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Workers at Curbside Recycling Win Raise, Paid Time Off

By Elise Brehob - Industrial Worker, September 22, 2021

For workers at the Curbside Recycling Program in Berkeley, California, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for better working conditions. The truck drivers, who have been required to work every day while many California residents sheltered at home, demanded and won both a wage increase and more paid time off. The Curbside Recycling Union is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World.

The Curbside Recycling Program is operated by the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization, under contract with the City of Berkeley. The program’s recycling truck drivers began organizing in 1988 and won their first union contract the following year. More than 30 years later, the drivers remain unionized, winning greater wages and benefits, as well as maintaining control over their routes and accident review committees.

“The purpose of the accident review committee is to give the workers the ability to discuss and vote on accident responsibility,” explains Joe, a driver at the Curbside Recycling Program and member of the union. “For instance, if a recycling truck is sideswiped by an impatient motorist, the committee has the ability to find the driver of the truck blameless.”

Joe also recalls a half-day strike that the Curbside Recycling Union staged a few years ago, which involved every driver walking off the job.

 “There was one key demand,” says Joe. “That demand was that the workers have a say in route distribution and route assignments, which the company agreed to. … That was a key moment for the union to demonstrate union power.”

LA County Board of Supervisors Passes Historic Measure to Begin Phase-Out of Oil Drilling

By Gabby Brown - Sierra Club, September 15, 2021

Los Angeles, CA -- Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in support of a measure to begin the process of phasing out oil drilling on unincorporated Los Angeles County land. There are more than 1,600 wells in unincorporated LA County, with the majority located in the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country.

Today’s vote puts LA County on the path to being the first in the country to ban and phase out existing drilling. The Board also voted to create a program to ensure that wells are properly closed and cleaned up, and to expand the county's task force focused on a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities. 

Culver City voted in June to phase out oil production and require the cleanup of well sites in the city’s portion of the Inglewood Oil Field within five years. The City of Los Angeles is also working on developing its own policy to phase out oil drilling.

Environmental justice, climate, faith, labor, and public health groups have long called for an end to neighborhood oil drilling in Los Angeles, citing serious health risks for nearby communities and the need to stop fossil fuel extraction to avert the worst of the climate crisis. Ahead of the vote, groups submitted letters signed by 150 organizations and more than 4,000 petitions and comments to the Board urging them to protect Los Angeles communities by supporting the phase-out of dangerous oil drilling. 

“We have an opportunity and responsibility as the home of the largest urban oil field in the nation to lead by example in creating an equitable path for phasing out oil drilling. Collectively, the motions that passed today center the needs of the communities and workers most impacted by oil drilling and build on Los Angeles County’s momentum in fighting climate change and sunsetting oil and gas operations,” said Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell. “I applaud the Board for continuing to move LA County forward on this critical issue and the countless advocates that have helped get us to this point. Our work is far from done but this is a promising step for environmental justice.”

"Responsibly phasing out oil drilling and cleaning up old wells is critical to ensuring we protect public health as part of a just transition in LA County," said April Verrett, President of SEIU 2015. "We applaud the Board of Supervisors for taking this historic vote, and hope that it can represent a model for the rest of the state to protect both workers and public health."

As California Burns, Teacher Pension Postpones Divestment

By Marcy Winograd - Common Dreams, September 7, 2021

As the climate crisis sent thousands fleeing wildfires in Northern California, CalSTRS, the nation's second largest public pension fund, postponed full divestment from fossil fuels for nearly 30 years.

Over objections from CTADivest, organizers within the powerhouse California Teachers Association, the retirement fund's investment committee voted unanimously September 1, 2021,to support a staff recommendation to adopt a net-zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) portfolio by 2050 or sooner. This translates into continued "engagement" or investment in Big Oil until the date the Paris Agreement set for countries to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

What is net-zero anyway? It's the point at which GHG's released by humans are "counterbalanced," in CalSTRS' words, by removing GHG's from the atmosphere, though no one is clear on how to remove these earth-warming gases through carbon capture and storage (CCS) or if it's even possible to inject them back into the ground without burning more fuels, poisoning drinking water or triggering earthquakes.

The CalSTRS vote came two months ahead of the next UN climate conference in Scotland, where the COP26 Coalition, made up of 350.org, CODEPNK and others, is expected to turn out thousands of protesters to demand the world's nations run, not walk, toward divestment from fossil fuels, as well as militarism, a key driver of the climate crisis.

The CalSTRS Board vote to continue investing in fossil fuels also came days after the California Democratic Party reaffirmed a 2015 resolution calling on the state's pension funds to divest from fossil fuels.

Energy Justice Statement on Rooftop Solar and Distributed Generation in California

By Alexis Sutterman, et. al. - CAUSE, Environmental Health California, APEN, CEJA, the Greenlining Institutem and Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, September 2021

Communities are being bombarded by cumulative and intersecting energy pressures: an affordability crisis, rising rates, major utility debt, economic insecurity, and ongoing power outages. In the face of intensifying climate impacts and the need for rapid decarbonization, Net Energy Metering (NEM) policies have supported tremendous growth of distributed solar resources, making California a national leader and helping to dramatically improve the economics of distributed generation and rooftop solar. Due to the intersectional impacts of redlining, California’s inequitable energy policies, and ongoing oppression, however, environmental justice (EJ) communities have experienced structural barriers in accessing and benefiting from NEM. Data shows that NEM disproportionately benefits wealthier, white, single-family homeowners. By its very design, NEM has not enabled rooftop solar to adequately penetrate EJ communities. Despite representing 25% of the State’s population, only 11-12% of households living in disadvantaged communities (DACs) in California are on NEM rates.

Read the text (PDF).

Students demand that teacher pension fund revoke fossil fuel investments

By Garrett Leahy - 48 Hills, August 29, 2021

More than 500 Bay Area high school students gathered outside the San Francisco Federal Building on 7th Street Friday before marching down Market Street to City Hall, calling on the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the state’s pension fund for California public school teachers, to divest its investment holdings in fossil fuel companies.

They pointed out that that California’s wildfires demonstrate the need to reduce emissions.

“This climate strike has been going on for years, but we’re feeling the effects of climate change,” said Anya Draves, a senior at Berkeley High School and President and Co-Founder of the Berkeley High Zero Waste Club. “With the wildfires, the red skies, the smoke…we’re the ones who are going to be living on this earth for years to come we have the energy and the voices to fight back.”

Draves was not alone in her concern about the future of the planet as the brunt of the effects of climate change begin to unfold.

Aniya Butler, a Sophomore at Oakland Charter High School and Hip Hop and Climate Justice Coordinator with Youth vs Apocaylpse, a youth-led group calling on governments and corporations to take dramatic action against climate change, expressed the importance for student action to pressure CalSTRS to divest from fossil fuel companies, saying that following reports that effects of climate change now may be, in part, irreversible, young people must put pressure on corporations, hedge funds, and other wealthy and powerful entities to invest in sustainable industries.

“After the IPCC report came out, I feel like people are opening their eyes, like ‘okay’ this crisis is real and now we have to do something about it,” said Butler. “The youth are the future, and the climate crisis is something that will affect our future. We have to recognize that if we want to live in a future where we can thrive, where we can breathe, we are going to have to be the ones out here organizing actions, calling out the government, and calling on these corporations to divest from destruction and invest in our future.”

California Kids to Teachers' Pension Fund: Divest from Oil

By Marcy Winograd - Common Dreams, August 26, 2021

The kids are mad as hell—and so are teachers who want their California teacher pension fund, CalSTRS, to join 1,000 other institutions collectively divesting $14.5 trillion from the fossil fuel industry that threatens climate catastrophe. The retirement fund divestment fight, led by retired teachers in Fossil Free CA and students from Youth vs Apocalypse and Earth Guardians, estimates CalSTRS' portfolio investments in fossil fuels at $16 billion, mostly in oil and gas delivery systems, but $6 billion in direct investments in oil behemoths, with $400 million in Exxon-Mobil, $350 million in Chevron, $250 million in BP and $108 million in Enbridge Inc. This is the same corporation sending attack dogs to maul water protectors protesting drilling at river crossings on indigenous land, where Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline will send sludgy tar sands through Minnesota. The estimated pollution from the pipeline is equivalent to 50 coal powered plants running for 50 years.

Fossil Free CA and other divestment advocates, including this author, warn that CalSTRS, the nation's second largest pension fund with a $310 billion dollar portfolio, just behind CalPERS' $444 billion in holdings, risks sticking its members, over 700-thousand active and retired California teachers, with stranded assets—unless the pension fund moves the money before it's too late, too late for the portfolio, too late for the planet.

CalSTRS's resistance to divestment from Big Oil comes at a financial cost to rank and file public school teachers. In 2019, the Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based research firm, published a study showing that had CalSTRS divested during the last decade the teacher retirement fund would have generated an additional $5.5 billion. Forbes reports that during that same decade, the energy sector of big fossil fuel companies, such as Exxon (ejected from the Dow in 2020), Chevron and BP, shrunk to the smallest investment sector in Standard and Poor's (S & P) index of the 500 largest US publicly traded companies. This year oil companies underperforming the index saw their credit ratings cut in half.

Higher Temperatures And Less Oversight Mean Workers Are At A Growing Risk In The Climate Emergency

By Brian Edwards and Jacob Margolis - LAist, August 25, 2021

In the summer of 2005, a terrible three-week heat wave swept through the West, driving temperatures to scorching triple-digit levels.

Four farmworkers working the fields of central California died.

The state quickly put emergency orders in place that evolved into the first workplace heat standard in the nation: Employers would have to give employees water, rest and shade as they toiled in high temperatures. Until then, there were no rules when it came to hot weather and the workplace.

Since then, California has seen hotter average temperatures in 12 of the past 16 years. Even as the climate emergency has grown more acute, the state’s once-groundbreaking heat-safety rules have not kept pace.

Public health experts and federal workplace regulators consider heat-related illness and death to be 100% preventable, they say. But California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health — Cal/OSHA, the agency that enforces the heat standard — has been chronically underfunded and understaffed. The result, according to dozens of interviews, a review of government records and an analysis of worker heat death cases: Farmworkers, firefighters, construction workers and others required to work in hot environments continue to die.

The state’s failure to adequately invest in Cal/OSHA has undercut the agency’s ability to crack down on companies that violate the heat standard. Its most recent budget request admitted as much, describing enforcement as “minimal to non-existent due to the lack of occupational health inspectors.” Rising temperatures caused by climate change have compounded the problem.

Some say the standard is already obsolete.

Heat Is Killing Workers In The U.S.; And There Are No Federal Rules To Protect Them

By Julia Shipley, et. al. - NPR, August 17, 2021

As the temperature in Grand Island, Neb., soared to 91 degrees that July day in 2018, two dozen farmworkers tunneled for nine hours into a thicket of cornstalks, snapping off tassels while they crossed a sunbaked field that spanned 206 acres — the equivalent of 156 football fields.

When they emerged at the end of the day to board a bus that would transport them to a nearby motel to sleep, one of the workers, Cruz Urias Beltran, didn't make it back. Searchers found the 52-year-old farmworker's body 20 hours later amid the corn husks, "as if he'd simply collapsed," recalled a funeral home employee. An empty water bottle was stuffed in his jeans pocket. An autopsy report confirmed that Beltran died from heatstroke. It was his third day on the job.

Beltran is one of at least 384 workers who died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade, according to an investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations, the investigative reporting unit of Columbia Journalism School. The count includes people toiling in essential yet often invisible jobs in 37 states across the country: farm laborers in California, construction and trash-collection workers in Texas and tree trimmers in North Carolina and Virginia. An analysis of federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the three-year average of worker heat deaths has doubled since the early 1990s.

CJI and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including workplace inspection reports, death investigation files, depositions, court records and police reports, and interviewed victims' families, former and current officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers, employers, workers' advocates, lawyers and experts.

CJI and NPR also analyzed two federal data sets on worker heat deaths: one from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the other from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both are divisions within the U.S. Labor Department.

A Just Transition Now or Climate Disaster is Inevitable

Relief Programs for Displaced Oil and Gas Workers: Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers

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

California’s oil and gas jobs currently offer significant compensation and benefits, providing workers in these jobs with security for themselves and their families. As California moves to meet its existing climate commitments—to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2045—the oil and gas industries will contract, and it is critical to invest in a strong, ongoing relief program to take care of displaced workers, their families and their communities.

An excerpt and fact sheet from A Program For Economic Recovery And Clean Energy Transition In California, by Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Caitlin Kline and Gregor Semieniuk.

Read the text (PDF).

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