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Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)

The Green New Deal: From Below or from Above?

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.

California’s Oil Country Hopes Carbon Management Will Provide Jobs. It May Be Disappointed

By Emma Foehringer Merchant and Joshua Yeager - Inside Climate News, February 21, 2024

On a recent Tuesday evening, several oil workers in Kern County, California, spoke out in support of a project that they hope will create much-needed jobs.

“What I’m hoping to get out of this is hope for my grandson’s generation,” said Allen Miller, a third-generation oilman who came to work in the petroleum-rich region in 1984. “That they can provide for their family the way my grandpa did and the way I did.”

The audience applauded Miller’s comments during a crowded public meeting in Taft, a city of about 8,500, in the heart of the state’s oil country. 

The proposed project, known as Carbon TerraVault 1, would store millions of tons of planet-warming carbon a mile beneath the nearby Elk Hills Oil Field. Oil production in that field and others nearby has sustained the county’s economy for over a century. 

“This is our oil field,” said Manny Campos, a longtime Taft resident and businessman. “I’m glad to see we are being intentional about keeping it that way and keeping the benefits local.”

Some environmental advocates are skeptical of the carbon removal industry — and its ability to create a significant number of jobs — but California policymakers view carbon removal and storage as a necessary tool to manage greenhouse gas emissions. 

The fledgling technology is a key part of the state’s plan to fight climate change, which also includes phasing out oil drilling by 2045. The county and California Resources Corporation (CRC), the oil company hoping to build the TerraVault, see carbon management as a vital new revenue stream. Kern County stands to lose thousands of jobs and millions in tax dollars as drilling declines 

But carbon storage facilities themselves are not currently projected to generate large numbers of jobs, according to a report prepared for the county. Kern’s own analysis shows the initial phase of the TerraVault project will only produce five permanent positions.

The United Auto Workers Strike and Building Worker Power for a Just Transition

What Energy Companies Don't Want You To Know

OUT-POLLUTING PROGRESS: Carbon Emissions From Biden-Approved Fossil Fuel Projects Undermine CO2 Cuts From Inflation Reduction Act

By Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., et. al. - Center for Biological Diversity, November 2023

A report from the Center for Biological Diversity demonstrates what many of us have feared—that carbon emissions from Biden-approved fossil fuel projects will cancel out the expected CO2 reductions from the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Approving more fossil fuels not only torches our climate future, but it also harms people’s health, degrades ecosystems, and threatens wildlife,” writes Shaye Wolf, the lead author. “The potential carbon emissions from 17 massive fossil fuel projects approved by the Biden administration are larger than the projected emissions reductions from the IRA and other climate policies.”

Those 17 projects have the potential to release emissions totaling 1,642 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year, or the same as the annual emissions of 440 coal-fired power plants.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

UAW Strikers Have Scored a Historic, Transformative Victory

By Nelson Lichtenstein - Jacobin, November 1, 2023

The UAW’s victory in its forty-five-day strike against the Big Three Detroit automakers is historic and transformative, ending a forty-three-year era of concession bargaining and labor movement defeat that began with Chrysler’s near bankruptcy in 1979 and Ronald Reagan’s destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization two years later.

Not only did the union win substantial wage increases for all members in its tentative agreements (TAs) — at least 25 percent over the four-and-a-half-year contract — but the wage structure is radically progressive, eliminating the second- and third-class status endured by thousands of temps and second-tier workers. With the regularization of their employment status, these workers will enjoy extraordinary pay increases, in some cases upward of 150 percent.

And the union clawed back the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that had been eliminated during the 2008 financial crisis. COLA had been a standard feature of UAW contracts since 1948, when General Motors first proposed it to the union to blunt the effort, forcefully pushed by then UAW president Walter Reuther, to limit auto and steel industry price hikes either through collective bargaining or government regulation. The labor movement at the time was fighting to limit inflation but secure a healthy wage increase — benefitting working class and middle class alike, union and nonunion, by advancing a program that shifted income and wealth from capital to labor.

That ambition failed during the increasingly conservative postwar years, making COLA increasingly coveted, and not just among industrial workers. During the major 2022 strike of graduate students and other academic workers at the University of California, winning COLA became the key demand of the most radical and activist segment of the student workers. Among the unionized workers of the Big Three, the restoration of COLA will probably add a 7 or 8 percent wage boost to the nominal wages workers earn over the life of the contract. (UAW members still need to ratify the tentative agreements, which they’re expected to do so in the coming weeks given the strength of the deals.)

UAW president Shawn Fain and other progressives, in the unions and out, have correctly denounced the vast pay inequalities that have given corporate CEOs three or four hundred times more income than the bulk of those employed in the same firms. But that income gap has always had an abstract quality. Few workers ever meet a top executive. Far more important, and divisive, have been the petty inequalities within the working class itself. When the person doing the same work on the line or behind the counter is making two dollars more an hour, solidarity decays and resentment festers. That is why Shawn Fain’s campaign for the UAW presidency last year declared, “No corruption, no concessions, no tiers.”

Indeed, this strike victory, spearheaded by Fain and a new slate of union leaders, resembles the dynamic that launched onto the national stage other tribunes of the US working class, from Eugene V. Debs in 1894 and William Z. Foster in 1919 to Walter Reuther in 1946 and Cesar Chavez in the late 1960s, armed with a progressive message and a mobilized membership backing that up. The UAW strike flowed organically from the movement to democratize the union, a multigenerational effort that culminated in the successful push, led by an opposition caucus, United All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), to elect top union leaders by a referendum vote of the entire membership. This would curb the insularity, corruption, and self-perpetuating leadership of a UAW executive board long dominated by a machine known as the Administration Caucus.

UAW Settles With Big 3 U.S. Automakers, Hoping to Organize EV Battery Plants

By Dan Gearino and Aydali Campa - Inside Climate News, October 31, 2023

The shift to electric vehicles is looking better today for U.S. auto workers than it did before a strike against the three major Detroit automakers, thanks to agreements that expand the reach of the United Auto Workers to include battery manufacturing plants.

But the legacy of the strike—at least as it relates to EVs—will depend on the extent to which the United Auto Workers can use its gains from new contracts to build momentum in organizing nonunion plants, like those operated by Tesla, Honda and Toyota.

The union reached a tentative agreement with General Motors on Monday, which follows similar resolutions in recent days with Ford and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler. The UAW made several major gains, including provisions that will ease a path to unionization of workers at battery manufacturing plants, even if those plants are not wholly owned by the automakers.

The proposals, which end a strike that began on Sept. 15, still need to be ratified by members.

“We’ve said for months, ‘We refuse to allow the EV transition to become a race to the bottom,’” said UAW President Shawn Fain following the Ford agreement. “Corporate America is not going to force us to pick between good jobs and green jobs.”

EVs are only 8 percent of sales of new cars and light trucks in the United States, but their share is growing as manufacturers introduce waves of new models and as governments and consumers take steps to reduce carbon emissions. Transportation is the country’s leading source of emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Inflation Reduction Act has helped to supercharge investments in EV manufacturing. Much of the investment is at joint ventures between automakers and battery companies, and the UAW was seeking an opportunity to represent this fast-growing part of the automotive supply chain.

Building an Equitable, Diverse, & Unionized Clean Energy Economy: What We Can Learn from Apprenticeship Readiness

By Zach Cunningham, Melissa Shetler, et. al. - Cornell University, ILR School, Climate Jobs Institute, October 2023

With this report, the CJI addresses another core aspect of tackling the dual crises of climate change and inequality: ensuring that frontline, historically underserved communities have expansive, effective pathways into high-quality union clean energy careers. The Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act have brought increased attention to two important clean energy workforce questions. First, does the U.S. have enough trained workers to meet the demands of the clean energy economy? And second, how do we ensure that the clean energy workforce is diverse and inclusive? This report responds to both of these questions by showing that there are model programs across the U.S. that create pathways for underserved communities into apprenticeship readiness, union apprenticeship programs, and ultimately, good union careers. This study, as well as our many years of experience in the field, have taught us that there is no simple or easy solution to creating or scaling successful pathways.

These pathways exist in an ecosystem of essential and interdependent actors that must be focused on the common goal of building a diverse, equitable and unionized clean energy workforce. Key actors and components include: union-led climate coalitions advocating for bold, equitable climate action; policymakers implementing ambitious, jobs-led climate policy; strong labor and equity standards that ensure clean energy jobs are good union jobs; high-quality union apprenticeship programs that pay apprentices well and make sure that the clean energy workforce is highly-skilled and well-trained; trusting partnerships between labor unions, environmental justice organizations, community groups, employers, MWBE contractors, government, and academic institutions; and the focus of this report, high-quality apprenticeship readiness programs that provide participants with the support they need to successfully enter union apprenticeship.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

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