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United Steelworkers of America (USW)

Biden Promised “Good-Paying Union Jobs,” But It Will Take Organizing to Get Them

By Leanna First-Arai - Truthout, September 27, 2022

Since the historic and controversial Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law in August, the economy has begun showing early signs of shifting and recalibrating beneath our feet. Honda Motor Company and LG Energy Solution have announced plans for a lithium ion battery plant, with their sights on Ohio; hiring has ticked up at a small business in Texas that builds wind and solar power plants; and the state of Connecticut is soliciting applications for millions in funding for community-led climate adaptation plans in anticipation of IRA funds to come, plus funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law signed last year. The IRA set aside $369 billion in climate and energy spending, which researchers estimate will translate to 9 million jobs over the next decade.

But as cities, states, nonprofits, industry groups and corporations all scramble to sweep up a slice of that funding, the degree to which these jobs will live up to being the Biden administration’s promise of “good-paying union jobs” remains to be seen. So too does whether and how those positions will be made available to the frontline and fenceline communities of color that have suffered the most from decades of disinvestment, pollution and manipulation at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, as well as to those working in the industry itself.

“Having that stuff in the federal bill is great, but unless we are organizing to bring these things into reality, it’s not going to happen,” said Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO at a Climate Jobs Summit earlier this month. Levy warned that Republican-led state officials and contractors could be wary over accepting clean energy grants and tax breaks from the federal government, given the labor protections and training stipulations the money is contingent upon.

UAW Joins BlueGreen Alliance

By staff - BlueGreen Alliance, September 21, 2022

The BlueGreen Alliance today announced the United Auto Workers (UAW) will join its growing national labor-environmental partnership and its fight for a clean, prosperous, and equitable economy. The announcement comes at a vital time in the domestic auto industry. The industry is at a crossroads, with the United States poised to be a global leader in clean vehicle and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing—helping to bring back high-skill, high-wage, union jobs.

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) has more than 400,000 active members and more than 580,000 retired members in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico and more than 600 local unions. The UAW currently has 1,750 contracts with some 1,050 employers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

“The growth of EVs is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing while addressing the pressing needs of climate change,” UAW President Ray Curry said. “Our union works continuously to make sure that these jobs will be good-paying union jobs that benefit our communities. By joining BlueGreen Alliance, we know our voices will be amplified and our advocacy strengthened.”

Leadership from both organizations said they look forward to working with the Biden administration as it implements the massive investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—and CHIPS and Science Act to create good-paying union jobs, fight economic and racial injustice, and reduce the emissions driving climate change.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act provide significant resources to build out our nation’s manufacturing base, create good union jobs and secure a cleaner future,” said Tom Conway, United Steelworkers (USW) International President and co-chair of the BlueGreen Alliance. “We’re proud to welcome the UAW to our alliance, as we continue to work with the administration to ensure these investments strengthen workers and their communities for generations to come.”

“President Biden and Democrats in Congress have taken historic action to address the climate crisis through the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. These efforts are not only critical for the future of humanity, but they also will create millions of good-paying union jobs,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and co-chair of the BlueGreen Alliance. “The UAW is leading the charge to create good-paying jobs building zero-emission vehicles, and we are thrilled they are joining the BlueGreen Alliance as we work together to create an equitable and just future for all.”

Founded in 2006 by the USW and Sierra Club, the BlueGreen Alliance now unites 14 labor unions and environmental organizations collectively representing millions of members and supporters.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to build a clean, prosperous, and equitable future for all,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “The good news is we’re not in this alone. We have worked alongside UAW for years to get investments and policies in place to manufacture clean cars, EVs, and their components in the United States—with union labor. The leadership and members of the UAW are on the front lines of building that future and we welcome them to our partnership.”

What It Will Take to Build a Broad-Based Movement for a Just Transition: Environmental and labor organizers reflect on hard-won lessons

Images and words by David Bacon - Sierra, August 31, 2022

In 2020, Washington State passed the Climate Commitment Act, and when it went into effect on January 1, 2022, Rosalinda Guillen was appointed to its Environmental Justice Council. The appointment recognized her role as one of Washington's leading advocates for farmworkers and rural communities.

Guillen directs Community2Community Development, a women-led group encouraging farmworker cooperatives and defending labor rights. She has a long history as a farm labor organizer and in 2013 helped form a new independent union for farmworkers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Guillen agreed to serve on the council but with reservations. She feared that the law's implementation would be dominated by some of the state's most powerful industries: fossil fuels and agriculture. 

"Its market-based approach focuses too much on offsets,” she says. “Allowing polluting corporations to pay to continue to pollute is a backward step in achieving equity for rural people living in poverty for generations." Just as important to her, however, is that while the law provides funding for projects in pollution-impacted communities, it doesn't look at the needs of workers displaced by the changes that will occur as the production and use of fossil fuels is reduced.

The impact of that reduction won't affect just workers in oil refineries but farmworkers as well. "The ag industry is part of the problem, not just the fossil fuel industry," Guillen says. "They're tied together. Ag's monocrop system impacts the ecological balance through the use of pesticides, the pollution of rivers and clearing forests. As farmworkers, this law has everything to do with our miserable wages, our insecure jobs, and even how long we'll live. The average farmworker only lives to 49 years old, and displacement will make peoples' lives even shorter." 

The key to building working-class support for reducing carbon emissions, she believes, is a commitment from political leaders and the environmental and labor movements that working-class communities will not be made to pay for the transition to a carbon-free economy with job losses and increased poverty. But the difficulties in building that alliance and gaining such a commitment were evident in the defeat of an earlier Washington State initiative, and the fact that the Climate Commitment Act lacked the protections that initiative sought to put in place. 

In Washington State fields, at California oil refineries, and amid local campaigns around the country, this is the big strategic question in coalition building between the labor and environmental movements: Who will pay the cost of transitioning to a green economy? 

Some workers and unions see the danger of climate change as a remote problem, compared with the immediate loss of jobs and wages. Others believe that climate change is an urgent crisis and that government policy should protect jobs and wages as a transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy takes place. Many environmental justice groups also believe that working-class communities, especially communities of color, should not have to shoulder the cost of a crisis they did not create. And in the background, always, are efforts by industry to minimize the danger of climate change and avoid paying the cost of stopping it. 

Heat events put workers at risk

By Gabriela Calugay-Casuga - Rabble, July 25, 2022

As summers are getting hotter around the world, workers are at risk. After the UK hit record temperatures the week of July 19, Canada’s Atlantic provinces are now under a heat warning along with Southern Ontario and parts of Quebec, according to the public weather alerts from Environment Canada.

Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) put out a statement urging members to be prepared to work in the heat. 

“Summer is late this year. With a few exceptions across the country, where they have experienced brief periods of heat, the hot weather is overdue,” CUPW said in their statement. “However, we must not regard this situation as the norm and disregard the eventual heat waves that will inevitably occur in the weeks to come.”

Heat events have been devastating for some communities. In the 80s, Unifor lost a member to heat stress. Sari Sairanen, Unifor’s director of the Health, Safety and Environment Department, said that although it has been decades, tragedies such as this remain in the collective memory and impact how unions approach emergency preparedness plans amidst rising temperatures.

According to the website for the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), there is no legislation that lays out a maximum temperature that workers can be exposed to at work. They said that exposure limits are influenced not only by temperature but also by relative humidity, exposure to sun or other heat sources, amount of air movement, how physically demanding the work is, how acclimatized the worker is to their workload, what clothing is worn (including protective clothing) and the work-rest regimen. 

CUPW laid out some precautions that workers can take to keep safe in the hot weather. These precautions include taking all the breaks that workers are provided and slowing down to avoid overworking in the heat. 

Are Refinery Workers Climate Enemies? - Part 2

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, May 25, 2022

For context and background, see part one, here. Unlike the first installment, this second response has ommitted the comments that preciptated it, for the sake of clarity, as well as the fact that the author tried to echo the rebutted points in the response. It should be noted that only one individual has expressed outright opposition to showing solidarity with striking refinery workers. It's a foregone conclusion that the overwhelming majority of the IWW does not share this one individual's view.

First of all, let me be clear: my position is that humanity must collectively phase out burning fossil fuels for energy, transportation, and locomotion as rapidly as possible.

That said, nobody seriously believes we can collectively cease burning fossil fuels in a single day, so the likelihood is that the burning of them will continue for some time (I aim to make that as little time as possible).

Regardless of how long it takes, no oil refinery is going to simply shut down just because large masses of people, even 3.5% of the population demand it. It’s not even technically possible, let alone economically or politically possible. Most of the Environmental Justice and Climate Justice organizations (other than a few ultra-sectarian extremists) get this, and they’ve crafted their demands accordingly.

While there’s a degree of variation among the various organizing, most of them call for the following:

  1. No new extraction of new fossil fuel sources;
  2. Rapid phase out of existing fossil fuel sources;
  3. Managed decline of the existing fossil fuel supply chain;
  4. Just transition for any and all affected workers in the entire fossil fuel supply chain;
  5. Repurposing of equipment for non fossil fuel burning purposes;
  6. Bioremediation of damaged ecosystems across the extraction supply chain;
  7. Reparations for the affected communities and tribes.

Supporting refinery workers involved in a strike is not in any way contradictory to the above demands.

Chevron Threatens Our Air: Richmond Community Members and Striking Refinery Workers Speak Out Against Scab Labor and Flaring

By Marisol Cantú, Micheal Hayes, and staff - Richmond Progressive Alliance, May 16, 2022

Flaring at the Richmond Lubrications Oil Plant. April 14, 2-4 pm.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 workers have been on strike at Richmond's Chevron Refinery since March 21, 2022. Since then, workers and community members have carefully documented flaring events at the refinery, which is currently run by strikebreakers who do not have the necessary training to safely operate the equipment. Below are three important documents of this extremely unsafe situation: a) a letter addressed to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) by organizer Marisol Cantú, articulating the current risks to our surrounding community and demands of relevant inspection agencies; b) a photographic gallery of flaring events taken during the strike by workers and community observers; and c) a letter authored by a USW Local 5 refinery worker, describing the extensive training he and his colleagues receive that is necessary to keep the community safe (and that current employees operating the plant do not have).

Why Labor Leader Tefere Gebre Has Brought His Organizing Talents to Greenpeace

By Jessica Goodheart - Capital & Main, May 16, 2022

Tefere Gebre’s biography has touched on the major crises affecting the planet: the massive rise in refugees, skyrocketing economic inequality and climate change. The first of those cataclysms was thrust upon him when he was just a teenager. He fled the civil war in Ethiopia, enduring a perilous 2½ week journey through the desert. “Sometimes you’d find yourself where you were a week ago,” he told Orange Coast magazine in 2014. He spent five months in a refugee camp in Sudan before arriving in Los Angeles, where he attended high school.

As an adult, Gebre became active in the labor movement, organizing trash sorters in Anaheim and holding leadership positions at the Orange County Labor Federation and the AFL-CIO, where he served as executive vice president. In February, he took the position as chief program officer at Greenpeace USA, the 3 million-member direct action organization known for its high-profile banner drops, opposition to whale hunting and campaign against plastic waste.

Capital & Main spoke to Gebre two days before Greenpeace held its first-ever protest in solidarity with fossil fuel workers. Two boats with activists from Greenpeace USA and United Steel Workers Local 5 members formed a picket line from land into San Francisco Bay as an oil tanker headed to Chevron’s Richmond refinery in what Gebre described as “a genuine attempt to build a transformational relationship” with the striking workers. Nearly 500 refinery employees went on strike over safety and salary concerns in March. The two sides have yet to come to an agreement. The oil tanker crossed the picket line, according to sources at Greenpeace.

Good Jobs and a Just Transition into Hydrogen

By staff - IndustriALL Global Union, May 12, 2022

On 5 May, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), LO Norway and IndustriALL held a first workshop on hydrogen technology as part of the Just Transition and the Energy Sector initiative. The initiative provides a platform for unions around the world to exchange information on energy transition technologies and the jobs, skills, markets, investments, and emissions related to them.

There is no single industry that could replace the oil and gas industry, in terms of jobs and in terms of income. We must consider multiple different technologies when thinking about where jobs are going to transition to,”

said Kenneth Sandmo, Head of business and Industry Policy in the Norwegian Trade Union Confederation (LO Norway).

Putting it into perspective, Sandmo explained that Norway’s oil and gas industry employs more than 200,000 workers directly and indirectly. As the hydrogen sector is projected to create approximately 35,000 jobs in Norway, hydrogen technology shouldn’t be the only focus for trade unions.

Hydrogen technology is key for the long-term decarbonisation of energy intensive industries and sectors such as heavy transport. To get a better view of where jobs are and where they could be, the workshop looked at the value chains of oil and gas and hydrogen. Breaking both value chains down to production, processing, distribution, and end use (upstream, midstream, downstream) provided a clearer view of where the jobs are, and where there is a future for workers to transition in the hydrogen value chain.

The Chevron Strike Continues

By Shiva Mishek - Richmond Progressive Alliance, May 4, 2022

“To strike at a man's food and shelter is to strike at his life, and in a society organized on a tooth-and-nail basis, such an act, performed though it may be under the guise of generosity, is none the less menacing and terrible.”

—Jack London, The Scab, 1904

This week, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 enters its seventh week on strike at the Richmond Chevron refinery. Over 500 Chevron employees have been on strike since March 21, rejecting a contract that would codify a meager raise, unsafe working conditions, and Chevron’s so-called “standby” policy.

Chevron would also like to drastically reduce death benefits and pay for the Lubrications plant refinery workers, thereby creating a two-tier wage system and offering wages that do not keep pace with inflation (a reduction from an annual 3% wage increase to .6%).

Refinery operations have continued by employing strikebreakers. Advertisements placed by Chevron offer pay of $70 an hour for non-union workers lacking adequate refinery experience, with the explicit mention of possible work for up to 5 months. Meanwhile, inflation has soared across the United States, and refinery workers must also contend with the skyrocketing costs of basic needs.

Unsurprisingly, the high cost of gas prices in California has been somewhat attributed to the labor action. The day the strike began, the Guardian wrote, “But if the strike were to halt operations at the refinery, that could negatively affect fuel prices in California, which already has the highest gas prices in the US at $5.86 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association.” Meanwhile, Chevron just reported earnings of $6.3 billion for the first quarter (Q1) of 2022, compared with $1.4 billion in earnings during Q1 of 2021. 

It’s typical to see workers villainized when they go on strike—teachers are depriving students of needed support; nurses and doctors are leaving patients to die in their hospital beds. But it is Chevron, not the workers, that has put Richmond at risk for decades. 

Enviros Protect Steelworkers’ Backs

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

On April 29, activists from the environmental group Greenpeace USA and oil workers and Steelworkers Local 5 deployed a “boat picket” at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA composed of three Greenpeace boats floating in formation near the oil tanker delivery dock, with striking refinery workers, banners and picket signs on board.

According to Greenpeace Co-Executive Director Annie Leonard, “The boats intend to notify all incoming and outgoing tankers and tugs of their presence as a “picket line” and ask that they do not cross it by refusing to arrive at or leave the refinery’s dock.”

Why were Greenpeace boats and activists, famous for blocking whale hunts, supporting a strike by oil refinery workers? Annie Leonard explains:

Fossil fuel executives and their lobbyists have maintained their dominance by pretending to have the best interest of workers and communities at heart. But while they are raking in record profits (just this morning Chevron announced they brought in $6.3 billion in just the first quarter this year), they are holding out on fair pay and safe working conditions. That’s why we chose to show up for fossil fuel workers. The only way we can break these companies’ stranglehold on our wallets, our communities, and the planet is by standing together in the call for a livable future.

She adds,

Nearly 500 workers from Chevron’s Richmond refinery have been on strike for over a month as they demand a fair contract from Chevron’s greedy executives. Greenpeace believes that walking our walk in our commitment to a just economic future for all communities means that in the meantime, we must be dedicated to struggle alongside oil workers against the industry that is not giving them a fair shake. Today’s protest is the next step in displaying a powerful front of environmentalists and workers united against fossil fuel corporations. If we stand (or sometimes float) together, we can win.

Greenpeace activist Ben Smith tweeted from a floating picket boat, “We’re also out here to walk the walk. It’s past time for the workers movement and the environmental movement to build bonds of solidarity because our fates are bound up together.”

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