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Food-service workers are suffering from extreme heat; Few rules exist to protect them

By Matthew Sedacca - The Counter, September 6, 2021

With record-breaking temperatures blanketing the country and no federal heat standard in place, workers find they have no choice but to walk out.

As a heat dome blanketed Portland, Oregon in late June, workers at Voodoo Doughnut’s Old Town location found themselves crumbling in their store. Even with air-conditioning in the shop, ambient thermometers brought in by staff recorded interior temperatures upward of 96 degrees. Workers were breaking out in heat hives and doubling over from nausea. The company’s iconic Bacon Maple Bar doughnuts, with their frosting unable to set due to the heat, literally melted into soggy brown mush.

The high-90 temperatures in the Old Town location were already a drastic surge from the more routine ambient summer heat, which was estimated to be around 80 degrees in the store, even with the fryers running all day. But on June 27, when temperature highs in Portland would eventually reach a record-breaking 112 degrees, it reached more than 100 degrees inside Voodoo Doughnut. Workers went to management and suggested that they close the shop early for their safety. After their demand was waved off, a group of employees walked out and went on strike through Monday, when the city’s temperatures soared even further to 115 degrees

“We would rather walk out on strike than to see a coworker collapse and hurt themselves or suffer heat stroke or worst case scenario, you collapse while you’re over a fryer,” said Samantha Bryce, a Voodoo Doughnut employee in Portland, who participated in a strike with her colleagues over workplace safety in June. “We don’t want someone to get hurt before the company takes action.”

A Just Transition Now or Climate Disaster is Inevitable

Billionaires Can Have the Cosmos—We Only Want the Earth

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, July 15, 2021

Fleeing is what the rich do best. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fled Texas last winter, abandoning millions to freezing temperatures. But some have tired of the Earth altogether.

Billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson are fleeing to space on rockets with stratospheric price tags.

Branson was the first to venture forth July 11, in a gambit to launch a commercial space tourism industry—as if we didn’t have enough trouble with the carbon emissions from excess tourism.

That’s what it means to be ultra-rich—to squander oodles of untaxed cash and rake in public subsidies on boyhood fantasies of “space hotels, amusement parks, yachts, and colonies,” as Bezos put it in high school.

But the billionaires playing space cowboys aren’t like the rest of us. They’re on the other side of the fault line of an accelerating climate catastrophe caused by greenhouse emissions.

Workers who plow fields, erect scaffolding, haul garbage, lay track, and stuff mail are not going to escape onboard a winged rocket. We are going to have to fight to survive on Earth.

For Farmworkers, Heat Too Often Means Needless Death

By Liza Gross - Inside Climate News, July 9, 2021

Advocates say the case of an undocumented Oregon worker during the record-breaking Pacific Northwest heatwave exposes the deadly toll of failed U.S. immigration law.

People around the Pacific Northwest piled into emergency cooling centers late last month to escape the region’s life-threatening heat wave. Sebastián Francisco Perez, an undocumented farmworker in Oregon who had arrived from Guatemala just two months ago, did not have that luxury. 

No laws required Perez’s employer to provide water, shade or rest breaks—let alone a cooling station—to help workers cope with the punishing heat. On June 26, temperatures approached 105 degrees at the nursery where Perez worked, about 30 miles south of Portland. As the mercury climbed, Perez worked until he collapsed and died. He was 38. 

If Congress passed heat standards like those adopted by California in 2005, farmworker advocates say, Perez might still be alive.

The United Farm Workers and Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) urged state officials to issue emergency rules to protect agricultural workers from unsafe conditions during heat waves.

And on Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown directed Oregon Occupational Safety and Health officials to do just that, temporarily expanding requirements for employers to provide shade, rest periods and cool water during heat waves until permanent rules are put in place.

Over Fifty Organizations Release Green New Deal Plan for Pacific Northwest Forests

By Dylan Plummer - Cascadia Wildlands, June 9, 2021

Today, dozens of forest and climate justice organizations across northern California, Oregon, and Washington released a sweeping Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests platform calling for the transformation of current forest practices on private, state, and federal land in the face of the climate crisis and ecological collapse. The platform emphasizes the critical role that the forests of the Pacific Northwest must play in efforts to mitigate climate change and to safeguard communities from climate impacts such as wildfire and drought. The six pillars of the Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests address the intersecting issues of industrial logging, climate change, species collapse, economic injustice and the disempowerment of frontline communities.

Matt Stevenson, a high-schooler, and the leader of the Forest Team of Sunrise Movement PDX, a youth organization focused on climate justice, said:

As a high schooler, I have grown up without much hope for my future, and with the knowledge that my generation may inherit a broken and desolate earth. Industrial forestry practices and the timber industry is one of the largest causes of this hopelessness, one of the leading destructive forces of the Pacific Northwest, and the single largest carbon emitter in Oregon. If I, or my generation, wants any hope of a liveable future we must fundamentally transform the way we treat our forests.

Jobs and equitable transition: Bridging the chasm between rhetoric and action

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, May 26, 2021

There was a time when the sight of rows of office workers hammering away at their Friden adding machines would have sent me into paroxysms of delight because I, the Victor Comptometer salesman, had a new and better “programmable calculator” that could kick the Friden’s ass.

I was a young 1970s college graduate entering the workforce at the tail end of the era of mechanical business automation. Typewriters, adding machines, and mechanical cash registers were still the workhorses of stores and offices.

Behind all that machinery were companies – Burroughs, Monroe, Friden, Victor – whose names were as familiar then as Cisco, Oracle, and SAP are today. And those companies supported factories, sales offices, and repair facilities that provided living wage jobs to hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

Then, within a little more than a decade, it was all gone. A year after I fizzled as a Victor salesman, I was playing at home with my new Radio Shack TRS-80 home computer and five years later, instead of an adding machine and typewriter on my desk at work, there sat an Apple II desktop computer, precursor to the Mac.

Gone too were those hundreds of thousands of jobs plunging not only workers and families, but entire communities, into financial crisis. One could argue that Dayton, Ohio, once home to National Cash Register and the business forms giant, Standard Register, never recovered.

The knock-out blow suffered by the office automation industry was as ferocious and sudden as the one that hit the American steel industry a few years earlier, the textile industry a few decades before that, and also as the one that possibly faces workers in the fossil fuel economy today.

So how did we as a society help displaced workers and communities manage the economic consequences of the transition from the mechanical workplace to a digital one? We didn’t. Thanks to the New Deal, we had unemployment insurance and Medicare and Medicaid were brand spanking new. But that was about it – a little help for individuals and families and none whatsoever for communities.

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

“These Are Climate Fires”: Oregon Firefighter Ecologist Says Devastating Blazes Are a Wake-Up Call

Timothy Ingalsbee interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, September 14, 2020

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As California, Oregon and Washington face unprecedented fires, President Trump is refusing to link the devastation to the climate crisis. After ignoring the fires for a week, Trump is traveling to California today. Over the weekend, he blamed the fires on poor forest management.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But, you know, it is about forest management. Please remember the words, very simple: forest management. Please remember. It’s about forest management.

AMY GOODMAN: California Governor Newsom rejected Trump’s focus on forest management practices.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM: I’m a little bit exhausted that we have to continue to debate this issue. This is a climate damn emergency. … And I’m not going to suggest for a second that the forest management practices in the state of California over a century-plus have been ideal, but that’s one point, but it’s not the point.

AMY GOODMAN: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also pushed back on Trump’s characterization of the wildfires as a forest management issue. Speaking on CNN, Garcetti said the president was reluctant to help California, Oregon and Washington because they have Democratic governors.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI: This is climate change. And this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand. While we have Democratic and Republican mayors across the country stepping up to do their part, this is an administration, a president, who wants to withdraw from the Paris climate accords later this year — the only country in the world to do so. Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real. And it seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation. We need real action.

AMY GOODMAN: In Washington state, where firefighters are tackling 15 large fires, Governor Jay Inslee also emphasized the climate crisis is most responsible for the wildfires.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: These are not just wildfires. They are climate fires. And we cannot and we will not surrender our state and expose people to have their homes burned down and their lives lost because of climate fires.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Oregon, six of the military helicopters operated by the state’s National Guard, that could have been used to help fight the wildfires, are not available because they were sent to Afghanistan earlier this year. This is Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaking Friday.

GOV. KATE BROWN: Well over a million acres of land has burned, which is over 1,500 square miles. Right now our air quality ranks the worst in the world due to these fires. … There is no question that the changing climate is exacerbating what we see on the ground. We had, as we mentioned earlier, unprecedented, a weather event with winds and temperatures. In addition, we added a ground that has had a 30-year drought. So, it made for extremely challenging circumstances and has certainly exacerbated the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Eugene, Oregon, where we’re joined by Timothy Ingalsbee. He is a wildland fire ecologist, former wildland firefighter, n ow director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology, known as FUSEE.

Coal Plant Communities Seek a Just Economic Transition

By Lilli Ambort - Institute for Local Self-Reliance, August 7, 2020

Xcel Energy’s announcement that the Sherburne County Generating Station (Sherco) in Becker, Minn. will close by 2030 did not come as a surprise, but for local residents, the uncertainty of the city’s economic future has become a pervasive issue. Sherco is one of the largest coal-powered generating stations in the state, with three boilers and a total capacity of 2,238 megawatts. The Sherco power plant provides 301 jobs and a huge portion of the small city’s tax base. Sherburne County Commissioner Tim Dolan remarks “At 77% [of the City’s tax base], it’s probably easier to point to stuff [Sherco] didn’t pay for. It’s a much shorter list.”

Xcel Energy plans to replace two of the coal boilers with a 786 megawatt gas plant that will provide roughly 30 permanent jobs. Environmentally, the closure of coal plants drastically reduces carbon emissions and air pollution (but the addition of a gas plant at Sherco is questionable). Economically, Becker and many cities like it are left scrambling, looking for alternative forms of employment and tax revenue.

As gas dethrones coal generation as the ruler of the U.S. power sector, the cost of running coal power plants becomes economically uncompetitive. Eventually, gas may be surpassed by renewable energy, with solar and wind expected to be the fastest growing source of electricity generation for the next two years. For communities that rely on coal plants for tax revenue and jobs, the early closure of these plants spells trouble even as it reduces pollution and saves electric customers money. The transition away from fossil fuels provides new economic opportunities, but the question becomes whether these clean energy opportunities can replace lost income and tax revenue from coal generation plants.

Despite the news about the Sherco plant, Becker city officials remain hopeful for new economic opportunities that may come from the plant closure. Becker has attracted the attention of Google, which is looking to build a $600 million data center next to Sherco, potentially generating 2,000 short-term construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. The data center would be powered by two wind power projects. While the Google project is still up in the air, Northern Metal Recycling is already moving to build a metal recycling plant next to Sherco, with the potential to create about 150 jobs in Becker. The possibility of new jobs, new people, and new tax revenue excites residents, and for now, these new developments do not completely replace all the jobs and tax revenue lost from the closure of Sherco, but they provide some economic hope. Unfortunately, other communities across the U.S. have not been as lucky, left with little to no other options for economic revitalization after coal plant closures.

Crimethinc Podcast #61: The Olympia Train Blockade

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