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Grieving Transit Local Has Been Leading Fights for Safety and Service Restoration

By Staff - Labor Notes, May 28, 2021

We join the whole labor movement in mourning the nine brothers and sisters from Transit (ATU) Local 265 and SEIU Local 521 who were killed on May 26 in a mass shooting at a workplace union meeting.

At an emotional candlelight vigil last night at San Jose city hall, Local 265 President John Courtney—who was meeting with members when the shooting broke out—told the crowd: “Hold each other, love each other, hug each other. Kiss each other when you get home from the end of the day. We’re all we’ve got.

“These aren’t names to us. These are people we know, and we love, and we’ve seen every single day of our working lives, and it really, really hurts down to the very core of our souls. So please, ATU, let’s do what we do and stand with each other, for each other, by each other.”

Nationally it’s the third workplace shooting in two months, which is unusually high.

This particular local has been important in waging fights on behalf of transit workers and riders across the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The union fought with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to restore fare-free rear-door boarding in January, when Covid cases were spiking in San Jose. Rank-and-file bus drivers forced management’s hand when they started planning to stop boarding at the front door whether the agency agreed or not.

After that victory, Courtney said his union’s 1,500 members had “seen with their own eyes how important it is to be unified within our union, and to have the support of other unions and the community to win what we need.”

That victory inspired a bigger current campaign that has united six Bay Area transit locals with their riders to fight for the immediate release of $1.7 billion in transit rescue funds. Courtney told Labor Notes after a May 6 rally, “It means a lot that the community has our back.”

Victory for climate activists in the Dutch Courts and in Exxon and Chevron boardrooms

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 27, 2021

May 26 will go down in history as a very bad day for the fossil fuel industry for three reasons: in the Netherlands, the courts issued a landmark decision that requires Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions – including Scope 3 emissions – by 45% by 2030. Also on May 26, activist shareholders won separate victories at the corporate annual meetings of ExxonMobil and Chevron. Bill McKibben reflects on all three events in “Big Oil’s Bad Bad Day” in The New Yorker , and Jamie Henn wrote “A Landmark Day in the fight against fossil fuels” in Fossil Free Media.

The case of Royal Dutch Shell is summarized by Friends of the Earth Canada in their press release , which also links to an English-language version of the Court’s decision.

“On May 26, as a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) together with 17,000 co-plaintiffs and six other organisations the court in The Hague ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years.

…..“This is a turning point in history. This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters,” says Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands.

The verdict requires Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by the end of 2030. Shell is also responsible for emission from customers and suppliers. There is a threat of human rights violations to the “right to life” and “undisturbed family life”.

German news organization Deutsche Welle offers an excellent, more thorough discussion in “Shell ordered to reduce CO2 emissions in watershed ruling”, which points out that the case was argued on human rights grounds – much like the precedent-setting Urgenda case and the recent German constitutional case. In those cases however, governments were called upon to defend the human right to a future safe from the dangers of climate change. The Shell case is the first time such an argument has been tried against a corporation – and is seen as a harbinger of future legal action.

Bay Area Transit Workers and Riders Demand to Unlock $1.7 Billion Already Earmarked for Jobs and Bus Service

Draft Resolution Calling for CalPERS Fossil Fuel Divestment

By the CFA Peace and Justice Committee - California Faculty Association, April 11, 2021

WHEREAS, climate change, through rising sea levels, drought, heat waves, and increased wildfires is already negatively affecting human wellbeing, ecosystems and biodiversity; and WHEREAS, climate change is an issue of environmental justice, disproportionately impacting Indigenous communities, communities of color, and low income communities due to historical oppression, inequity of power, and lack of access to resources for prevention and relief; and

WHEREAS, the California Faculty Association has committed itself to fighting forces of institutional racism, promoting anti-racist and social justice principles and practices; and

WHEREAS, the International Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2018 that we have 12 years to make dramatic cuts in the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas and tar sands) if we are to keep warming to 1.5o C and avoid more catastrophic change; and

WHEREAS, to effectively address climate change most fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, never to be used. This makes fossil fuel stocks a risky investment; and

WHEREAS, an analysis by Corporate Knights, found that the CalPERS pension fund lost 11.9 billion dollars over the last ten years by holding fossil fuel stocks; and

WHEREAS, divestment in specific segments or business operations by CalPERS is already standard practice and is specifically allowed by the California Constitution; and

WHEREAS, the fossil fuel industry is the single most powerful obstacle to addressing climate change; and

WHEREAS, an Oxford University study of divestment movements concerning South African apartheid, tobacco, and Darfur found that they had all succeeded in weakening the political power of their target, and had won government action; and

WHEREAS, globally over 170 colleges and universities have divested their endowments from fossil fuels including the University of California system, three CSU campuses, Stanford, and USC; and

WHEREAS, many California education unions have already passed resolutions calling for fossil fuel divestment from their state pensions, including the California Federation of Teachers, the Faculty Association of the California Community Colleges, and many California Teacher Association chapters; and

WHEREAS, a fossil fuel company is defined here as a company on the Carbon Underground 200 list of the top 100 public coal companies and the top 100 public oil and gas companies globally; and

WHEREAS, divestment means selling directly held or commingled assets including fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the California Faculty Association strongly urges CalPERS to fully divest from fossil fuel companies, by selling their current investments and refraining from making any new investments in fossil fuel companies. A copy of this resolution shall be sent to CalPERS Board members.

Tesla Found Guilty of Unionbusting

By Kris LaGrange - UComm Blog, March 26, 2021

2018, Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” That tweet began an investigation into the company by the NLRB into union-busting at the company.

Now three years later, the board has found that Musk not only violated federal labor law with that tweet but that he also illegally fired an employee, Richard Ortiz for protected union activity. Ortiz was part of a campaign called “Fair Future at Tesla” which is an ongoing campaign by the UAW to organize the electric car company.

In their decision, the NLRB found that Musk’s tweet went above a typical statement that the company wants to stay union-free and was seen as threatening. This was exacerbated by the fact that Tesla considers communications from Musk, who founded the company, as official company communications. It is illegal to threaten to take away pay or benefits from workers if they are found to be organizing a union.

In their decision, the NLRB ordered Tesla to offer Ortiz his job back and compensate him for lost earnings, benefits, and any adverse tax consequences that resulted from his firing. Tesla is also required to revise their confidentiality agreements that are given to employees to take out a section that bars workers from speaking to the media without explicit written permission from the company. National labor law “protects employees when they speak with the media about working conditions, labor disputes, or other terms and conditions of employment,” the NLRB noted.

The NLRB is also requiring Tesla to post notices nationwide and hold meetings at their main US car plant in Fremont to inform workers of their protected rights. At these meetings, Musk or a “board agent” in the presence of Musk, will have to read the notice to workers, including security guards, managers, and supervisors.

The decision from the NLRB was largely in line with a similar decision against Tesla by an administrative judge in September of 2019. Tesla decided to fight the administrative judge’s decision and bring it all the way to the full board.

“This is a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favor of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, Director of the UAW Organizing Department. “While we celebrate the justice in today’s ruling, it nevertheless highlights the substantial flaws in US labor law. Here is a company that clearly broke the law and yet it is three years down the road before these workers achieved a modicum of justice.”

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels Is Possible. These State-Level Plans Show How

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, March 15, 2021

When it comes to climate change, state governments across the United States have been way ahead of the federal government in providing leadership toward reducing carbon pollution and building a clean energy economy. For example, when Trump announced in 2017 his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the governors of California, Washington and New York pledged to support the international agreement, and by 2019, more than 20 other states ended up joining this alliance to combat global warming.

Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of Economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has been a driving force behind several U.S. states’ efforts to curb carbon emissions and make a transition to a green economy. In this exclusive Truthout interview, Pollin talks about how states can take crucial, proactive steps to build a clean energy future.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, you are the lead author of commissioned studies, produced with some of your colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, to fight climate change for scores of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Colorado, Washington, New York and California. The purpose of those studies is to show the way for states to attain critical reductions in carbon emissions while also embarking on a path of economy recovery and a just transition toward an environmentally sustainable environment. In general terms, how is this to be done, and is there a common strategy that all states can follow?

Robert Pollin: The basic framework that we have developed is the same for all states. For all states, we develop a path through which the state can reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by roughly half as of 2030 and to transform into a zero emissions economy by 2050. These are the emissions reduction targets set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) that are meant to apply to the entire global economy. The IPCC — which is a UN agency that serves as a clearinghouse for climate change research — has concluded that these CO2 emissions reduction targets have to be met in order for we, the human race, to have a reasonable chance to stabilize the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level, [the level of] about the year 1800.

The IPCC has concluded that stabilizing the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels provides the only realistic chance for avoiding the most severe destructive impacts of climate change in terms of heat extremes, heavy precipitation, droughts, floods, sea level rise, biodiversity losses, and the corresponding impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply and human security. Given that these emissions reduction targets must be met on a global scale, it follows that they also must be met in every state of the United States, with no exceptions, just like they must be met in every other country or region of the world with no exceptions.

By far the most important source of CO2 emissions entering the atmosphere is fossil fuel consumption — i.e., burning oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy. As such, the program we develop in all of the U.S. states centers on the state’s economy phasing out its entire fossil fuel industry — i.e., anything to do with producing or consuming oil, coal or natural gas — at a rate that will enable the state to hit the two IPCC emissions reduction targets: the 50 percent reduction by 2030 and zero emissions within the state by 2050.

Of course, meeting these emissions reduction targets raises a massive question right away: How can you phase out fossil fuels and still enable people to heat, light and cool their homes and workplaces; for cars, buses, trains and planes to keep running; and for industrial machinery of all types to keep operating?

It turns out that, in its basics, the answer is simple and achievable, in all the states we have studied (and everywhere else for that matter): to build a whole new clean energy infrastructure that will supplant the existing fossil fuel dominant infrastructure in each state. So the next major feature of our approach is to develop investment programs to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in buildings, transportation systems and industrial equipment, and equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources, i.e. primarily solar and wind energy, but also geothermal, small-scale hydro, as well as low-emissions bioenergy.

CalPERS: Finish Mandated Thermal Coal Divestment

By Staff - Fossil Free California, March 11, 2021

California Public Employees Retirement System still holds $8.5 million in thermal coal producers in violation of SB 185, a 2015 state law on thermal coal divestment. This act requires CalPERS to divest from companies that earn the majority of their revenue from thermal coal production.

When the fund divested from several coal companies in 2017, it stayed invested in three thermal coal companies that met the criteria—Exxaro, Adaro, and Banpu—because “they had indicated plans to transition their business models to adapt to clean energy generation (such as through a decrease in reliance on thermal coal mining as a revenue source).”

However, four years later, all three of these companies continue to make well over 50% of their revenue from thermal coal (according to data from the Global Coal Exit List at coalexit.org) and show few signs of transitioning their business models. In fact, all of these companies have documented expansion plans for their coal operations. Although South Africa-based Exxaro Resources recently announced that it will not acquire more thermal coal assets, it already owns more than 31 billion tons of recoverable coal, which is more than enough to create a “tipping point” for Earth’s climate.

All three coal companies have demonstrated contempt for the lives of communities displaced or impacted by their mining operations. Exxaro, in South Africa, displaces communities from mining sites in violation of the South African Constitution and with insignificant compensation leaving many communities to struggle to even find necessities like food while their air and water is irreparably poisoned.

Similarly, Adaro, an Indonesian company, strip mines forested land and continues to displace native people, threatening their lives and cultures. Adaro was also responsible for the deaths of 24 children working in mines and continues polluting surrounding areas such that water becomes undrinkable, and farmers have to abandon their land. Finally, Banpu, a Thai company, builds mines across Asia. They use open ponds to collect pollutants which inevitably enter the ground water and destroy crops. Farmers in Thailand reported being forcibly bought out and eventually forced to move because the added cost of purchasing clean water combined with the destruction of their livelihood was too much.

Join Fossil Free California and allies to call on CalPERS to finish its mandated thermal coal divestment by immediately adding Exxaro, Adaro, and Banpu to the thermal coal exclusion list.

Send Letter to CalPERS

A Santa Cruz Green New Deal: Yes to Social Justice! No to Green Capitalism!

By Ecosocialist Working Group - Santa Cruz Left, March 6, 2021

Proposed as a green jobs and justice program for the next ten years, the Green New Deal is both a social movement to unite diverse social justice struggles and a comprehensive platform for addressing climate change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced it in Congress in 2019, where it failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled senate. But endorsed by organizations including the Sunrise Movement, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Climate Mobilization, Bernie’s Our Revolution, and DSA, the GND remains a powerful vision to organize around for a world worth living in.

Warning of an unfolding climate holocaust, massive loss of life, suffering, and financial devastation, AOC and Markey’s GND resolution notably joins decarbonization to social justice and equity. It proposes infrastructural renewal, economic investment for the wellbeing of all, and guaranteeing clean air, water, and land, in ways that repair the “historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” In 2019, AOC narrated an amazing short video (brilliantly animated by Molly Crabapple) that pictures what a GND-inspired future might look like.

DSA’s Ecosocialists (national) have added their own priorities, including democratizing control over major energy systems and resources; centering the multiracial working class in the just transition to an economy of societal and ecological care; demilitarizing, decolonizing, and striving for a future of international solidarity and cooperation; and decommodifying survival by guaranteeing living wages, healthcare, and affordable housing for all. As such, they join Indigenous and environmental, and racial justice social movements that stress the need for a bottom-up, inclusive, and democratized approach, rather than top-down governmental policy directives.

Joining the GND to the decolonial Red Deal, as proposed by The Red Nation, also makes compelling sense. As Nick Estes argues in Jacobin, “The GND has the potential to connect every social justice struggle—free housing, free health care, free education, green jobs—to climate change. Likewise, the Red Deal places anti-capitalism and decolonization as central to each social justice struggle as well as climate change. The necessity of such a program is grounded in both the history and future of this land, and it entails the radical transformation of all social relations between humans and the earth.” And while such a program must not only be intersectionalist but also global in scope, it’s less clear what the GND would mean on a local level and how it might offer a useful instrument to connect diverse regional struggles. But it’s on the local scale that we can most meaningfully engage with this all-encompassing struggle, in support of its national and international horizons.

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: A Just Transition in the Oil & Gas Drilling and Refining Sectors

Silicon Valley Bus Drivers Restored Community Rides for Free—By Taking Matters into Their Own Hands

By Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, February 17, 2021

With Covid cases surging in their ranks, bus drivers in Santa Clara, California, demanded to resume rear-door boarding, which is proven to reduce the risk of infection.

Management of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) balked, even blaming the workers for getting sick. Pressure mounted from the leadership of Transit (ATU) Local 265, and from rider and community groups.

But it was rank-and-file bus drivers who forced management’s hand when they started planning to stop boarding at the front door whether the agency agreed or not.

Bosses prefer anything to allowing workers to run the company. On February 3, the agency announced that it would resume rear-door boarding.

COVID SURGE AT VTA

Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is where Covid claimed what was believed to be its first U.S. victim on March 6, 2020. (In fact, several February deaths in the county were later determined to be Covid-related.) By March 19, VTA had stopped collecting fares to reduce contact between bus drivers and passengers at the front door.

Rear-door boarding is a no-brainer during a pandemic. Bus drivers reported story after story of passengers fumbling to get their bills into the farebox or taking off their masks to chat. Boarding at the rear door created a safe distance between riders and the driver, protecting both.

Rear-door boarding also has a secondary benefit. Because the only farebox in a VTA bus is located at the front door, it meant the public would ride for free. At a time when many were calling for free public transportation, and some transit agencies in the U.S. and abroad had already eliminated fares, this additional shared interest attracted more community support for the union’s demands.

On August 1, however, claiming “We have done our part to protect our customers,” VTA resumed collecting fares at the front door. Little had changed to justify the move, other than the installation of what one bus driver described as a “janky plastic barrier” that did little to keep airborne microbes from finding their way from boarding passengers to the driver or vice versa.

VTA’s decision had serious consequences for transit workers. Only 15 had fallen ill with Covid before August, while riders boarded at the rear; 72 cases were confirmed from August through Christmas. One bus driver, Audrey Lopez, lost her life to Covid. The new year started off even worse, with more than 60 positive tests in January alone.

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