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Educators Organize for a Just Transition

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 30, 2024

A just-published article by Todd E. Vachon, “Climate Justice for All: Pursuing a Just Transition in the Education Sector”—published in the American Federation of Teachers journal The American Educator—lays out in detail “what educators can do—and many already are doing—through their unions to promote climate justice and equity in their schools and communities.”

Vachon is an assistant professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, the director of the Labor Education Action Research Network, and the author of Clean Air and Good Jobs: U.S. Labor and the Struggle for Climate Justice. He is also a co-author of the Labor Network for Sustainability report “Workers and Communities in Transition”.

Vachon argues that “the world is in the midst of two simultaneous and interconnected crises: a crisis of ecology and a crisis of inequality.” But “the good news is that there is an important role that students, educators, our local unions, and community allies can play in addressing the dual crises of climate change and inequality.” Confronting the climate crisis offers “a potential pathway for making some of the important changes in our economy that are needed to recenter the lives and well-being of people.” Such a “just transition” offers “a vision of economic democracy, including public investments to account for the full social costs and benefits of environmental and economic policies to create the most just—not necessarily the most profitable—outcome for all.”

Educators can start by promoting “green and healthy schools” that involve “installing renewable energy generation and storage systems, renovating existing school buildings to improve efficiencies, constructing new green buildings, securing strong labor standards, ensuring an open and democratic process for all stakeholders, and requiring local and preferential hiring to ensure that local communities and displaced workers benefit from the jobs that are created in the process.”

Forging a just transition in education with healthy green schools and social and economic justice requires “grassroots organizing and power building,” such as “forming local union climate justice committees, building strong partnerships with students and community groups, bargaining for the common good, and holding decision makers accountable.” The cross-union Educators Climate Action Network, convened by the Labor Network for Sustainability, brings together over 100 union educators from across the country to tackle climate change and promote climate justice in education.

Vachon ends with a challenge and an invitation: “Perhaps your local union will be the next to take bold climate action and become a part of the solution by helping to forge your own local Green New Deal and joining the national effort.”

Link to the article:

Link to ECAN:

Link to LNS Just Transition Listening Project report:

Workers and the World Unite: Labor in an Ecosocialist Green New Deal

Pursuing a Just Transition in the Education Sector

By Todd E. Vachon - American Federation of Teachers, January 2024

On Sunday, October 28, 2012, teachers across the Northeast were glued to their television sets to watch the latest weather forecast about the approaching hurricane. Schools would be closed Monday. Emergencies were declared, line crews were summoned, shelters were prepared, and command centers were opened. New York City made the unprecedented decision to stop all subway service.

As feared, Superstorm Sandy arrived with a vengeance the next evening, knocking out power for eight million people across 17 states, destroying countless homes, rendering the NYC subway system nonoperational, and closing all 1,750 of the city’s schools for a week. Dozens of damaged schools remained shuttered even longer, forcing students to share buildings with other schools, sometimes in distant boroughs of the city. Over 100 deaths were attributed to the storm, including at least one teacher. As with previous extreme storms such as Hurricane Katrina that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 or later storms like Hurricane Maria that ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, it was the working class and poor—the frontline communities—who were hit first and worst.

Nine years later, New York and New Jersey were devastated again by Hurricane Ida while still continuing to shore up infrastructure ruined by Sandy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration places the total cost of Superstorm Sandy at over $70 billion—possibly the costliest to ever hit the region, making it the most economically devastating event to hit New York City since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

While individual weather events like Sandy cannot be directly attributed to climate change, their likelihood, frequency, and intensity are all increased by climate change. As the Earth warms, storms that used to happen once a century are now happening more frequently, and the impacts on students, teachers, and communities are devastating. This article explores some of the causes of the climate crisis, including its relationship to social and economic inequality, and what educators can do—and many already are doing—through their unions to promote climate justice and equity in their schools and communities. Perhaps your local union will be the next to take bold climate action and become a part of the solution by helping to forge your own local Green New Deal and joining the national effort.

Freedom School: What Is Climate Justice and Why Are Unions Integral to It?

American Federation of Teachers Says, “Declare a Climate Emergency”

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 3, 2023

On October 3 the Executive Council of the American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution “Declaring a Climate Emergency and Developing Climate Action and Healthy Building Plans.” It resolved that:

  • The AFT urgently demands that President Biden take bold action by declaring a national climate emergency and working to build a robust, just and regenerative energy system
  • The AFT will bring together AFT leaders and district/city/employer teams, at the earliest time and place practicable, to discuss and develop model clean energy and healthy building climate action plans specific to employers―local government, school districts, colleges, universities and hospitals―to access the new federal resources
  • Such plans will advocate that states and municipalities use President Biden’s clean energy and infrastructure program funds to do their part to mitigate and prepare for the unfolding climate crisis, with plans including such items as retrofitting and weatherizing, remediating facilities for toxic substances, installing energy efficient systems, integrating climate justice curriculum, implementing sustainable practices to reduce carbon footprint, and supporting green careers through training and education for students and communities 
  • Such plans will also be rooted in community needs and include input from students, parents, local administrative leaders, appropriate green and union allies, and diverse community representatives

The resolution came in the wake of extensive organizing by union educators through the Educators Climate Action Network facilitated by LNS, the AFT Climate and Environmental Justice Caucus, and LNS’s organizing of the “labor hub” of the September 17th March to End Fossil fuels in New York.

How to FIGHT for Cleaner Air in the Workplace

Storytelling on the Road to Socialism: Episode 16: A Teacher Speaks

By Candace Wolf - Storytelling on the Road to Socialism, July 4, 2023

On this episode, a teacher and former president of the Washington DC Teachers' Union tells the story of her work in the classroom as a radical teacher


  • The Internationale - Alistair Hulett
  • To Be Young, Gifted and Black - Nina Simone
  • Socialism is Better -words & music by Bruce Wolf; performed by Bruce Wolf, Noah Wolf, Gaby Gignoux-Wolfsohn

The Impact of Energy Investments on the Financial Value and the Carbon Footprint of Pension Funds

By Michael Zonta, Melanie Issett, Celinda Ma, and Olaf Weber - School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED), University of Waterloo, June 26, 2023

This report presents the results of analyses conducted on a group of pension funds that face popular demands to decarbonize their investment holdings (Climate Safe Pensions Network (CSPN)). A key argument made by advocates is that fossil fuel-free portfolios would have seen superior investment performance during the last decade. The scope of the analyses includes the historical public equity investments of the funds and are based on data provided by either Bloomberg or Capital IQ2. The analyses were conducted between 2013 and 2022 for the funds with publicly accessible data. Data for eight of the funds were available, including:

Data for eight of the funds were available, including:

  • Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APFC)
  • Alaska Retirement Management Board (ARMB)
  • California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS)
  • California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS)
  • Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association (CoPERA)
  • New York State Teachers' Retirement System (NYSTRS)
  • Oregon Public Employees' Retirement Fund (OPERF)
  • State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB)

if six of the eight U.S. public pension funds had divested 10 years ago, they would have been $21 billion richer, an average 13% higher return rate. These six pensions collectively represent approximately 3.4 million people.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Common Good a Big Subject in Oakland Schools Strike

By Daria Marcantonio Kieffer and Micaela Morse - Labor Notes, May 19, 2023

The 3,000 teachers and support staff of the Oakland Education Association walked out May 4, shutting down all 85 elementary, middle, and high schools.

Community support was immediate and widespread—parents were already familiar with the cuts the district had inflicted or proposed. Many donated food and joined our picket lines to walk, dance, and chant in solidarity.

Eighty-eight percent of teachers had voted to strike, after it became clear that our demands were not being taken seriously at the negotiating table.

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) had stonewalled us—delaying meetings, failing to show up, and presenting vague proposals that demonstrated a limited understanding of what’s really needed day to day in schools.

“Teachers feel disrespected and fed up.” said Sarah Wheels, a fifth-grade teacher and union site representative. “We’ve been bargaining for six months, but our superintendent only came for the first time to meet and bargain with us last Sunday.”

The Green New Deal in the Cities, Part 1: Boston

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 16, 2023

While the Green New Deal started as a proposed national program, some of the most impressive implementations of its principles and policies are occurring at a municipal level. Part 1 of “The Green New Deal in the Cities” provides an extended account of the Boston Green New Deal, perhaps the most comprehensive effort so far to apply Green New Deal principles in a major city. Part 2 presents Green New Deal-style programs developing in Los Angeles and Seattle, and reviews the programs and policies being adapted in cities around the country to use climate protection as a vehicle for creating jobs and challenging injustice.

Urban politics often seem to produce not so much benefit for the people as inequality, exclusion, and private gain for the wealthiest. Does it have to be that way? In cities throughout the US, new political formations, often under the banner of the Green New Deal, are creating a new form of urban politics. They pursue the Green New Deal’s core objectives of fighting climate change in ways that produce good jobs and increase equality. They are based on coalitions of impoverished urban neighborhoods, disempowered racial and ethnic groups, organized labor, and advocates for climate and the environment. They involved widespread democratic mobilization. A case in point is the Boston Green New Deal.


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