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Want to Know How We Can Win a Just Transition? States Hold a Key

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, November 16, 2021

The climate justice movement has undoubtedly picked up steam in the last three years as talk of a Green New Deal has made its way into the mainstream. But even after uphill and innovative organizing, our federal government has not adequately responded to the serious and existential threat of climate change: The Build Back Better bill, touted by the Biden administration as our generation’s great hope for action on climate change, has been almost completely gutted in Congress, where it still awaits passage. And after the ultra-wealthy took private jets to and from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it does not appear that the urgent action we need will come any time soon. As temperatures increase and storms become worse, the environmental situation is even more dire: Humans can expect ​“untold suffering,” scientists warn, including mass extinction and death, if we don’t act fast.

Amid our elected leaders’ monumental failures, the climate justice movement has smartly moved its focus away from pet projects, like small-scale lawsuits, and towards organizing to build a movement with enough popular support to change our political system. To get the numbers we need — of workers in the many millions — it is necessary to ensure that climate solutions, whether it’s stopping coal extraction or halting fossil fuel digging, don’t abandon workers in those industries. This is the idea behind a ​“just transition,” which aims to move to an environmentally sustainable economy while making sure all workers have safe and dignified work. 

State by state, organizers are working hard to make a just transition a reality and, fortunately, there are a few wins to point to. Unions and environmental groups won a joint victory this June, when the Climate and Community Investment Act, SB 999, passed in Connecticut. The legislation will do three important things: require prevailing wages for construction workers on renewable energy projects, ensure renewable energy projects create good, union jobs for Connecticut residents from disadvantaged communities, and negotiate community benefits agreements, which are agreements that describe a developer’s obligations to the broader community.

This state-level legislation is a step toward an urgent — and existential — need. Kimberly Glassman is the director of the Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that represents both building trades unions and union contractors to monitor public works’ projects for compliance with wage and other labor laws. She told In These Times, ​“As we transition away from fossil fuel dependent energy into green energy, [we have to make sure] that the workforce that has built their livelihoods in the fossil fuel industry has a way to transition and has access to good paying jobs in the green energy sector.” 

Union Struggles Against Climate Change

Spurred by unions, states make strides on climate action

By Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Pat Devaney, Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO - Climate Jobs National Resources Center, November 4, 2021

With Washington still negotiating critical climate provisions in the reconciliation bill, you’d be forgiven for feeling impatient. The dual crises of climate change and extreme inequality are a threat to our society, and every one of us has a stake in pushing our elected leaders to build a climate-safe and equitable future.

Fortunately, workers and their unions are making tremendous progress in advancing bold legislation at the state level to address these two existential crises. Just last week, labor unions united under the Climate Jobs Illinois coalition scored a massive victory for workers and the planet when Illinois enacted a landmark climate bill that sets the state on a path to a carbon-free power sector by 2045 with the strongest-in-the-nation labor and equity standards.

Thanks to the labor movement’s leadership on climate change, the Illinois bill will slash emissions, create thousands of new clean energy union jobs, expand union apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities, increase energy efficiency for public schools, and safeguard thousands of union workers at the state’s nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois’ zero-emissions energy. It also contains a transition program for families and communities currently reliant on jobs in the fossil fuel industry. This win shows what’s possible when workers and their unions lead on pursuing bold climate action at the scale that science demands.

Illinois isn’t alone. This summer, unions and environmental groups in Connecticut organized to pass strong labor and equity standards for renewable energy projects through the state legislature. The legislation they won includes prevailing wage and project labor agreement provisions and requires energy developers to partner with in-state apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, which will expand access to good union jobs, specifically in communities of color that have seen generations of underinvestment and underemployment.

Inside Clean Energy: Who’s Ahead in the Race for Offshore Wind Jobs in the US?

By Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, October 28, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

States and metropolitan areas are competing to become hubs of land-based jobs for offshore wind.

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

Labor is Leading: Building the Climate Jobs Movement Now!

‘Everyone Wants a Good Job’: The Texas Unions Fighting for a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizmodo, August 18, 2021

The myth that climate action kills jobs is dying. Study after study shows that serious environmental policy spurs job creation. Most recently, a July report found that meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals could create 8 million positions globally by 2050.

Organized labor still opposes some environmental policies, though, particularly building trade unions looking to protect their members’ jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The sector isn’t a great employer, with oil and gas companies slashing thousands of non-unionized workers in recent years. But by and large, jobs in coal, oil, and gas pay more than those in clean power and are more frequently unionized.

But labor and climate organizers are aiming to ease fossil fuel workers’ concerns, with an increasing push to make sure the climate jobs of the future are unionized and pay as well as their fossil fuel counterparts. They’re also putting the need to protect workers at the forefront rather than treating labor as an afterthought. The growing climate-labor movement could be the key to making sure decarbonization actually happens in a speedy and fair manner, and it’s making inroads in some surprising places.

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.

Just Transition/Transition to Justice: Power, Policy and Possibilities

By J. Mijin Cha, Manuel Pastor, Cynthia Moreno, and Matt Phillips - Equity Research Institute, June 2021

This report looks at this process of power building for just transition in four states: California, Kentucky, Louisiana, and New York. We combine an analysis of the pillars of just transition – strong governmental support, dedicated funding streams, diverse coalitions, and economic diversification – with an analysis of how to change power at a state level that focuses on the conditions that impact possibilities, the community-level capabilities that facilitate effective voice, and the arenas in which power is contested. Ultimately, the fight for a just transition is a fight for justice. And, while we know it will be hard and long, the stories we heard showed how advocates and organizers, often in the face of great odds, come together and force the change that makes people’s lives better. Building upon these efforts through supporting organizing, coalition building, and empowering communities is the blueprint for advancing a just transition. Through these channels, we can transition from a dirty polluting past to a just and healthy future.

Read the text (PDF).

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