawmakers pouring billions of dollars into new climate-friendly industries like electric vehicles, hydrogen and building electrification, a key player in state politics is still defending fossil fuel interests that provide thousands of well-paying jobs.

President Joe Biden’s investment in clean energy sectors through a pair of massive spending bills — which promise lucrative tax credits for projects that pay union wages — was supposed to speed up the labor transition away from oil and gas. That hasn’t happened in deep-blue California, home to the country’s most ambitious climate policies — and most influential labor unions.

“We believe we’re still going to be working in the oil and gas space for the foreseeable future,” said Chris Hannan, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents nearly 500,000 members across dozens of local unions, from pipefitting to electrical work.

Unions’ longstanding — and well-founded — distrust of the renewable energy industry as a reliable source of labor-friendly jobs is slowing the “just transition” that Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders around the country have pushed.

With federal officials trying to get clean energy funding out as fast as possible ahead of the 2024 election, and California politicians cracking down on the fossil fuel industry, unions’ reluctance to relinquish fossil fuel jobs undermines Democrats’ aggressive climate targets, according to a lawmaker who serves both a union- and oil-rich area of the state.

While the union embrace of fossil fuels is unique to California — one of the few blue states with significant oil production — the struggle highlights a larger question over how states can quickly build massive amounts of clean energy infrastructure without undercutting labor.

Another Exciting Victory! California Selected for Regional Clean Hydrogen (H2) Hub

By Eli Lipmen - Move LA, November 30, 2023

As Californians, ARCHES will enable us to meet two major environmental priorities regarding the ARCHES proposal: abating climate change and potentially ending diesel air pollution. 

Renewable hydrogen, when used with fuel cell technologies, may be the only alternative that can do both.

Renewable green Hydrogen (H2), when used in fuel cells is a zero-emission source of power that creates the opportunity to reduce, perhaps even eliminate, the use of diesel fuel--a dangerous source of pollution that causes lung disease, heart disease, asthma, and cancer, devastating low-income communities along goods movement corridors.

Hydrogen has many applications in heavy-duty transportation--heavy-duty long-haul trucks, locomotives, airplanes, ocean-going vessels, off-road construction equipment--applications that can not easily be electrified.

Click here to learn more about OCED’s H2Hubs program and click here to read the White House’s H2Hubs press release. It is important to understand that this is the first in a multi-step process by which ARCHES can be awarded as much as $1.2 billion for the creation of a green Hydrogen Hub in California.

Move LA played a pivotal role in developing the application for this award, bringing together key allies in the Labor movement with government and nonprofit partners. The results are made clear in the White House announcement on the award to California, which is “committed to requiring Project Labor Agreements for all projects connected to the hub, which will expand opportunities for disadvantaged communities and create an expected 220,000 direct jobs—130,000 in construction jobs and 90,000 permanent jobs.”

Despite Intimidation, Union Voices Get Louder for Ceasefire in Gaza

By Keith Brower Brown and Caitlyn Clark - Labor Notes, October 31, 2023


Workers from three Chicago hospitals marched October 21. Photo: @lowisiana on X.

In the U.S. and across the world, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the streets to protest Israel’s assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 8,300 Palestinians, including 3,300 children, since October 7. On October 27, the United Nations called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.”

In the U.S., those protesting Israel’s attacks have faced a wave of repression by employers.

Management retaliation has struck journalists and academics. Michael Eisen, editor-in-chief of the open-access science journal eLife, was fired after sharing a satirical article from The Onion that criticized media responses to the loss of Palestinian life. Jackson Frank, a sports writer for PhillyVoice, was fired after criticizing a pro-Israel post by the Philadelphia 76ers.

After publishing and signing a letter of prominent artists and critics for a ceasefire, to stop an “escalating genocide,” Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco was fired after 18 years at the magazine and six in that role. Three other editors resigned from the high-profile magazine in protest.

The National Writers Union is documenting such cases—both to connect writers with individual support, and to push for industry-wide reforms.

Meanwhile in Gaza, at least 25 journalists have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.

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