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America’s Biggest Public Pension Fund Is Slow-Walking Corporate Climate Action, Report Charges

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, June 16, 2022

CalPERS says it needs to hold onto billions in fossil fuel shares in order to push polluters in the right direction – but a new report details a pattern of voting against climate proposals.

Does engaging with oil and gas giants by remaining invested in them – keeping a “seat at the table” – help in the fight against climate change? 

A new report suggests not very much – at least judging by the record of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The report by environmental group Fossil Free California takes the public pension fund to task for its results to date, highlighting its history of pushing “the importance of corporate engagement on climate change” in public statements, while simultaneously voting against climate measures in shareholder meetings.

The report details dozens of votes against climate measures by CalPERS this year — including votes against greenhouse gas reduction targets at Royal Dutch Shell, against reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at BP, and against pushing big banks to get in line with international “net zero by 2050” strategies.

In fact, CalPERS has voted against every climate resolution at major American and Canadian banks so far this year, the report claims.

The report also casts doubt on one of the biggest accomplishments of CalPERS’ engagement strategy – the election of several new members to ExxonMobil’s board of directors last year, nominated by the activist investment firm Engine No. 1. The report faults Engine No. 1’s directors for voting against two recent proposals to set greenhouse gas targets that would account for the pollution caused by the fossil fuels ExxonMobil sells, and to produce a report on low-carbon business plans.

“Despite their best efforts, CalPERS and [California’s other major pension fund] CalSTRS have failed to persuade fossil fuel companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, increase their renewable energy production, or transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” the report concludes. “By opposing climate proposals at the very companies they claim to influence, the funds’ shareholder activism is not only ineffective – it’s undermining climate action.” 

California lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would spur these pension funds, which invest retirement funds for state employees – including many, like the state’s firefighters, who are today on the front lines of the climate crisis – to drop their investments in fossil fuel producers.

The fund has an estimated $7.4 billion worth of fossil fuel investments that the bill would require them to shed. In April, its board voted to oppose that law, arguing that it would lose its “seat at the table,” only to be replaced by investors that “may not have the same interest in long-term sustainability as CalPERS”..

CalPERS declined comment on Fossil Free California’s new report.

Building Our New Electric Fleet

By Harold Meyerson - Resistance Committee, May 31, 2022

Today on TAP: In a signal victory last week, an activist group prevailed on a major bus manufacturer to hire its workers from local, historically disadvantaged communities.

In 1997, after a campaign of several years’ duration, the Los Angeles City Council voted to establish the nation’s first living wage ordinance. Under its terms, businesses with which the city had contracted to do its work—for which the city’s taxpayers were footing the bill—were required to pay their employees a specified, decent wage, as well as offering them a modicum of benefits.

The ordinance, and the campaign that pressured the council to enact it, were the brainstorm of Madeline Janis, the attorney who’d founded and led the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). “Taxpayers should not be subsidizing poverty-wage jobs,” Janis argued.

At roughly the same time, in tandem with another progressive community organization, LAANE also persuaded a number of local developers to sign community benefits agreements (CBAs), which obligated those developers to hire local residents—in effect, disproportionately minorities and women—on major construction projects. Previously, such projects were built by a heavily white male workforce that lived nowhere near the city’s center, even as those projects uprooted the self-same minority communities who’d lived and worked there. With the coming of CBAs, minorities began to gain much greater entry to union construction jobs that offered pay and benefits that otherwise would have remained out of reach.

Chevron Threatens Our Air: Richmond Community Members and Striking Refinery Workers Speak Out Against Scab Labor and Flaring

By Marisol Cantú, Micheal Hayes, and staff - Richmond Progressive Alliance, May 16, 2022

Flaring at the Richmond Lubrications Oil Plant. April 14, 2-4 pm.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 workers have been on strike at Richmond's Chevron Refinery since March 21, 2022. Since then, workers and community members have carefully documented flaring events at the refinery, which is currently run by strikebreakers who do not have the necessary training to safely operate the equipment. Below are three important documents of this extremely unsafe situation: a) a letter addressed to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) by organizer Marisol Cantú, articulating the current risks to our surrounding community and demands of relevant inspection agencies; b) a photographic gallery of flaring events taken during the strike by workers and community observers; and c) a letter authored by a USW Local 5 refinery worker, describing the extensive training he and his colleagues receive that is necessary to keep the community safe (and that current employees operating the plant do not have).

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.

As California Considers Dropping Fossil Fuels from Major Pension Funds, New Report Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ on Costs

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, May 13, 2022

CalPERS and CalSTRS, which oppose fossil fuel divestment legislation, have “wildly exaggerated” divestment costs, according to Fossil Free California’s latest report.

A newly published report by Fossil Free California finds California’s pension fund managers are circulating divestment “misinformation” by exaggerating the costs involved in shedding their fossil fuel investments in documents prepared for state lawmakers.

California lawmakers are currently considering Senate Bill 1173 (SB-1173), California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, which would require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to stop investing in fossil fuels before the decade is out. The move would impact billions of dollars currently invested in oil, gas, or coal on behalf of California’s teachers, firefighters, and other public employees.

The report titled “Hyperbole in the Hearings” found that the pension “funds have wildly exaggerated losses from past divestments” like those involving tobacco, firearms, and some forms of coal. It concludes that CalPERS and CalSTRS estimates for costs associated with fossil fuel divestment are also exaggerated.

Extraordinary sums of money, invested on behalf of California’s public employees and teachers, are on the line. The two pension funds have estimated holdings of $7.4 billion and $4.1 billion respectively in fossil fuel investments that would need to be divested if the law went into effect. 

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.”

Unions Making a Green New Deal from Below: Part 1

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

While Washington struggles over job and climate programs, unions around the country are making their own climate-protecting, justice-promoting jobs programs.

While unions have been divided on the Green New Deal as a national policy platform, many national and local unions have initiated projects that embody the principles and goals of the Green New Deal in their own industries and locations. Indeed, some unions have been implementing the principles of the Green New Deal since long before the Green New Deal hit the headlines, developing projects that help protect the climate while creating good jobs and reducing racial, economic, and social injustice.

Even some of the unions that have been most dubious about climate protection policies are getting on the clean energy jobs bandwagon. The United Mine Workers announced in March that it will partner with energy startup SPARKZ to build an electric battery factory in West Virginia in 2022 that will employ 350 workers. The UMWA will recruit and train dislocated miners to be the factory’s first production workers. According to UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer Brian Sanson, “We need good, union jobs in the coalfields no matter what industry they are in. This is a start toward putting the tens of thousands of already-dislocated coal miners to work in decent jobs in the communities where they live.”[1]

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!"

Webinar: Investing in Workers for a World Beyond Fossil Fuels

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