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LNS Supports Workers’ Demand to Build Green Locomotives

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 30, 2023

1400 workers in Erie, PA have been out on strike since June, demanding that their employer, Wabtec, start producing green locomotives. In a statement of solidarity, the Labor Network for Sustainability said:

The unions were denied their basic rights to strike over grievances, and most importantly, over the company’s refusal to move forward with worker-supported, environmentally necessary green locomotive production.

 This strike may well represent the first instance ever of unionized workers striking to force their employers to make products to protect the climate. That’s historic. 

 The Labor Network for Sustainability supports the United Electrical Workers in their fight to manufacture more sustainable transportation. Their decision to strike represents their decision to prolong life on our planet by making lower emission locomotives to carry freight across this great country. Their decision also upholds the livelihood of many communities that these railroads run through that face negative effects from the current engines.

 The railroad industry is still behind with making the necessary steps in maximizing their efficiency with their right-of-way, including: electrifying the last-mile of their urban rail yards, sharing their tracks with electrified inter and intracity transit, and upgrading their locomotives to non-pollutant green locomotives, ones touted by the UE workers in Erie.

Employment Creation through Green Locomotive Manufacturing at Wabtec’s Erie, Pennsylvania Facility

By Alex Press - Jacobin, June 24, 2023

On the evening of June 22, members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) crowded into Iroquois High School to vote on whether they would accept what their boss was offering them. They are employed by Wabtec (an abbreviation of Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation), at a four-million-square-foot locomotive manufacturing plant in Lawrence Park, on the east side of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Lawrence Park was built by General Electric (GE), which ran the plant for more than a century before the company spun off its $4-billion-a-year transportation arm in 2019, transferring ownership to Wabtec. The area still feels like a company town: the roughly four thousand residents are tied to the plant in countless ways, and UE signs dot Lawrence Park’s Main Street, affixed to telephone poles and stuck in front lawns.

At Iroquois High, the members of UE Local 506 and Local 618 (the latter consists of the plant’s clerical employees whose jobs have not been eliminated by automation, now numbering in the single digits) were voting on Wabtec’s last, best, and final offer for a new four-year contract. They struck for nine days to win that first contract in 2019, defeating some of Wabtec’s most egregious proposals but giving up certain provisions they had enjoyed under GE, some of which they hoped to win back during the current negotiations. The company’s 1,400 workers have now been without a contract since June 10, when that first contract expired.

Months of bargaining failed to produce a tentative agreement, and the company’s actions only increased the workers’ frustration. Hours before the contract expired, Wabtec informed Local 506 president Scott Slawson that it was considering permanently subcontracting out 275 union jobs, which members read as a threat. That interpretation was only confirmed when the company then told Slawson on June 20 that it would rescind that move should the workers accept the offer.

UE Locals 506 and 618 Strike Wabtec Locomotive Plant, Demanding Green Jobs

By Scott Slawson - United Electrical Workers, June 22, 2023

After rejecting the company’s last, best and final offer today, the 1400 members of UE Locals 506 and 618 are on strike at Wabtec’s locomotive plant in Lawrence Park.

“Building green locomotives is essential to the future of our country, and will benefit the local economy here in Erie,” said UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “Unfortunately, Wabtec’s unwillingness to work with us to resolve problems, either through the grievance process or through contract negotiations, is a major impediment to that bright future.”

Slawson also denounced the company’s announcement during bargaining that they are considering moving at least 275 jobs out of the plant.

“While the union is working hard to bring new work into the plant and new jobs to Erie through our Green Locomotive Project, the company is refusing to work with us on this project, and is instead holding the community of Erie hostage with the threat of moving work,” Slawson said. “We will not give in to their blackmail.”

A recent report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that the production of green locomotives at the Erie plant could bring thousands of new, high-quality jobs to northwest Pennsylvania, an area that has been especially hard-hit by de-industrialization. During contract negotiations, the union has proposed language that would guarantee that green locomotive work be done in Erie.

In addition to the green locomotive proposal, the union has proposed returning to the dispute resolution process used for over eight decades prior to the plant’s sale to Wabtec in 2019. Under that process, workers had the right to strike after exhausting the grievance procedure, which gave the company an incentive to settle disputes at the lowest possible level. Since the union’s first contract with Wabtec went into effect in June 2019, the number of grievances reaching the final stage of the grievance procedure has increased tenfold.

Steel built the Rust Belt. Green steel could help rebuild it

By Katie Myers - Grist, May 11, 2023

In the Mon Valley of western Pennsylvania, steel was once a way of life, one synonymous with the image of rural, working-class Rust Belt communities. At its height in 1910, Pittsburgh alone produced 25 million tons of it, or 60 percent of the nation’s total. Bustling mills linger along the Monongahela River and around Pittsburgh, but employment has been steadily winding down for decades.

Though President Trump promised a return to the idealized vision of American steelmaking that Bruce Springsteen might sing about, the industry has changed since its initial slump four decades ago. Jobs declined 49 percent between 1990 and 2021, when increased efficiency saw the sector operating at its highest capacity in 14 years. Despite ongoing supply chain hiccups and inflation, demand continues growing globally, particularly in Asia. But even as demand for this essential material climbs, so too does the pressure to decarbonize its production.

Earlier this month, the progressive Ohio River Valley Institute released a study that found a carefully planned transition to “green” steel — manufactured using hydrogen generated with renewable energy — could be a climatic and economic boon. It argues that as countries work toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, a green steel boom in western Pennsylvania could help the U.S. meet that goal, make its steel industry competitive again, and employ a well-paid industrial workforce.

“A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27 percent to 43 percent by 2031, forestalling projected job losses,” the study noted. “Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30 percent in the same period.”

Green Steel in the Ohio River Valley: The Timing is Right for the Rebirth of a Clean, Green Steel Industry

By Jacqueline Ebner, Ph.D., Kathy Hipple, Nick Messenger, and Irina Spector, MBA - Bob Muehlenkamp, April 17, 2023

For more than a century, steel has played an important role in the economy and culture of the Ohio River Valley. But the traditional method of making steel, known as BF-BOF (blast furnace-blast oxygen furnace), requires lots of energy and produces lots of climate-warming emissions. The iron and steel sector is currently responsible for about 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Shifting to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost jobs, and grow the region’s economy. Fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF (direct reduced iron-electric arc furnace) steelmaking uses green hydrogen—created with wind and solar energy—to make steel with nearly zero climate-warming emissions.

Investing in fossil fuel-free steelmaking is a win for the climate and the economy. This report looks at Mon Valley Works, a steelmaking facility in southwestern Pennsylvania, as a model for transitioning from carbon-intensive BF-BOF steelmaking to fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF steelmaking.

Key takeaways:

  • A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27% to 43% by 2031, forestalling projected job losses. Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30% in the same period, data show.
  • Transitioning to fossil fuel-free steelmaking will cut Pennsylvania’s industrial sector emissions by 4 million metric tons of CO2e per year, improving quality of life and saving the state $380 million in health, community, and environmental costs.
  • The Ohio River Valley is uniquely positioned to become a decarbonized industrial hub. A skilled workforce with applicable manufacturing experience, ready access to water and iron ore, and high potential for solar, wind, and green hydrogen development situate the region to lead a growing green manufacturing industry.
  • Billions in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act will boost demand for American-made steel while supporting worker retraining programs, hydrogen infrastructure, and renewable energy development.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

New Bigger Risks Await Poorly Regulated Rail Industry

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog, March 31, 2023

In July of 2013, a train carrying Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying the downtown. I spent the five years after that accident researching what happened, following the railroad regulatory process that spans the U.S.-Canada border, and publishing a book about that experience. The main lesson of that book was that the regulatory process in America is deeply flawed and controlled by industry — both rail and oil interests. 

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Lac-Mégantic, the disaster in East Palestine shows just how little was done to protect the public from these dangerous trains. Meanwhile, the public is facing new rail risks that are receiving scant attention — and once again federal regulators are allowing industry to move forward without proper consideration of the health and safety risks. I live three blocks from a busy rail line and what worries me the most when I hear the trains rumble past is not that they’re carrying vinyl chloride or even Bakken oil, but the looming risk of mile-long trains of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen. 

In 2019, then-President Trump issued an executive order to fast-track new regulations that would allow shipping liquefied natural gas by rail without any meaningful guardrails on its transport. 

But Earthjustice and other organizations sued the administration over this move, citing the perils. “It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” according to Earthjustice attorney Jordan Luebkemann. 

Modeling by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) estimates that for a train pulling 100 tank cars of LNG and traveling at 40 miles per hour, a derailment is expected to cause four punctures in the tank cars. 

The Biden administration is reviewing this Trump-era regulation, but the only sensible option is to ban the movement of LNG-by-rail. 

Over the last year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upset global energy markets, giving a big boost to plans to increase exports of American LNG overseas and placing pressure to move as much LNG as possible as quickly as possible — including by rail.

Fossil Fuel Industry Phase-Out: Three Critical Worker Guarantees for a Just Transition

In Coal Country, Young Workers Seek a Sustainable Future

By Jonathan Blair - In These Times, March 8, 2023

This article, republished from the Daily Yonder, is part of a series of photo essays created for the American Creed ​“Citizen Power” multi-platform documentary initiative exploring American idealism and community leadership from a range of young adult perspectives. 

Jonathan Blair lives, works, and studies at Alice Lloyd College, in Eastern Kentucky. He coordinates a work-study crew of about 60 people, mostly first-generation college students from rural Appalachia. Blair and two of his crew members — Jacob Frazier and Carlos Villanueva — document their connection to blue-collar work in and around the Appalachian coal industry, and they reflect on their hopes for the region. 

Explore more of Jonathan Blair’s story here.

My grandfathers on both sides were coal miners. My father is a mechanic for one of the railroads that transport coal. Basically, ever since our family has been in these hills, the coal business has put food on our table, and that’s the case for most families in our region. Even if it’s not why they came here, it kind of became what they did, because that was what paid, and you’re going to do whatever it takes. 

Survival is a big aspect of Appalachian culture. For a long time, coal meant survival, but there was never a sense of stability because the coal business is like a light switch: It’s either ​“on” or ​“off.” And when that switch was off, a lot of people, like my grandpa, would find manufacturing jobs elsewhere, in Ohio and other places. And whenever the coal business picked back up, they would come back, because this is home. Today, you look around and you can see the mountaintops have been removed to extract the coal from them, and much of the coal that was deep in the ground is gone. The coal business is a phantom, a shadow of what it used to be. We can’t rely on it coming back to what it once was.

A Clean Energy Pathway for Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Joe Goodenbery, Eliasid Animas, and Jennifer Gorman - Ohio River Valley Institute, December 12, 2022

This report describes the development and analysis of a clean energy pathway for a 10-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania. Due to its abundance of fossil fuel resources, the region has a long history of substantial energy production, often at the expense of local environmental quality and economic diversity. A transition to clean energy provides a compelling opportunity to transform the local energy profile, while ending the region’s overreliance on fossil fuels, to reduce emissions and pursue a path of sustainable growth.

To date, the prevailing narrative for decarbonizing this region has centered around the perpetuation of the natural gas industry and costly investments in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies and infrastructure. Strategen’s analysis provides an alternative focused primarily on zero emissions resources, energy efficiency, increased electrification, and leveraging clean energy imports from outside the region, while minimizing the local need for fossil fuels.

Key Takeaways from this study:

  • A renewables-based pathway, including energy efficiency and clean energy imports from the PJM market, is more cost-effective than continued reliance on fossil fuels. A strategy focused on natural gas and carbon capture will be 13% more costly than the clean energy pathway, which avoids expensive investments in CCS technologies to reduce emissions, while limiting the region’s exposure to fuel price volatility and mitigating the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets.
  • In the developed decarbonization pathway, all coal plants and a significant portion of natural gas plants in the region will retire or reduce output by 2035, drastically reducing emissions going forward. A limited portion of natural gas plants may be kept online as capacity or peaking resources and to ensure reliability, though clean dispatchable resources could potentially serve this role in the future, as technology progresses.
  • The clean energy pathway results in a 97% reduction in CO₂ emissions from the power sector by 2050, leading to environmental benefits of nearly $2.7 billion annually. These benefits are greater than those associated with strategies built around natural gas and CCS, furthering the case for the clean energy pathway as a least cost option for energy transition.
  • Deep electrification of the transportation and buildings sectors can directly lower regional CO₂ emissions from these sectors by 95%. The total annual value of environmental and health benefits associated with combined reductions from the power, buildings, and transportation sectors reaches $4.2 billion in 2050, through avoided social costs.
  • Through reduced reliance on natural gas for power generation and in buildings, Strategen’s decarbonization pathway will decrease natural gas consumption by 96% and 98%, respectively, for two these sectors by 2050. Lower consumption provides an opportunity to reduce emissions associated with natural gas extraction. The value of these avoided emissions would surpass $1 billion in 2050 alone.
  • Energy efficiency is projected to increase over time, reducing regional electricity load by an average of 2.6% each year of the study period. Combined with electrification, the clean energy pathway results in overall load growth of 33% by 2050.
  • Efficiency measures not only reduce load, emissions, and the need for additional generation, but also lead to local job creation and savings for consumers. Expenditures on efficiency and resulting residential bill savings support 12,416 total jobs in 2035, and 15,353 total jobs by 2050. Compared to both power generation and fossil fuel extraction, energy efficiency has a greater potential for local economic development, leading to more, higher-paying jobs served by workers and suppliers within the region.

Download a copy of this publication here (Link).

New Analysis Destroys Fossil Fuel Industry's Misleading US Job Claims

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, September 19, 2022

"Their false claims do not add up and cannot be allowed to stall a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy," says the Food & Water Watch report.

A Food & Water Watch report released Monday undermines the fossil fuel industry's claims about its positive impact on employment, showing that as oil and gas giants ramped up production and raked in record profits at the planet's expense, jobs have declined.

The advocacy group's fact sheet—titled Oil Profits and Production Grow at the Expense of Jobs, Consumers, and the Environment—comes as scientists continue to call for a swift transition to clean energy and critics around the world accuse the fossil fuel industry of war profiteering.

"The oil and gas industry would rather pay shareholders than workers," said Food & Water Watch (FWW) senior researcher Oakley Shelton-Thomas. "It should be clear by now that more production means more pollution, but it hasn't meant lower prices or more jobs."

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