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Bay Area Transit Unions Join Forces to Win Safety Protections and Beat Back Layoffs

By Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, January 12, 2021

Transit workers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Last year at least 100 from the Amalgamated Transit Union and 131 from the Transport Workers lost their lives to Covid-19.

Before Covid, transit unions in the Bay Area—six ATU locals, and one local each of TWU and the Teamsters—often faced their individual struggles in isolation. But during the pandemic, these locals united across the region and came together with riders to demand protections for all.

That unity forced reluctant politicians to make Covid safety a priority. It also set the stage for the unions and riders to team up again to stave off layoffs. And there are more fights ahead.

PUBLIC TRANSIT STARVED

More than two dozen public transit agencies serve the Bay Area. They include MUNI in San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit, AC Transit in Oakland, Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, and Golden Gate Transit, which links San Francisco with counties to the north.

As a public service, transit depends on government funding. Yet federal support for operations—keeping the buses and trains running—was eliminated in 1998. Since then, federal funding has been restricted to capital projects, like buying buses or building light rail.

This austerity led many transit systems to cut service and raise fares. With each new round of cuts, union jobs were eliminated and vacancies left unfilled. A “death spiral” set in: cuts and fare hikes drove riders away; fewer riders meant less revenue.

With the onset of the pandemic, transit ridership plummeted, most dramatically on commuter systems that carry white-collar workers to downtown offices. But local service became more important than ever. Today over a third of transit riders are essential workers.

In March, the CARES Act earmarked $25 billion for emergency transit funding. Departing from past federal policy, this funding was eligible for operating expenses to keep workers on the payroll.

A new regional coalition called Voices for Public Transportation had been taking shape in 2019, bringing together unions and riders to push for more transit funding. When the pandemic hit, this coalition turned its attention to the urgent organizing for safety measures, and participation continued to grow.

Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia and Clean Energy Transition Programs for Pennsylvania: Job Creation, Economic Recovery, and Long-Term Sustainability

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in Pennsylvania, as with most everywhere else in the United States. The pandemic is likely moving into its latter phases, due to the development of multiple vaccines that have demon-strated their effectiveness. Nevertheless, as of this writing in mid-January 2021, infections and deaths from COVID are escalating, both within Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S. Correspondingly, the economic slump resulting from the pandemic continues.

This study proposes a recovery program for Pennsylvania that is capable of exerting an effective counterforce against the state’s ongoing recession in the short run while also build-ing a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term recovery. Even under current pandemic conditions, we cannot forget that we have truly limited time to take decisive action around climate change. As we show, a robust climate stabilization project for Pennsylvania will also serve as a major engine of economic recovery and expanding opportunities throughout the state.

Read the text (PDF).

Employment Aspects of the Transition from Fossil Fuels in Australia

By Jim Stanford - Centre for Future Work, December 16, 2020

Climate change poses a fundamental threat to the well-being and security of people everywhere. And Australia is on the front lines of the challenge. We have already experienced some of the fastest and most intense consequences of climate change, in many forms: extreme heat, droughts, floods, extreme weather and catastrophic bushfires (as in 2019-20). Climate change is no longer an abstract or hypothetical worry. It is a clear and present danger, and we are already paying for it: with more frequent disasters, soaring insurance premiums, and measurable health costs.

The problem of climate change is global; emissions and pollution do not respect national borders. But to address the global threat, every country must play its part. And Australia has a special responsibility to act, and quickly, for several reasons:

  • We are suffering huge costs because of climate change.
    We are a rich country, that can afford to invest in stabilising the climate.
  • We are one of the worst greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters in the world.
  • In fact, as shown in Figure 1, Australia has the highest GHG emissions per capita of any of the 36 industrial countries in the

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Our emissions – around 22 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for every Australian – are almost twice as high as the OECD average. We emit 4 times per person more than the average Swede.

Worse yet, Australia has been very slow in addressing climate change with effective and consistent policies. Climate policy has become a political wedge issue, subject to reversals and changes in direction depending on the fleeting political imperatives of the day. After a temporary decline (largely sparked by a short-lived national carbon tax, which was then abolished in 2014), Australia’s total emissions have increased again in recent years (see Figure 2). Under existing policies, emissions are projected to stay at or above current levels over the coming decade.

Read the text (PDF).

Closure of Australia’s Hazelwood coal-fired station: a case study 3 years after

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 9, 2020

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017-2020  is a Working Paper published in November by the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, in Australia . Although the paper is a detailed case study, the findings are summarized by the authors thus: “Prior to its sudden closure in March 2017, Hazelwood was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. The debate over the future of Hazelwood became an icon in the nation’s ongoing political struggle over climate and energy policy. Employment and economic outcomes in the three years since closure indicate promising initial progress in creating the foundations required to facilitate an equitable transition to a more prosperous and sustainable regional economy. The Hazelwood case study provides support for a number of propositions about successful regional energy transition including that well managed, just transitions to a prosperous zero-carbon economy are likely to be strengthened by proactive, well integrated industry policy and regional renewal strategies; respectful and inclusive engagement with workers and communities; and adequately funded, well-coordinated public investment in economic and community strategies, tailored to regional strengths and informed by local experience.”

Corresponding author John Wiseman, along with co-author Frank Jotzo, previously wrote Coal transition in Australia: an overview of issues ( 2018). Jotzo was also a co-author on Closures of coal-fired power stations in Australia: local unemployment effects (2018). Their latest 2020 Working paper offers a thorough list of references to Australia’s Just Transition literature.

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 8, 2020

The climate plan released by Joe Biden in August presents a wide-ranging program for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The previous commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: What it Proposes–Part 1” summarizes that plan. This commentary identifies the points of conflict on climate policy and related social policies that are likely to emerge within a Biden administration. It concludes by assessing how advocates of a Green New Deal can take advantage of the Biden program to fight for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just outcome. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

Read the text (Link).

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 1: What It Proposes

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 1, 2020

This commentary by Jeremy Brecher analyzes Joe Biden’s “Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice” released in August. The following commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle,” will consider the struggles that are likely to emerge over what parts of the plan can and should be implemented. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

A Just Transition for Labor: What Will it Take?

By Carol Zabin, Shrayas Jatkar, and Mark Kyle - The Climate Center, November 19, 2020

The science is clear on climate change: we must rapidly phase out fossils fuels. But tens of thousands of workers have jobs in fossil fuel and related industries. How do we secure a just transition that guarantees good jobs with benefits for these workers in the new clean energy economy? Carol Zabin (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) is a labor economist who recently completed a comprehensive report for the California legislature called Putting California on the High Road to answer that question. We also heard from Shrayas Jatkar, a Policy Specialist at the California Workforce Development Board, the state agency charged with implementing the report’s findings, and labor attorney Mark Kyle.

Please read the executive summary of Zabin’s report and The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California platform before joining this deep-dive discussion and bring your questions.

Ørsted and U.S. Building Trades reach a national agreement for workforce planning in Offshore Wind

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 19, 2020

A November 18  press release from the North America Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Ørsted Offshore North America  announces a “Landmark MOU for U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Transition” , which “represents a transformative moment for organized labor and the clean energy industry. This framework sets a model for labor-management cooperation and workforce development in the budding offshore wind industry.”

According to the NABTU  press release, “The partnership will create a national agreement designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the 14 U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.”    The newly-announced MOU is based on the model of an agreement developed by the Rhode Island Building Trades for the Block Island Wind Farm project – the first offshore wind installation in the U.S. which came online in December 2016, and is now operated by Ørsted .

No text of the new agreement is available yet, but the press release specifies:

“As part of this national framework, Ørsted, along with their partners, will work together with the building trades’ unions to identify the skills necessary to accelerate an offshore wind construction workforce. The groups will match those needs against the available workforce, timelines, scopes of work, and certification requirements to fulfill Ørsted’s pipeline of projects down the East Coast, creating expansive job opportunities in a brand-new American industry for years to come and raising economics for a just transition in the renewable sector…..Ørsted and NABTU, along with their affiliates and state and local councils, have agreed to work together on long-term strategic plans for the balanced and sustainable development of Ørsted’s offshore wind projects.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Ørsted Sign Landmark MOU for U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Transition

By Lauren Burm - Ørsted Offshore North America and Betsy Barrett - North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), November 18, 2020

Ørsted, the global leader in offshore wind development, announced today a landmark initiative with North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), the labor organization representing more than 3 million skilled craft professionals. The partnership will create a national agreement designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the 14 U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.

Ørsted’s agreement with NABTU represents a transformative moment for organized labor and the clean energy industry. This framework sets a model for labor-management cooperation and workforce development in the budding offshore wind industry. There are currently 15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development in the U.S. According to a report released by the American Wind Energy Association, if fully built, these leases would support up to 30 GW of offshore wind capacity – representing an estimated 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output within the next decade.

“Today’s agreement expands career pathways of opportunities for our members to flourish in this transition,” said Sean McGarvey, President of NABTU. “Our highly trained men and women professionals have the best craft skills in the world, and now will gain new experience in deep-water ocean work. Our agreement is based on a successful model developed by the Rhode Island Building Trades for the Block Island Wind Farm project. We commend Ørsted for coming to the table to work in partnership with us and our membership, and we also thank AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler for her help and support throughout the process.”

Ørsted has the largest footprint of any offshore wind developer operating in U.S. waters, having been awarded 2.9GW of power contracts up and down the Eastern seaboard from Rhode Island to Maryland. This announcement underscores the company’s desire to solidify offshore wind’s position as an incubator for union green-collar job creation and innovation.

“Ørsted believes the best workers are always the best-trained workers, and we are proud to have earned a strong record of working with skilled union labor to build the country’s first offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm, where more than 300 union workers were employed,” said David Hardy, CEO of Ørsted Offshore North America. “We appreciate NABTU’s cooperation and the collaborative approach our union partners have brought to this endeavor and look forward to learning from and working with them on this groundbreaking partnership.”

As part of this national framework, Ørsted, along with their partners, will work together with the building trades’ unions to identify the skills necessary to accelerate an offshore wind construction workforce. The groups will match those needs against the available workforce, timelines, scopes of work, and certification requirements to fulfill Ørsted’s pipeline of projects down the East Coast, creating expansive job opportunities in a brand-new American industry for years to come and raising economics for a just transition in the renewable sector.

Ørsted and NABTU, along with their affiliates and state and local councils, have agreed to work together on long-term strategic plans for the balanced and sustainable development of Ørsted’s offshore wind projects. This planning effort will help ensure that site and state-specific programming will be ready when federal permits are obtained, and construction begins.

These are the green jobs of the future, and this framework demonstrates that just transition can be accomplished through prioritization of workforce training and middle-class labor standards with family-sustaining wages, healthcare benefits, and pension security. Ørsted remains fully committed to coordinating with local unions and NABTU councils to create a consistent workforce pipeline and cohesive network to lead an effective just transition into the vast and complex nature of offshore wind development in the United States.

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