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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.

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.”

USW Striking Oil Workers And Supporters Speakout For Health And Safety At Tesoro Refinery

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 30, 2022

In an act of solidarity with Chevron workers fighting for a new labor contract as executives boast of a record-breaking quarter, Greenpeace USA campaigners joined United Steelworkers Local 5 union members on Friday to expand the picket line onto the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Nearly 500 workers from Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California have been on strike for more than a month in what USW Local 5 vice president B.K. White calls "a movement of working people rising up to challenge a corporation." 

Chevron announced Friday that its profits surged to $6.3 billion during the first three months of 2022—four times as much as the fossil fuel giant pulled in over the same period last year, as Common Dreams reported. That prompted fresh calls from progressives for a windfall tax to prevent further price gouging and war profiteering by Big Oil and underscored one of the reasons why workers are demanding better pay.

"What's the answer to corporate greed?" Greenpeace asked on social media. "Solidarity!"

Climate Youth Fill the World's Streets to #StandWithUkraine

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, March 3, 2022

"This is an eye-opening moment for humanity to see that the world is aflame with new and old wars caused by fossil fuels," said Fridays for Future. "People only desire to live and exist safely."

Young climate campaigners with Fridays for Future took to the streets across the globe Thursday to stand with the people of Ukraine—whose country was invaded last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin—and call for a world that prioritizes peace and freedom from fossil fuels for all.

As Ukrainian forces and civilians fought Russian invaders who have been accused of war crimes, members of the youth-led movement—who generally hold school strikes on Fridays, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg—carried signs that said #StandWithUkraine and #NoMoreWars.

Demonstrators also used the hashtags to share updates on social media.

Workers Say They Breathe Polluted Air at “Green” Insulation Facility

By Mindy Isser - In These Times - March 3, 2022

As the acceptance of climate change becomes increasingly commonplace, more and more companies will be created or adapted to ​“fight” or ​“solve” it — or, at the very least, minimize its effects. Kingspan Group, which began as an engineering and contracting business in 1965 in Ireland, has since grown into a global company with more than 15,000 employees focused on green insulation and other sustainable building materials. Its mission is to ​“accelerate a zero emissions future with the wellbeing of people and planet at its heart.” 

But workers at the Kingspan Light + Air factory in Santa Ana, Calif. don’t feel that the company has their wellbeing at its heart — and they say they have documented the indoor air pollution in their workplace to prove it. Differences between Kingspan’s mission and its true impact don’t stop there, workers charge: One of its products was used in the flammable cladding system on Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor public housing tower in London that went up in flames in June 2017, killing 72 people. Kingspan has been the target of protests in the United Kingdom and Ireland for its role in the disaster. Both Kingspan workers and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have called on the company to put public safety over profits.

Since the 1990s, union organizers say there have been multiple attempts from the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union to organize employees at Kingspan, but none were successful. The company says its North America branch employs ​“1,600 staff across 16 manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States and Canada.” Workers at the Santa Ana plant are tasked with welding, spray painting and assembling fiberglass to produce energy-efficient skylights. During the pandemic, when workers say Covid-19 swept through the facility, employees reached back out to SMART — not just because they wanted to form a union, but because they grew concerned about what they say is poor air quality in the facility. 

While SMART provided support for their campaign for clean air, the workers took control: In the summer of 2021, the Santa Ana workers came into work armed with monitors to measure indoor air pollution. Their goal was to measure airborne particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM 2.5). Such fine particulate matter constitutes a form of air pollution that is associated with health problems like respiratory and cardiovascular issues, along with increased mortality. The workers found that the average PM 2.5 concentration inside the facility was nearly seven times higher than outdoors. (To put that in perspective, wildfires usually result in a two- to four-fold increase in PM 2.5.) The majority of monitors found PM 2.5 levels that would rank between ​“unhealthy” and ​“very unhealthy” if measured outdoors, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards, the workers reported. 

Because this is the air workers were breathing in for 40 hours per week, in October 2021, they went public with both their campaign to form a union and their fight for a safe workplace — a campaign that continues to this day. 

Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan Group, Global Manufacturer of Building Materials

By Lauren Burke and Meredith Schafer - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 3, 2022

Santa Ana, Calif. — Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group, an Ireland-based global manufacturer of insulation and other building materials that markets its products as “green.” Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects.

“We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities,” reads the statement co-signed by the 45 organizations.

Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here

The groups are calling on the green building community to stop allowing Kingspan representatives to sponsor or speak at trade shows and conferences, and to discontinue offering continuing education courses taught by Kingspan until the Grenfell Inquiry is finished and changes are made to its Santa Ana factory. The statement points to whistleblower complaints by Kingspan workers on health, safety and stormwater pollution issues at its Santa Ana, CA factory filed in October 2021, as well as the revelations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry regarding its UK insulation business that came out in 2020-2021.

Read the CalEPA and CalOSHA complaints, and the Indoor Air Quality study

The 2020-21 testimony and evidence from the UK Government Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire revealed how Kingspan’s UK insulation division misrepresented and mis-marketed Kooltherm K15’s fire safety testing and certifications from 2006-2020. (Kooltherm K15 made up five percent of the insulation in the tower, which is why Kingspan is a core participant of the Inquiry.) The company began marketing K15 in the US in 2018, after the fire.

“Kingspan is not an appropriate source for continuing education courses or sponsorships of events for the green building community, including those that touch on fire safety.” Read about Kingspan and the Grenfell Inquiry here

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The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) engages workers and communities in building a transition to a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We work to foster deep relationships that help the labor movement engage in the climate movement and the climate movement understand the economics of climate change and the importance of organized labor as a key partner in confronting the climate crisis.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), AFL-CIO, is an international union whose affiliates represent sheet metal workers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as workers in transportation industries. Our members manufacture and install heating, ventilation, and air handling systems (HVAC), as well as architectural components such as metal roofing, facades, and other building envelope products.

LNS and 45 Environmental Groups Call on the Green Building Community to Stop Partnering with Kingspan

By Sydney Ghazarian - Labor Network for Sustainability - March 2022

Labor Network for Sustainability is proud to be among 45 climate and environmental justice groups calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan, an international building materials company that’s so-called ‘green’ manufacturing processes are polluting the indoor air and local watershed (learn more here).

We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities.Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here.

This effort is part of Clean up Kingspan, an inspirational campaign led by Kingspan factory workers in Santa Ana, CA who are holding the global manufacturing company accountable for health, safety, and pollution issues in their community and demanding a fair process to decide whether to unionize. In collaboration with UC Irvine pollution scientist Dr. Shahir Masri, these workers measured unhealthy levels of PM2.5 pollution inside their workplace.They also blew the whistle on Kingspan for misrepresenting its daily operations and water pollution clean-up efforts to the CalEPA.

What this campaign makes clear is that the struggle we face isn’t ‘jobs vs. the environment;’ it’s corporate greed vs. everyone else. LNS is proud to stand with workers, community activists, faith leaders, & environmentalists in this campaign for true economic and environmental justice. It’s time for the green building community to stand with us too.

Join us in calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan: https://cleanupkingspan.org/take-action/

COP26 Report Back: Climate Justice Activists Speak Out

‘It’s virtually impossible’: Transition to renewables at risk as oil and gas workers struggle to access green jobs

By Daisy Dunne - The Independent., June 22, 2021

The UK’s transition away from fossil fuels to renewable power could be put at risk by barriers facing oil and gas workers looking to move into green jobs, campaigners say.

A survey of 600 offshore workers found that those looking to move from the fossil fuel industry into green jobs in renewable power currently face costly training fees, discouraging them from making the transition.

Workers responding to the poll said they are routinely forced to pay out thousands of pounds of their own cash for training courses when moving between one employer and another in the offshore sector, some of which they have already paid to take part in for their current positions.

One 42-year-old who has worked in the oil and gas sector for 20 years said the cost of training could be putting workers off trying to move into green jobs.

“People really need help to make the transition because it’s just virtually impossible to do it yourself with the way things are at the moment,” he told The Independent. None of the oil and gas workers interviewed wanted to provide their names, for fear of losing work.

He added he was hoping to see more opportunities in renewable power as the country transitions away from using fossil fuels.

“For me, it’s about moving forward in my career and about moving forward for the environment at the same time. I’ve got two young children and I can see the changes that are happening to the climate, it’s obvious to me.”

One 43-year-old who has worked in the sector for 24 years said that he would “love” to see more opportunities in renewable energy.

“I was one of the people living in a bubble thinking ‘that might not be quite right’ when it came to climate change. But it’s really my kids that brought it home to me,” he told The Independent.

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