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labor and environment

U.S. unions fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 7, 2017

Labour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

The Meaning of Work in a Sustainable Society

By John Bellamy Foster - Monthly Review, September 2017

Fie upon this quiet life. I want work.

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, Act II, Scene IV

International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 27, 2017

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

The Net Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs in the Inland Empire

By Betony Jones, Kevin Duncan, Ethan N. Elkind and Marilee Hanson - UC Labor Center, August 3, 2017

As the metropolis of Los Angeles spread east and Southern California industry shifted after World War II from manufacturing war supplies to a consumer economy, the sweeping groves of the Orange Empire gave way to the sprawling housing developments of the Inland Empire. Located in the valleys and foothills east of Los Angeles and north of San Diego, the Inland Empire is defined here as Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Situated in a strategically important area inland from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the Inland Empire has been a hub for the transportation of goods and people since its initial development. After the economic downturn of 2008-09, the region emerged as a powerhouse in the blossoming logistics and warehousing industry;1 transportation and warehousing employ 7 percent of the region’s workers (compared with 5 percent statewide).2 In addition, the Inland Empire has always included many “bedroom communities” for the Los Angeles area: about 44 percent of Inland Empire workers travel 30 or more minutes each way to work.3

But this economic shift has come with an environmental cost. Industrial air pollution has directly affected the lives of Inland Empire residents since World War II, when a steel plant was built in the San Bernardino County town of Fontana. The air quality challenges have become more pressing with the growth in automobile traffic in the Los Angeles area, as prevailing winds bring smog into the region.4 The Empire’s valleys also trap the area’s own air pollution from the truck, automobile, and train traffic running through the region, connecting the ports to the west with the major throughways to the east.5

In addition to the environment, the economy of the region is also fragile. The Inland Empire makes up over 11 percent of California’s population,6 but incomes and employment lag behind much of the state. Per capita income is about $23,000 compared with a state average of over $30,000, placing it among the lowest earning metropolitan areas in California. More than 17.5 percent of the population was living below the federal poverty line in 2015 ($24,250 for a family of four), compared to 14.7 percent of California’s entire population.7 The environmental and economic challenges facing the Inland Empire make it an important region in which to study the economic impacts of the state’s climate programs.

This report offers a quantitative assessment of the net economic impacts between 2010 and 2016 in the Inland Empire of four of California’s major climate programs and policies: cap and trade, the renewables portfolio standard (RPS), distributed solar programs (including the California Solar Initiative), and investor-owned utility (IOU) ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs, overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). It also includes projections and factors affecting the impacts of these programs on the region through 2030.

Results for the four programs and policies investigated are summarized below. The findings indicate that California’s major climate policies have had net economic benefits in the Inland Empire.

Just Transition for the coal industry is expensive – but cheaper than failure to address the needs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 5, 2017

July 2017 saw the release of  Lessons from Previous Coal Transitions:  High-level Summary for Decision-makers , a synthesis report of case studies of past coal mining transitions in Spain, U.K., the Netherlands, Poland, U.S., and the Czech Republic – some as far back as the 1970’s.  Some key take-aways from the report:  “Because of the large scale and complexity of the challenges to be addressed, the earlier that actors (i.e. workers, companies and regions) anticipated, accepted and began to implement steps to prepare and cushion the shock of the transition, the better the results”; “the aggregate social costs to the state of a failure to invest in the transition of workers and regions are often much higher that the costs of not investing from an overall societal perspective.” While the level of cost details varies in the case studies, it is clear that costs are significant.  For example, the case study of Limburg, Netherlands states that the national government spent approximately 11.6 billion Euros (in today’s prices) on national subsidies to support coal prices and regional reconversion, in addition to  several 100 million per year in EU funds. “One estimate also suggested that in the Dutch case, all told, regional reinvestment in new economic activities also cost about 300 to 400 000€/per long-term job created.”  Limburg is also cited as “remarkable for the relatively consensual nature of the transition between unions, company and government.”  (see page 10).

The Synthesis report and individual case study reports of the six countries are available here . These are the work of the Research and Dialogue on Coal Transitions project, a large-scale research project led by Climate Strategies and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) , which also sponsors the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.  Future reports scheduled for 2018: a Global report, and a Round Table on the Future of Coal.

Coal Miners Are Good People

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, September 1, 2017

People ask me “Why do Appalachians vote against their own best interests?” Some are friends who are honestly trying to understand the situation from a point of concern. I know that they seek the cause for the discrepancy, rather than assume coal mining families are incapable of making intelligent political decisions.

The question still stings however,  and whether meant or not, it brings up the age old stereotypes of Appalachian people as being backward and ignorant. Often I can separate those who mean well, from those who are just out to place the blame on someone for our nations current political troubles. The latter tend to follow up their question with another statement— “They are bringing it on themselves.”

Such outright condescension pisses me off and explains much of why people back home vote exactly the way they do.

In his book Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers (1982), Ron D. Eller stated that our nation seeks to attribute Appalachia’s social problems to a “pathological culture” rather than the “economic and political realities in the area as they evolved over time.” In 2017, nothing has changed. Case in pointHillbilly Elegy.  The realities Eller speaks of, however, are linked wholesale to the trillions of dollars of natural resources our ancestors inadvertently settled upon 200 years ago, resources that supply our nation’s insatiable low-cost desires for all things comfortable and convenient. Suffice to say, this crucial information is willfully overlooked in most media representations of Appalachia and becomes just one of many other issues backlogged within our nation’s cognitive dissonance.

As with most materialism in our country, people don’t want to know about the origins of their lifestyles: the deplorable third world sweatshops filled with children sewing together our latest fashions; the slave labor used to extract precious metals in Africa for our electronics; industrial farming complete with pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones; and the exploitation and destruction of Appalachian communities to supply electrical power and provide other raw materials. As our nation continues its frivolous pillaging, people continually find it easier to ignore and dehumanize those who suffer from it rather than to acknowledge the true costs of their urban wonderlands.

I refuse to let this happen, especially with the people I know and grew up respecting.

The Climate Insurgency Trilogy

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 25, 2017

The Labor Network for Sustainability is pleased to announce the publication of Jeremy Brecher’s Climate Insurgency Trilogy:

Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (2nd edition)

Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual

Together these three books present a comprehensive look at the challenges and possibilities of protecting the earth’s climate through a global nonviolent climate insurgency.

Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (2nd edition) presents the first history of climate protection movements “from above” and “from below”; explains why climate protection efforts have so far failed; and proposes a worldwide constitutional insurgency to overcome that failure.

Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming presents a vision for the labor climate movement that provides a comprehensive and at times provocative view of the past, present, and future of how workers and the labor movement relate to climate change.

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual tells how to put the climate insurgency strategy into action. It provides a handbook for climate insurgents.

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the labor history classic Strike!, recently published in an expanded fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. He is a co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability.

Climate Solidarity: Workers Vs. Warming

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 25, 2017

Download CLIMATE SOLIDARITY: WORKERS VS. WARMING free!

Workers have no greater interest than to prevent the destruction of the earth’s climate on behalf of themselves and their posterity. But workers often act as an organized force to oppose climate protection measures in the name of their interests as workers. How is such a paradoxical state of affairs possible? How did we get in such a state? How can we change it? How can the working class reorganize itself to fight for climate protection? Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming proposes answers to these questions.

Climate Solidarity presents a vision for the labor climate movement. It offers a comprehensive and at times provocative view of the past, present, and future of organized labor and climate change. It provides a substantive analysis for leaders and activists in the labor climate movement. It presents a well thought out, historically informed analysis both of climate change and of organized labor. Climate Solidarity will be read and discussed by those who will shape labor’s response to the climate crisis.

Jeremy Brecher is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements, including the labor history classic Strike!, recently published in an expanded fortieth anniversary edition by PM Press. Climate Solidarity: Workers vs. Warming is part of Brecher’s Climate Insurgency Trilogy, along with Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival and Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual.

Creating a Just Transition Webinar

By Jeremy Brecher, Labor Network for Sustainability - July 14, 2017

How can we organize to avoid letting our opponents pit "jobs," workers and unions against climate, water and community protection? How can we build "just transition" that includes a better future for workers who produce and use fossil fuels, construction workers who build fossil fuel infrastructure and communities that depend on them?

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

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