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labor and environment

Why Trade Unionists Should March for a Clean Energy Revolution

By Joe Uehlein - March for a Clean Energy Revolution, June 14, 2016

Labor Network for Sustainability is calling on trade unionists to go to Philadelphia to march for a  Clean Energy Revolution on Sunday, July 24. Why?

We face the reality of climate change around the world as we digest shocking new data gathered by climate scientists in just the past six months. Climate chaos is upon us and it’s far worse than anyone ever thought.

It is not evident that we, as a society, will meet this challenge.  It’s even less clear that the labor movement will rise to this challenge.  However, the transition is still happeningthe clean energy train left the station a decade ago and many are working to keep it moving.

It is time for those of us in the labor movement to rise to the challenge and become a central player in the movement to build a sustainable future for the planet and its people – not only for the survival and well-being of all but also for organized labor’s own self-interest.

Workers need jobs.  The Labor Network for Sustainability’s (LNS) report “The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money” outlines a path to 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions by 2050 while creating a lot of high quality jobs in construction and manufacturing at no new costs. It is part of our new  Climate, Jobs, and Justice Project. We consider the Clean Energy Future plan a baseline.  If we are willing to spend more money, we can achieve a lot more.

In fact, organized labor needs to develop its own, worker-friendly plan to protect the climate. Ron Blackwell, former Chief Economist at the AFL-CIO joined with Jeremy Brecher and myself to outline such a plan:  If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change. It calls for a massive national program- on the scale of economic mobilization for World War II- to address income inequality and climate change.

Of course, naysayers are fond of repeating that jobs dedicated to fixing the climate aren’t “real jobs,” or good jobs with security, family-supporting wages and benefits. They also like to point out that if these jobs are real, they are mostly non-union. And this is true. We — the labor movement — really need to get busy with strategies to make climate-fixing jobs unionized and part of that is working hard to make them real.

Climate, Jobs, and Justice: A plan for a just transition to a climate-safe economy

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 12, 2016

Can we radically reduce the climate-destroying greenhouse gases (GHGs) we put into the atmosphere, yet also increase jobs for American workers, protect those whose jobs may be threatened by climate policies, and reduce America’s inequality and injustice? A series of reports from The Labor Network for Sustainability and Synapse Energy Economics shows we can.

The plans to create jobs and build a more just society by putting people to work protecting the climate are laid out in the LNS Climate, Jobs and Justice Project. They project an effective, workable program for a just transition to a climate-safe economy. They include a broad national jobs program and detailed studies of local, state, and regional plans that provide opportunities for organizing around and creating economic alternatives while developing examples that can inspire further changes at a national level.

The Clean Energy Future

The Climate, Jobs, and Justice project begins with a report titled “The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money,” prepared for the Labor Network for Sustainability [1] (LNS) and 350.org, [2] with research conducted by a team led by economist Frank Ackerman of Synapse Energy Economics. [3] It shows that the United States can reduce GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050 — while adding half-a-million jobs annually and saving Americans billions of dollars on their electrical, heating, and transportation costs. While protecting the climate has often been portrayed as a threat to American workers’ jobs and the U.S. economy, this report shows that a clean energy future will produce more jobs than “business as usual” with fossil fuels and will save money to boot.

“The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money” lays out an aggressive strategy for energy efficiency and renewable energy that will:

  • Transform the electric system, cutting coal-fired power in half by 2030 and eliminating it by 2050; building no new nuclear plants; and reducing the use of natural gas far below business-as-usual levels.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, in the sectors analyzed (which account for three-quarters of US GHG emissions).
  • Save money – the cost of electricity, heating, and transportation under this plan is $78 billion less than current projections from now through 2050.
  • Create new jobs – more than 500,000 per year over business as usual projections through 2050.

“The Clean Energy Future” presents a practical, realistic way for the United States to stop aggravating global warming. It does not depend on international agreements, science-fiction technologies, or sacrifice of Americans’ well being. Indeed, it provides financial, health, and job benefits for American workers and consumers that include much more than climate protection.

Why is this possible? The “Clean Energy Future” does not depend on any new technical breakthroughs to realize these gains, only a continuation of current trends in energy efficiency and renewable energy costs – but the cost of renewables is falling so fast that they are already cheaper than fossil fuel energy in some places and soon will be in most. And reducing our energy use through energy efficiency is already far cheaper than burning more fossil fuels. “The Clean Energy Future” shows in detail how we can use these new energy realities to meet our climate goals.

Most of the additional jobs will be in manufacturing and construction. Such jobs tend to have higher wages and better benefits than average, providing new opportunities for American workers. Manufacturing and construction also provide a high proportion of the better jobs held by people of color. Expanding these sectors will help counter the growing inequality within the American labor market. The report advocates deliberate policies to create new opportunities and job pipelines for those groups who have been most excluded from good jobs.

The study covers the entire electric system, light vehicle transportation (cars and light trucks), space heating and water heating, and waste management. It assumes conversion of all gasoline-powered light vehicles and most space heating and water heating to 100 percent renewable electricity. This strategy achieves three-fourths of the total emission reduction needed to reach the 80 percent by 2050 target. The report also cites other studies suggesting that sufficient GHG reduction can be achieved in the remaining sectors – freight and transit, industrial process emissions, and non-energy GHG emissions in agriculture – to meet the 80% by 2050 GHG reduction target. Indeed, that target requires only moderate reductions in these other sectors; accelerated reduction in these other

sectors would make possible even faster and larger national progress, doing better than 80 percent by 2050.

The plan will put the US on a trajectory to contribute its share of GHG emission reduction sufficient to reach the minimum target established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050.

Other studies have, at times, projected even larger job creation from a climate protection agenda. Frequently this is based on assuming much greater spending, accelerating the transition to clean energy. And indeed, in order to stabilize the climate and avoid worst-case risks of damage from climate change it may be necessary to go faster.

“The Clean Energy Future” is designed to show how much can be done with no increase in costs. It provides a floor, not a ceiling, for what can be accomplished. It shows how we can meet basic climate goals with no net cost, and that doing so will create more jobs. But we can, and indeed should, do more. By accelerating implementation of the plan and expanding efforts to other sectors we can approach zero net GHG emissions before 2050. That will take more up-front investment – but it will also create more jobs.

Climate protection strategy can be designed to provide the maximum number of good, secure, permanent jobs with education, training, and advancement that provide maximum possible improvement in our job shortage. Because some jobs will be lost in the clean energy future (about one job lost for every five new jobs created), we need a vigorous program to provide new, high-quality jobs and/or dignified retirement for workers displaced from the old energy industries.

“The Clean Energy Future” will help bring together environmental and labor advocates around their common interest in putting Americans to work saving the earth’s climate. Climate protection has caused significant friction as labor unions and environmentalists have disagreed about whether it is more important to create jobs or address climate change. The report demonstrates that this is a false choice. Climate protection is also a great jobs program. We can create many more jobs by protecting the environment than by expanding the fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the states

What does the Clean Energy Future mean at a state level? The Climate, Jobs, and Justice Project includes case studies on Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois, and Eastern Kentucky, as well as forthcoming studies on North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest. Each reveals a different dimension of the transition to the clean energy future.

“The Connecticut Clean Energy Future: Climate goals and employment benefits” shows how a largely non-industrial state with extreme economic inequality can create a rapidly growing climate protection sector that creates stable jobs for unionized workers, effective job ladders for those previously excluded from good jobs, and expansion of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other sectors.

“Maryland’s Clean Energy Future: Climate Goals and Employment Benefits” presents a Clean Energy Future plan to reduces Maryland’s net emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) 80 percent below the 2006 level by 2050 – while adding more than ten thousand jobs per year. The report also indicates that Maryland can use the burgeoning state and national demand for clean energy to create good, stable jobs in a growing climate protection sector: manufacturing jobs, jobs for those who have been marginalized in the current labor market, and jobs for skilled union workers in the construction trades. It argues that Maryland needs a robust job creation and clean industry development strategy to realize that potential.

“Illinois Jobs and Clean Energy: Protecting the Climate and the State Economy” report lays out a climate protection strategy that will produce more than 28,000 net new jobs per year over business as usual projections through 2050. That represents almost 0.5 percent of total employment in the state, so it should reduce the unemployment rate by one-half percent. Three-quarters of the jobs created will be in the high-wage construction and manufacturing sectors.

While the country as a whole will benefit from the transition to a clean energy future, workers and communities in the fossil fuel industries are likely to face adverse effects. The coal mining area of Eastern Kentucky is a case in point. “Employment after coal: Creating new jobs in Eastern Kentucky,” lays out a practical approach to creating a new economy for Appalachian Kentucky. It analyzes the potential for job growth in six sectors: energy efficiency; local food production; healthcare; forest products; tourism; and environmental remediation. It presents a plan that will produce nearly 25,000 new jobs by 2030– enough to replace half of today’s coal jobs and to bring the unemployment rate down to the national average.

Whenever there is opposition to a pipeline, power plant, oil well, or other fossil fuel project, it raises a legitimate question: Where are the people who would have built and operated them going to find jobs? The forthcoming report “The Economic Impact of Clean Energy Investments in the Pacific Northwest: Alternatives to Fossil Fuel Exports” examines job prospects for such an area, Grays Harbor County in western Washington state. It compares a recently-defeated coal export terminal to possible clean energy projects. It finds that the clean energy projects will create more jobs, but that public policies are needed to ensure that they are good jobs.

Additional reports are in the works and will be added to the Climate, Jobs, and Justice website as they are completed.

The world must go fossil-free – and fast. Americans have often been told that meeting climate targets is impossible without threatening jobs and costing a fortune. But the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Project shows that the opposite is true. The Clean Energy Future represents a pathway away from climate destruction that is far better for workers and consumers than our current economy based on fossil fuels. Should we let greed and inertia prevent us from taking the better path?

Notes

[1] The Labor Network for Sustainability was founded in 2009 based on an understanding that long-term sustainability cannot be achieved without environmental protection, economic fairness, and social justice. LNS believes we all need to be able to make a living on a living planet.

[2] Founded in 2008, 350.org is building a global climate movement with online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions coordinated by a global network active in over 188 countries.

[3] Synapse Energy Economics is a research and consulting firm specializing in energy, economic, and environmental topics. Since its inception in 1996, Synapse has grown to become a leader in providing rigorous analysis of the electric power sector for public interest and governmental clients.

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers

By Joe Uehline - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The IWW is not affiliated with the Labor Network for Sustainability.

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers The Labor Network for Sustainability today called for environmentalists and other allies of organized labor to support oil refinery workers who went on strike this week.

Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of LNS, said, “Oil refinery workers are in the front line of protecting our communities against the environmental hazards of the oil industry. Their skill and experience is critical for preventing devastating explosions, spills, and releases. The oil companies ar

e creating conditions that make it impossible for refinery workers to protect us. Their strike is about making conditions that are safe and healthy for workers and communities. They deserve the support of environmentalists and everyone concerned about the rights and wellbeing of working people.”

Oil producers have slashed spending because of the falling price of oil. The result has been devastating for workers on the job. According to Steelworkers International Vice-President Gary Beevers, head of the Steelworkers National Oil Bargaining Program, “This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire,” Beevers added.

That does not mean that oil companies lack the money to provide safe and decent working conditions. Refiners’ shares on the Standard & Poor’s 500 have more than doubled since the beginning of 2012. According to LNS Executive Director Uehlein, “It is critical that environmentalists support the rights and needs of working people, just as it is essential that workers support the need for a clean, healthy environment. As we work to protect the earth from climate change, it is particularly important that we advocate for the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries whose wellbeing must not be sacrificed to the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability (www.labor4sustainability.org) is dedicated to engaging trade unionists, workers, and their allies to support economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Contact: Joe Uehlein, Labor Network for Sustainability: joeuehlein@mac.com

New Report: Protect the Climate, Save Money, and Create Jobs

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 14, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Today labor and environmental organizations released a new report, The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money, showing that the United States can reduce greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions 80 percent by 2050 — while adding half-a-million jobs and saving Americans billions of dollars on their electrical, heating, and transportation costs.

Joe Uehlein of the Labor Network for Sustainability says, “This report is good news for American workers. Protecting the climate has often been portrayed as a threat to American workers’ jobs and the U.S. economy. But this report shows that a clean energy future will produce more jobs than “business as usual” with fossil fuels.”

May Boeve of 350.org says, “This report presents a practical, realistic way for the United States to address the climate crisis and proves that we don’t have to choose between jobs and the environment.”

The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money refutes the claim that meeting the IPCC targets will cause economic devastation. Indeed, not only can these targets can be met, but meeting them will create more jobs and save money. This report, prepared by the Labor Network for Sustainability and 350.org, with research conducted by a team led by economist Frank Ackerman of Synapse Energy Economics, lays out an aggressive strategy for energy efficiency and renewable energy that will:

Transform the electric system, cutting coal-fired power in half by 2030 and eliminating it by 2050; building no new nuclear plants; and reducing the use of natural gas far below business-as-usual levels.

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, in the sectors analyzed (which account for three-quarters of US GHG emissions).
  • Save money – the cost of electricity, heating, and transportation under this plan is $78 billion less than current projections from now through 2050.
  • Create new jobs – more than 500,000 per year over business as usual projections through 2050.

This program will help bring together environmental and labor advocates around their common interest in putting Americans to work saving the earth’s climate. Climate protection has caused significant friction between labor unions and environmentalists around whether to create jobs or address climate change. The report demonstrates that this is a false choice. For unions and other jobs advocates, climate protection is also a great jobs program. We can create many more jobs by protecting the environment than by expanding the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Read the full report here: PDF

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: 

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?

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.

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.

Fighting for Green Solutions to Pittsburgh’s “Sewage in the Rivers Problem”

By Thomas Hoffman - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 4, 2018

Almost 7 years ago, six Pittsburgh based organizations realized that our region was going to spend $2-4 billion dollars of area residents’ money to stop 9+ billion gallons of untreated sewage from flowing into our iconic three rivers. The overflows occur when stormwater runs off roads roofs and parking lots into the storm sewers which are the same as the waste sewers.

Pittsburgh is not unusual – many older industrial cities have the same problem. If you combine all the money that will be spent by these cities fixing this problem it totals to roughly half a trillion dollars.

The groups formed the Clean Rivers Campaign to win a “maximum green first followed by right sized gray” solution to cleaning our rivers. They felt that in addition to cleaning our rivers such a solution would bring maximum community benefits back to area residents. These benefits include long term local family sustaining Union jobs, cleaner air and water, and revitalized communities.

The six organizations are Pittsburgh United, a PWF affiliate composed of labor, faith and community groups, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, a faith based organization, three enviro groups -Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and Action United, a low income neighborhood organizing group. The Unions in Pittsburgh United (SEIU, UFCW and USWA) have been very supportive of the campaign because the neighborhoods where much of the green investments would happen are where their members live.

The alternative solution being promoted by our regional sewer authority, ALCOSAN, is the construction of miles of massive tunnels to collect all the stormwater runoff and sewage overflow. The sewage would then be pumped out of the tunnels using pumps powered by fossil fuels and then treated  before being released into the river again. While this would solve the sewage in the rivers problems it would have none of the community benefits listed above. It would also do nothing to reduce the flooding that may low income and minority communities are experiencing.

Unions from 12 Countries Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

By Bruno Dobrusin and Sean Sweeney - Unions Against Fracking, November 9, 2015

Thirty trade union bodies representing tens of millions of workers have issued a statement calling for a “global moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas, coal seam gas, and shale oil.”  Among the thirty first-signers are national trade union centers from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines; two Global Union Federations representing education and public service workers, and key unions in health care, energy and water utilities.

Unions are also among more than 1,000 organizations that have signed the Global Frackdown for Paris.

“In Argentina we have witnessed the heroic resistance to fracking being led by the Mapuche people in Neuquén province,” said Adolfo “Fito” Aguirre of Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina. “The YPF-Chevron agreement to frack for shale gas and oil has led to heavy police repression of activists, and homes of Mapuche residents have been burned to the ground. The prospect of high-volume fracking in Argentina will lead to even more resistance–we need a global response.”

  • If you or your union would like more information about this initiative, please contact UAF here.
  • Local, national and international level unions are all invited to sign on.
  • Resources for unions on fracking here.

The Statement:

We Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

We are national trade union centers, global union federations, and individual unions representing millions of workers in the global North and South.

We call for a global moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas, coal seam gas, and shale oil.

Fracking is happening or is being proposed in a growing number of countries. In Argentina and Canada indigenous people have led the resistance, and in Bulgaria and Romania farmers have engaged in direct action against the gas companies.

Fracking has led to attacks on land rights, and the large amounts of water used in fracking also threatens to increase water scarcity in areas where water supply and access pose real problems for people, particularly those in poor rural communities.

In almost every country or region where fracking is either proposed or already happening it has met determined opposition from a wide array of people and organizations.

The experience of fracking in the United States since 2002 has shown that the process threatens the health and quality of life of communities situated near drilling sites.

There are tens of thousands of shale gas wells in the U.S. alone – and water contamination is a known result of drilling. The high-volume use of carcinogenic chemicals such as silica also poses a threat to health, particularly to workers on drilling sites and who handle the wastewater from fracking. In the U.S. companies are not even required by law to disclose the chemicals used in the process.

We are also concerned about the impact of fugitive methane from drilling sites on global warming. Recent drill-site and atmospheric studies show high levels of methane leakage — suggesting that shale gas is worse than coal in terms of its impact on the atmosphere.

In calling for global a moratorium on fracking, our unions stand in solidarity with all communities, municipalities, regions and nations who have already introduced moratoriums or are attempting to do so.

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