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A Worker's Green New Deal

By Paul Prescod, Lara Skinner, and Zakia Elliot - Science for the People, October 16, 2020

Science for the People's second teach-in on a Worker's Green New Deal. This is the seventh, and final, of our series of virtual teach-ins on A People's Green New Deal. For more information visit this page.

Related magazine article: "Dignity Over Dumping: The Fight for Climate Justice and a Just Transition for Sanitation Workers" by Zakia Elliott, Alison Kenner, and Morgan Sarao. This panel is focused on how to broadly conceptualize and implement a "Worker's Green New Deal." We would like to bring in topics of environmental justice that include workplace issues.

These could include workplace exposure to chemical, biological and other hazards, lack of public and worker education on these topics, inadequate PPEs to protect workers and other such issues. We would like the discussion to address questions like: What would a Green New Deal look like that is centered on workers' rights and is carried out in collaboration with unions and other workers' organizations? How does support for union jobs and the growth of unions, especially in the public sector, lay a strong foundation for protecting our environment and communities?

With the Help of Teachers Unions, the Climate Strikes Could Be Moving Into Phase 2

By Rachel M Cohen - In These Times, November 4, 2019.

As young people across the country join the global movement to mobilize school strikes to demand climate action, one group is starting to think more seriously about how to best support those efforts: their teachers.

Educators, like those in the California Federation of Teachers and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), are beginning to leverage their power both as teachers and union members to push the bounds of climate activism.

Kurt Ostrow, a high school English teacher in Fall River, Mass., has helped lead his union to the forefront of the climate movement over the last few years.

“Climate to me has always been the major crisis that needs to be addressed, and even though in the classroom I really try to prioritize it, it just doesn’t feel always enough,” he says. “So I have been trying to use the leverage that we have a as union of 110,000 people to support the movement.”

In his first year of teaching five years ago, Ostrow went as a delegate to MTA’s annual meeting, where the union’s social justice caucus—Educators for a Democratic Union—sought a teacher to introduce a resolution (known as a “New Business Item”) recommending the divestment of state pension plans from coal. Ostrow’s college friends had been leaders in the campus divestment movement, and he had always participated in their actions as an ally, so he was happy to volunteer to introduce it.

“We lost a quorum, so we weren’t able to take a vote on it, but the next year we did it again and it passed,” he said. “That was really how I first dipped my toes in.”

When the youth climate strikes took off last year, Ostrow, who now serves on the board of his statewide union, began thinking harder about how teachers could help them. At its March board meeting, he decided to introduce a resolution that the MTA would support the youth climate strike scheduled for March 15. It passed unanimously.

At the union’s next annual meeting, held in May two months later, leaders of the social justice caucus deliberated over what environmental resolutions they should introduce to best support the Green New Deal.

“I knew we could put forward a resolution that said MTA supports the Green New Deal, and I think that would have passed easily, but I really wanted to create a decision point, like a ‘which side are you on’ moment that would really force teachers to confront their own conscience,” he told In These Times. “So I decided to go radical, and I put forward a New Business Item calling for the MTA to propose a national teachers strike in support of the Green New Deal.”

It’s illegal for teachers to strike in Massachusetts, and following Ostrow’s impassioned speech at the conference, there was some heated debate. In the end, though, it passed.

NYC Public Pension Funds Fossil Fuels Divestment Campaign

By Nancy Romer - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 22, 2017

New York City Public Worker Pension Funds are on the cusp of selling off or divesting from their fossil fuel stocks.  How and why are NYC workers and climate activists so intent on achieving this?  What will it mean if they win this?  First some background.

Pension Funds are the Capital of US Workers

American workers too often feel overwhelmed by the power of capitalism in general and financial corporations in particular.  We may feel we have few economic resources with which to exert our opinions and defend our needs in a system based on money.  We may want to challenge “fossil fuel capitalism” that threatens the future for our grandchildren, but how?

Most American workers do own capital in the form of their own homes and, especially, in their pension funds.  Often the pension funds are managed with the support and participation of their unions or, more specifically, their union leaders. What if union members were to look closely at our pension funds and see how we could use them to create the kind of world we want:  investments in renewable energy, public transportation, affordable housing, public education, regenerative agriculture?

As a sector, pension funds are the single largest institutional investor followed by banks, investment firms, and insurance companies (Global Pension Statistics Project, GPS).  Approximately $40 trillion was invested by pension funds in financial markets in 2015 and that gives workers much more financial punch than we realize or use.

Pensions represent deferred compensation to workers and are negotiated through contracts on behalf of union members.  The intention is to provide income during retirement years. Workers have the potential financial power through collectively using their pension funds to both protect us through financially insecure times such as these and to have an impact on the world we want to see, the world we want to leave to our children and future generations.  Too often the second part of this formula—having an impact on the world we want to see—is totally ignored.

A growing number of American workers are questioning the wisdom of keeping their hard-earned deferred income in fossil fuel holdings.   Some unions, particularly public service unions, are joining the other financial entities, like universities, faith organizations, and foundations, which have divested their funds from fossil fuel holdings. Pension funds committed to divestment comprised 12% of all divestment commitments. Globally, a full $5.2 trillion in assets has been pledged to divest from fossil fuels. [Arabella Global Divestment Report, 2016]  That’s a huge start!  We are denying funds from the fossil fuel industry, devaluing their stocks, stopping to “feed the beast”, making fossil fuel corporations pariahs, like we did with tobacco companies that caused cancer.

Here's the Teacher-Friendly Antidote to Heartland Institute's Anti-Science School 'Propaganda'

By Ashley Braun - DeSmog Blog, November 26, 2017

On a Monday morning at the end of October, Rob Ross asked a group of earth scientists and educators a question: How many of them had received copies of the Heartland Institute book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming?

You could feel an immediate sense of frustration in the air. Roughly half of them raised their hands. The Heartland Institute is a Chicago-based think tank that rejects the scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate and has received funding from the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and fossil fuel industry.

In March, it mailed, unsolicited, a 135-page book and accompanying DVD to tens of thousands of science teachers at public high schools across the U.S., with plans to keep that up until the report was in the hands of every last one.

While it received swift backlash — including from Democratic senators, Heartland’s most recent effort (though not its first) to spread climate science denial in public schools had a somewhat fortuitous timing. Ross and his colleagues at the Paleontological Research Institution were putting the finishing touches on their own book for science educators, The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change.

We “had it mostly done when we learned about the Heartland Institute's project to distribute misinformation” to teachers across the country, Ross told DeSmog. He recalls finding out about Heartland’s teacher mailing either through Facebook or the news. It caused an immediate stir among the community of earth science educators.

At first, we were, of course, incredibly alarmed but our second thought was, ‘Well, OK, we have a product to counter it,’” said Ross, who was one of The Teacher-Friendly Guide’s editors.

This gave us a really strong motivation to get the book in the hands of as many teachers as possible across the country.”

Don Duggan-Haas, who also contributed to the guide, says their team felt compelled to respond more directly to Heartland’s misinformation but in a way that wouldn’t delay their own publishing date.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide already had 11 chapters covering everything from the evidence and causes of climate change to the obstacles in addressing and reasons for teaching it. Adding a final chapter, written by Alexandra Moore, in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQ) seemed like the best approach.

An unnatural disaster hits Puerto Rico's schools

By Monique Dols and Lance Selfa - Socialist Worker, October 28, 2017

MORE THAN one month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, a battle over the future of the island's schools has emerged. As this article was being written, only 119 out of a total of 1,113 schools had opened.

The Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR)--a teachers' union which has organized against school closures and attacks on public education for many years--charges Education Secretary Julia Keleher with unnecessarily delaying the opening of hundreds of schools in order push for privatization. The FMPR has called for Keleher's resignation.

By October 24, school was back in session for a small portion of children in particular areas in and around the two major cities of San Juan and Mayaqüez. But in other educational districts, Keleher has postponed the opening of schools indefinitely.

There's no doubt that in a number of localities, classes must be postponed while schools are rehabilitated, and electricity and water are restored.

When we arrived at the Escuela de la Comunidad Marcelino Canino Canino in Dorado, about 20 miles west of San Juan, we joined a "brigade" of more than a dozen teachers, parents, students and local supporters of the FMPR and the Partido Independentista de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Independence Party or PIP). The brigade had been at work for hours trying to clean up the school.

During Hurricane Maria, the school, which sits in a flood plain between two rivers, endured heavy flooding. In many classrooms, muddy water almost reached the ceiling. On classroom walls, we could see the marks left behind after the floodwaters receded.

The brigade filled dozens of shopping carts with waterlogged and moldy school supplies and books--in some cases, having to scrape them off the concrete floors--before dumping them in a huge, open-air pile outside the school. Hundreds of rusted desks and filing cabinets lined the entrances to the school.

This was just another example of ordinary working people organizing themselves to fill the vacuum after the government abandoned them. Yet again, the work of people like those on the brigade at Escuela Canino gave the lie to Donald Trump's insulting tweet saying that Puerto Ricans "want everything to done for them."

An Open Letter to Developer Phil Tagami

By Ted Franklin - No Coal in Oakland, April 7, 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

On Saturday, April 8, the Alameda Labor Council will sponsor a Labor, Climate & Jobs Forum with plenary and workshop sessions devoted to how Unions are addressing climate and environmental challenges by organizing workers and communities.  Speakers will include Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer, Alameda Labor Council; Kathyrn Lybarger, president, California State Federation of Labor; Cesar Diaz, State Building and Construction Trades Council; and Carol Zabin, UC Berkeley Labor Center Green Economy Program.

The Forum follows the Labor Council’s pathbreaking support for the No Coal in Oakland campaign.  In September 2015, in one of the first actions by any labor council in the United States to oppose a developer’s plans on environmental grounds, the Alameda Labor Council passed a resolution calling on Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Oakland City Council, and the project developers “to reject the export of coal through the Oakland Global project, to not take funds from Utah to secure use of the terminals for coal, and to execute a binding agreement or adopt an ordinance that will bar export of coal from this public land.”

With strong support from Labor, faith, environmental, and community organizations, the Oakland City Council banned the storage and handling of coal in the City of Oakland by adopting an ordinance prohibiting bulk storage and handling of coal within Oakland’s city limits.

The City supported its decision by reviewing extensive evidence of serious local health and safety impacts that would result from locating a large coal export facility in West Oakland as well as disastrous effects on global climate that would result from burning the vast quantities of coal that would be shipped overseas.

UPTE-CWA resolution demanding University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP) divest from Energy Transfer Partners and from Banking Institutions that fund the Dakota Access Pipeline

By the University Professional and Technical Employees union (UPTE-CWA) - Resolution, January 15, 2017

WHEREAS, The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe actively opposes the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) on unceded treaty lands of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties. The lands are the sites where the ancestors have been laid to rest and on which DAPL continues to desecrate; and

WHEREAS, The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe actively opposes the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) along a route under Lake Oahe and across the Missouri River, the primary source of drinking water of the tribe. The pipeline is slated to carry up to 570,000 gallons of crude oil per day along its 1, 172 mile route and pipeline ruptures have become increasingly more common throughout the U.S. and a pipeline burst would not only endanger the Standing Rock Sioux reservation but it would also endanger the clean water downstream since the Missouri River is a major tributary to the Mississippi River which more than 17 million people depend on for both human consumption and irrigation; and

WHEREAS, The members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe are fulfilling the responsibility conferred upon them by their ancestors to Protect the Sacred Lands and Water for future generations and invite people to stand with them and join them in peaceful prayerful non-violent direct actions and to actively DIVEST from Energy Transfer Partners and any financial institution that is providing financial support for this project; and

WHEREAS, the Sacred Stone camp, Rosebud, Oceti Sakowin camp (Seven Council Fires Camp) and now also the Oceti Oyate Camp (One Nation camp) have become major camps of non-violent resistance which brought together more than 300 Native American tribes throughout the U.S, Mexico, Central America, South America, the First Nation people of Norway, Australia and the Polynesians and thousands of people from around the world, to stand with Standing Rock and participate in prayerful non-violent direct action and among those that have participated in the activities in the camps are native and non-native members of organized labor as well as 4,000 U.S. military veterans; and

WHEREAS, the prayer ceremonies and non-violent direct actions carried out by the water protectors have been met with a brutal military response from DAPL security and Morton County Sheriff’s Department and to the arrests of more than 500 Water Protectors. The military response is unwarranted against unarmed civilians whom are exercising their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Lawsuits have been filed against Morton County and DAPL security for its disproportionate use of violence and its use of attack dogs and “non-lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets, LRADs, 5lb cans of far reaching mace, tear gas shot into crowds, water cannons sprayed in sub-freezing temperatures and concussion grenades in ways that have caused serious and permanent bodily injury; and

WHEREAS, solidarity with Standing Rock has been voiced by a growing number of labor bodies, including the Communications Workers of America; Academic Student-Employees-UAW Local 4123; Amalgamated Transit Union; American Federation of Teachers Local 2121-City College of San Francisco Faculty Union; American Postal Workers Union; Black Workers for Justice; Border Agricultural Workers; California Faculty Association; California Federation of Teachers, Climate Justice Task Force; Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Canadian Union of Public Employees; Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions; Chicago Graduate Employees Organization, IFT/AFT AFL-CIO Local 6297; City of Madison LIUNA local 236; GEO-UAW Local 2322; GEU-UAW Local 6950; GSOC-UAW Local 2110; GSU-UChicago, IFT/AFT Local 6300; Industrial Workers of the World; IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus; Labor Coalition for Community Action; Labor for Palestine; Labor for Standing Rock; National Nurses United; New York State Nurses Association; National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981; Rutgers AAUP-AFT; SEIU 503 OPEU; Service Employees International Union; TAA-Graduate Worker Union of UW-Madison; United Electrical Workers; and University of California Student-Workers Union-UAW Local 2865; and

WHEREAS, union members, including UPTE members have shown support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the water protectors by donating money and supplies to the Sacred Stone, Rosebud, Oceti Sakowin (Council of the Seven Fires) and Oceti Oyate (One Nation) camps as well as by going to the camps individually and in delegations such as Labor for Standing Rock and providing donated labor to assist the camps in its preparations for the extremely cold North Dakota winter weather conditions and staying there to provide continued support; and

WHEREAS, University of California has committed itself to Global Sustainability goals and supports the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement yet its financial investments in the University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP Holdings) include more than $3 million dollars in Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the main corporation behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of shares in many of the banks that are financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, which contradicts the stated goals of the Paris Climate Agreement since the continued extraction of fossil fuels will undoubtedly put the planet at risk of surpassing the 2 degree mark; and

WHEREAS, the Solutions Project, known previously as the Wind, Water and Sun study by Stanford University provides an evidence-based approach towards reaching our sustainability goals and a renewable energy future by investment in clean energy jobs and would steer us away from the destruction of our planet and lead us towards a Just Transition away from a fossil fuel economy; and

WHEREAS, millions of people are realizing that the false dichotomy of jobs vs environment no longer is sustainable and are opposed to the violation of Treaty Rights as well as violations of Human and Civil Rights perpetrated against the Water Protectors and are actively withdrawing their personal and business accounts from the banks that are funding DAPL as well as for calling for the divestment of ETP shares from their CALPERS and CALSTRS;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT: University Technical and Professional Employees-CWA calls upon the federal government to immediately end construction of and remove the Dakota Access Pipeline, and

be it further RESOLVED, that UPTE calls for an immediate end to state violence against the water protectors at Standing Rock and dismissal of all charges against Water Protectors, and

be it further RESOLVED, that this union urges the entire labor movement to actively promote just transition to a sustainable alternative energy economy that respects indigenous rights, the environment, and the rights of all workers to safe, well-paying union jobs, and

be it further RESOLVED, that this union will seek divestment of all union, benefit and Retirement funds from Energy Transfer Partners, Citibank, Wells Fargo Bank and other DAPL funders and will seek to invest in a future that will reduce our carbon emissions and help create a just, sustainable and prosperous future for all.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change

Edited by Ingrid H. H. Zabel, Don Duggan-Haas, and Robert M. Ross - Paleontological Research Institution, 2017

The subject of climate change has become so socially and politically polarizing that it may be awkward to bring it up in polite conversation if one is not already sure of where others stand on the issue. But climate change is happening, and it’s essential for all to have an accurate understanding of the findings and implications of climate science: climate change is one of the most critical issues of the 21st century. Indeed, in the context of school curricula, it is difficult to imagine a subject that is not in some way affected by climate change or the processes of mitigating or adapting to it, so there are potentially myriad connections of this subject to just about everything that goes on in the classroom.

Despite this importance, even the basic science of climate change has until recently appeared much less in K-12 education than might be expected. Its presence is now accelerating, however, facilitated in part by its integration into the Next Generation Science Standards, and there are many existing books on climate change and some excellent online resources for teachers to help with integration of climate change into curricula. Yet there exist few user-friendly books on climate change, written for teachers, that include both the basics of climate change science and perspectives on teaching communities of learners across the polarized spectrum. That is a need we seek to help fill with this volume.

This book was written for teachers who could benefit from a “teacher-friendly” resource on climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

CalPERS, CalSTRS, UC Invested in Dakota Access Pipeline Despite Pledges of Sustainability

By Darwin Bond-Graham - East Bay Express, December20, 2016

Last Monday, two-dozen activists chanted, sang, and drummed outside Wells Fargo' San Francisco headquarters to demand the bank stop financing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Wells Fargo has drawn criticism for its central role in raising funds for the pipeline's construction. But banks aren't the only Bay Area institutions that stand to profit if the pipeline is completed.

The University of California and the state's two largest public pension systems, CalPERS and CalSTRS, are also invested in Energy Transfer Partners and the oil company Sunoco, which recently merged with ETP in a deal worth $20 billion. ETP and Sunoco are the companies building the Dakota pipeline.

According to the UC's most recent annual report for its employee-retirement system, it has $3.1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners bonds.

CalPERS, the state's giant public-employee retirement system, has invested $57 million in Energy Transfer Partners. The retirement system also owns Sunoco bonds worth $1.8 million.

And the California State Teachers Retirement System, or CalSTRS, owns $34 million in Energy Transfer Partners bonds and another $12.8 million in Sunoco bonds.

"By buying these corporate bonds they're betting on the success of the pipeline," said Janet Cox of Fossil Free California, a group that advocates divesting from fossil fuels.

Teachers, students, and public employees have rallied for years to divest retirement funds and endowments from oil, gas, and coal. Results have been slow and mixed.

PA Public School Employees, DIVEST!

By Dianne Arnold, et. al. - Berks Gas Truth, November 11, 2016

If you are a current or retired PA public school employee, please consider signing the letter being circulated by a group of teachers who have started a divestment campaign. Below is the email they have sent to colleagues that contains the link to the sign on letter.

The letter is based on research we did that found that 49% of the PSERS holdings are in fossil fuels and that many of the drilling and pipeline companies doing  harm in Pennsylvania are on the list.

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to you to ask you to join me in taking action today on a critical issue.  As you probably know, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that continuing to burn fossil fuels is putting our planet’s future in peril unless we act decisively.  But, are you aware that 29 of the top 32 holdings in PSERS, our pension fund, are with fossil fuel companies? One of them, Energy Transfer Partners, has been cited for brutal treatment of Standing Rock Sioux members protecting sacred burial grounds and local water supplies from the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.  In Pennsylvania, Energy Transfer Partners and other companies are involved in massive pipeline build-outs to move gas to shipping ports.

An increasing number of retirement plans in the United States and across the world are divesting from fossil fuels and doing so profitably. In fact, a portfolio heavily reliant on fossil fuels is not financially sound.

Please join me and a number of our fellow educators and retirees in taking 3 decisive steps.

  • Sign the online petition,https://bitly.com/PSERSDIVEST, demanding that PSERS begins to divest from fossil fuels.
  • Forward this e-mail and attached petition to all educators you know who are members of PSERS.
  • Share the petition on Facebook or whatever form of social media you use.

We will deliver this letter, with the list of supportive current and retired educators, at the next PSERS board meeting on December 7.

Not only is this a financial issue, but it is a moral issue as well.   Our actions now will impact our children today and all future generations.

Thank you.

Dianne Arnold, retired educator, Allegheny Intermediate Unit

Mike Kamandulis, retired instructor of Earth and Environmental Science, Penn State, DuBois

Robin Lowry, teacher, School District of Philadelphia

Anita Mentzer, retired teacher, Annville-Cleona SD

Max Rosen-Long, teacher, School District of Philadelphia

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