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Invest in Transit Equity, Invest in Transit Workers

By Julie Chinitz, et. al - Alliance for a Just Society, the Labor Network for Sustainability, and TransitCenter, February 2022

On Transit Equity Day 2022, Transit Riders and Workers Join Together to Call for Prioritizing Workforce Investments

A new report by the Alliance for a Just Society, the Labor Network for Sustainability, and TransitCenter shows how inadequate investments in our public transit workforce have resulted in service cuts in cities, towns, and states across the country. Investments in the public transit workforce are urgently needed to boost economic opportunity and racial equity in our communities.

The report, released on Transit Equity Day, February 4, 2022, notes how inadequate investments in job quality, the aging transit workforce, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced transit staffing levels, and left many public transit systems unable to meet the needs of the communities they serve. That’s a problem for the millions of people in cities and rural communities across the country who rely on public transit every day.

The report also includes recommendations to help rebuild a strong transit workforce in communities across the country. The report emphasizes that the starting point to addressing any workforce problem is to engage in a dialogue with transit employees themselves, through their democratically elected union representatives, as well as riders and other community stakeholders. Operators, maintenance employees, and other transit workers know better than anyone how to improve job quality in order to hire and retain a skilled, stable and professional transit workforce. Labor-management negotiations can forge the most appropriate policy solutions to providing safe and healthy environments for transit workers; improving their working conditions; expanding access to good transit jobs; and ensuring workers have the skills and training needed to adapt to modernization efforts like electrification.

Read the full report below, including detailed recommendations for building a stable, skilled, and experienced public transit workforce.

About the Alliance for a Just Society

The Alliance for a Just Society’s National Campaign for Transit Justice is working to ensure just transit drives the future of the economy. Started in response to the emergency faced by public transit systems around the country during the pandemic, we mobilize riders, transit workers, small businesses, and transit agencies to #SaveTransit. Learn more at allianceforajustsociety.org

About Labor Network for Sustainability

Founded in 2009, the Labor Network for Sustainability sets out to be a relentless force for urgent, science-based climate action by building a powerful labor-climate movement to secure an ecologically sustainable and economically just future where everyone can make a living on a living planet. Since 2018, LNS has convened the Transit Equity Network joining together transit riders, workers, environmental and environmental and climate justice organizations to host actions on Feb. 4, Transit Equity Day, recognizing public transit as a civil rights, workers’ rights and climate justice issue. Learn more at www.labor4sustainability.org. Learn more about Transit Equity Day.

About TransitCenter

TransitCenter is an applied research and advocacy foundation dedicated to improving transit in major US cities. Learn more at transitcenter.org.

Read the text (PDF).

A Green New Deal for Transportation: Establishing New Federal Investment Priorities to Build Just and Sustainable Communities

By Yonah Freemark, Billy Fleming, Caitlin McCoy, Rennie Meyers, Thea Riofrancos, Xan Lillehei, and Daniel Aldana Cohen - Climate and Community Project, February 2022

The transportation system is the connective tissue that transforms pockets of communities into a networked society. It links home, school, work, and play. It drives economic growth, social mobility, and employment opportunities. 

The transportation sector currently emits more carbon pollution than any other sector in the US economy. The automobiles we drive, the trucks, trains, and ships that deliver our goods, the airline flights we take, and other transportation activities account for about 28 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. The passage of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is replete with new funding for state and local highway expansion, and seems likely to further exacerbate the sector’s emissions. More than 120 years after electric vehicles briefly achieved popularity in the 1900s, petroleum products still power over 91 percent of today’s transportation system. Americans collectively drive more than three trillion vehicle miles per year, most of those as a single driver in an automobile. Life in the United States is organized around personal automobiles powered by petroleum. For a Green New Deal in transportation to be possible, that has to change. A climate-safe future requires a swift and just decarbonization of the transportation sector, a major expansion of public and active transportation, and the parallel decarbonization of the electricity sector.

Transportation often exacerbates social inequity and racial injustice within and between communities. Its infrastructure speeds the movement of those who are better off, to the detriment of those who are most in need. In far too many communities, governments, planners, and engineers prioritize vehicles over people and efficiency in travel time at the cost of quality of life. Choices made by elected officials and transportation agencies about how funds are allocated at the federal, state, and local levels have played a major role in reinforcing these outcomes over the past century.

In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – the centerpiece of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. It provides substantial new funds for intra-city public transit, intercity passenger rail, and new electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It also includes $7.5 billion in new discretionary funding for innovative transit projects in the RAISE program (formerly BUILD and TIGER), along with new incentives for roadway repair and maintenance. However, the bill also allocates $350 billion towards new road and highway projects that will be administered by state and local departments of transportation. Much of this funding is likely to be spent on highway expansion projects. In short, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is poised to invest in a small number of innovative, low-carbon public transit projects alongside a massive new investment in roads and highways – locking in higher emissions for the sector than those that predated the bill. In other words, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could invest dramatically more on highway expansion than on innovative, low-carbon public transit projects. That dynamic has to change.

In this report, we propose a series of critical opportunities for new transportation-related policies to improve equal access, mobility, and opportunity in our transportation system, reduce emissions, support global climate cooperation, and develop long-lasting infrastructure and workforce development strategies on a changing planet. We argue for a move away from past policies that encouraged the release of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants while furthering social inequity. Crucially, this report aims to shift the conversation surrounding the transportation sector and decarbonization from focusing exclusively on electric vehicles and high-speed rail to addressing the many disparate parts of America’s transportation system. This includes a focus on intra- and intercity rail in addition to high-speed rail; an approach to electric vehicles that pairs supply-side policies (e.g. manufacturing tax credits) with a more progressive demand-side approach that benefits low and middle-income households with few public transit options instead of wealthy, coastal city residents who tend to purchase high-end luxury electric vehicles (e.g. Tesla).

Instead, the transportation system should be viewed as a strategic lever for investing in good-paying low-carbon jobs, justice, and a decarbonized economy. We build on the important progress Congress members have made through their introduction of bills such as the Moving Forward Act to identify a series of policies that would further that ambition.

Read the text (PDF).

As the Biden Administration Eyes Wind Leases Off California’s Coast, the Port of Humboldt Sees Opportunity

By Emma Foehringer Merchant - Inside Climate News, January 5, 2022

The administration wants to sell its first lease in 2022, and a new bill in California requires a plan. Some in Humboldt have been waiting years for this moment to arrive.

In the early 20th century, the U.S. Census Bureau declared Humboldt County, California—now famous for its redwoods—the “principal center” of the state’s lumber industry. In 1900, the product accounted for nearly 60 percent of the region’s exports. 

But now, though lumber yards and wood suppliers still line Humboldt Bay, the industry is a shadow of its former self. 

“You look at old photographs of Humboldt Bay from back then and there’s mills everywhere, pulp mills and ships and docks,” said Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. “As that retracted there’s a lot of available land and waterfront …. So, there’s a big opportunity.”

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA)—a power organization formed by the County of Humboldt and Northern Californian cities such as Trinidad and Eureka—has been working for years to prepare for that opportunity. In 2018, RCEA submitted an unsolicited application to the U.S. Department of the Interior in hopes of building wind energy in waters just west of Humboldt Bay. 

A Green New Deal for all: The centrality of a worker and community-led just transition in the US

By J. Mijin Cha, Dimitris Stevis, Todd E. Vachon, Vivian Price, and Maria Brescia-Weiler - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2022

This paper argues that labour and community-led advocacy efforts towards a just transition are fundamental to delivering the promises of a Green New Deal (GND) and a just post-carbon world. To this end, an ambitious, far-reaching project was launched by the Labor Network for Sustainability, a non-governmental organization dedicated to bridging the labor and climate movements, in Spring 2020 called the “Just Transition Listening Project’’ (JTLP).

Over the course of several months, the JTLP interviewed over 100 individuals, including rank-and-file union members, union officials, environmental and climate justice advocates, and Indigenous and community advocates to understand what makes transition “just,” what opportunities exist for a broad coalition to advance a GND-style proposal, and to document the struggles facing working people and communities across the U.S. In doing so, we utilize the tools of political geography to examine the politics of spatiality, networks, and scale as well as the geographical and spatial dimensions of policy and political-economic institutions. We are particularly mindful of two spatial dynamics.

First, that transition policies, particularly in a hegemonic country like the USA, have global implications. The industrial transition that took place from the 1970s to the 1990s, for example, bred nativism because it cast other countries as the cause of the problem.

Second, critical geographers have pointed out that environmental justice (EJ) has been neoliberalized in the U.S. as a result of its operationalization, spatialization, and administration, starting with the Clinton Administration. Because JT is rising on the national and global agendas, we pay close attention to whether these dynamics that affected EJ are also operating with respect to JT, as well as how they can be contained.

This research is particularly timely given the ongoing federal governmental efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and provide basic economic and social supports. The process of the JTLP parallels the goals of the GND–intersectional efforts rooted in community knowledge for the development of a people-led GND. This paper details the process of the JTLP and the prospects for intersectional, broad-based movements that are the only way a GND can be realized.

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Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

COP26 to CON26: how we need to be at DEFCON level 1 to save our people and planet

By Dave Sherry - Scottish Left Review, January 2022

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate was written and published by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) to coincide with COP26. It is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and lays out the type and scale of the transition needed to match it. It is essential reading for every trade unionist and climate activist.

It provides a detailed, in-depth update of the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014), showing that there are many more than a million, well paid, skilled jobs that could be created if we get serious and urgently tackle the climate emergency. Packed with ideas, examples, and accompanying technical resources, it outlines the type of workforce needed and argues that to deliver it we need to break from the failed reliance on the market and instead invest in a huge expansion of public sector jobs across all sectors – from transport, energy and food to homes, education and more.

The pamphlet argues this will require a National Climate Service, which can organise, plan and train workers as well as deliver the jobs so urgently needed, amounting to a radical transformation which will improve our lives, ensuring among other things we have warm, affordable homes, a fully integrated public transport system and most importantly a safe climate and ecology now and in the future.

World leaders, NGOs, pressure groups and corporates jetted into Glasgow for COP26. Like previous summits, it saw major corporations vie with each other in the dark arts of greenwashing, having paid millions to sponsor the event itself. COP1 met in Berlin in 1995. Since then, the process has seen a quarter-century of failure with the environmental crisis becoming rapidly and terrifyingly worse.

Failure has much to do with the fact that the COP process has never been short of corporate influence. Glasgow had 11 major sponsors, including the energy giants Hitachi, National Grid, Scottish Power and SSE. Other sponsors included Microsoft, Sky media and NatWest. Boris Johnson, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Barack Obama and India’s Narendra Modi arrived in town with the world’s media touting Glasgow as the ‘last chance saloon’. But Glasgow proved to be CON26. In the run-up activists around the world were already claiming it would be the most elitist, least democratic COP ever, with the politicians of the rich countries dominating the agenda and excluding representatives of the people bearing the brunt of the crisis. And, so it proved.

Now that the circus has left town every day that passes rams home its failure and the growing existential threat we face. 2021 was a year of unprecedented climate crisis marked by terrifying floods, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts. Tipping points, like the collapse of the Gulf Stream and the Greenland ice sheet, are in danger of being crossed. Meanwhile, the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, making it a source of, rather than a sink for, greenhouse gas emissions.

The crisis is spiralling out of control because capitalism’s inherent inequalities of class, race and gender block any prospect of climate justice. Estimates of who’ll be displaced by climate change vary dramatically. The most cited figure is that by 2050 there will be 200m climate refugees fleeing harvest failures, droughts and floods. No wonder the UN Climate Report flashed up Code Red for humanity, warning that the worst scenarios can only be avoided by immediate government action.

Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island

By Lara Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Avalon Hoek Spaans, Hunter Moskowitz, and Anita Raman - The Worker Institute and The ILR School, January 2022

A new report released today by climate and labor experts at Cornell University in collaboration with the Climate Jobs Rhode Island Coalition outlines a comprehensive climate jobs action plan to put Rhode Island on the path to building an equitable and resilient clean-energy economy.

The report lays out a series of wide-ranging policy recommendations to transition the Ocean State’s building, school, energy, transportation, and adaptation sectors to renewable energy with the strongest labor and equity standards. Core provisions of the plan include decarbonizing the state’s K-12 public school buildings, installing 900 MW of solar energy statewide, 1,300 MW of offshore wind energy, and modernizing the state’s electrical grid by 2030. 

“Rhode Island is in a unique position as a state, in 2019 it had the lowest energy consumption per capita across all the United States. Rhode Island can use climate change as an opportunity to eliminate carbon emissions, increase equity, and create high-quality jobs that support working families and frontline communities,” says Avalon Hoek Spaans, Research and Policy Development Extension Associate for the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

The Worker Institute’s Labor Leading on Climate Initiative in partnership with the Climate Jobs National Resource Center, and Climate Jobs Rhode Island, began a comprehensive research, educational, and policy process in early 2021 to develop an implementation framework to drastically reduce emissions in the state while creating high-quality union family sustaining jobs.

Over the past year, the Labor Leading on Climate team has conducted outreach to numerous leaders of the labor and environmental movements as well as policymakers and experts in the climate, energy, and labor fields to better understand the challenges and opportunities that climate change and climate mitigation and adaptation presents to Rhode Island workers and unions.

“With Rhode Island on the frontlines of the climate crisis, it will take bold, ambitious action to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution to the levels that science demands. Fortunately, tackling climate change is also an opportunity to address the other crises Rhode Island is facing: inequality and pandemic recovery,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

“As a small state with one of the lowest emissions in the country, Rhode Island can be innovative and efficient, employing cutting-edge approaches to reverse climate change and inequality. Rhode Island has the potential to be the first state in the country to fully decarbonize and build out a net zero economy with high-quality union jobs. This would make Rhode Island's economy stronger, fairer, and more inclusive,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

Read the text (PDF).

Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 9, 2021

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector. Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022 is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old. The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years. The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region. The top level finding: 69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”. These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November. It reports that drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

Climate Ventures Conversations: Bruce Wilson from Iron & Earth

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