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Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW)

Equitable Access to Clean Energy Resilience

By various - The Climate Center, August 5, 2020

Featuring Janea Scott, California Energy Commission; Genevieve Shiroma, California Public Utilities Commission; Carmen Ramirez, Mayor Pro Tem of Oxnard; Ellie Cohen, The Climate Center and others about policies to support climate justice and community energy resilience in lower-income communities who suffer disproportionately from pollution and power outages.

This summit gave overview of what California is doing now for clean energy resilience and what new policies are needed to provide access to clean and reliable power for all. Mari Rose Taruc, Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign; Gabriela Orantes, North Bay Organizing Project; and Nayamin Martinez, Central California Environmental Justice Network discussed the issue of equitable access from an Environmental Justice perspective.

Mark Kyle, former Director of Government Affairs & Public Relations, Operating Engineers Local 3 and currently a North Bay attorney representing labor unions, nonprofits, and individuals; Jennifer Kropke, Workforce and Environmental Engagement for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 11, and Vivian Price, CSU Dominguez Hills & Labor Network for Sustainability talked about the Labor perspective.

Carolyn Glanton, Sonoma Clean Power; Sage Lang, Monterey Bay Community Power; Stephanie Chen, Senior Policy Counsel, MCE, and JP Ross, East Bay Community Energy discussed the work that Community Choice Agencies are doing to bring more energy resilience to lower-income communities.

LNS Webinar Explores the Origins of ‘Just Transition’

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainabaility - July 22, 2020

“Just Transition” has become one of the most common—and most controversial—themes in the Labor-Climate movement. On July 22, the Labor Network for Sustainability helped illuminate the idea with a webinar on “Just Transition: Love It, Hate It – You’ve Heard the Term, Now Hear the Story.” It featured some of those who first originated and campaigned for a Just Transition for workers and communities. Watch and learn the backstory for this essential building block for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just future.

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

How to Achieve Zero Emissions, Even if the Federal Government Won't Help

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, January 17, 2018

With Donald Trump in the White House, the prospects for fighting climate change have never been any bleaker in the US. Yet there are options available to state governments to move forward with the greening of the economy even without federal support. This point is made crystal clear in two studies produced recently by economist Robert Pollin and some of his colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the states of Washington and New York. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Pollin explains the significance of Green New Deal programs.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, two new studies on fighting climate change have been produced by you and two PERI researchers for the states of New York and Washington. How did these studies come about?

Robert Pollin: These were both commissioned studies. For the New York study, the commissioning group was New York Renews, which is a coalition of over 130 organizations in New York State, including labor unions, environmental groups and social justice organizations. For the Washington State study, three important groups within the US labor movement commissioned the study -- the United Steelworkers, Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and the Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education (TMC). Tony Mazzocchi was a great visionary labor leader with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW -- [which] has since merged into the United Steelworkers), who fought to link the aims of working people with those of environmentalists.

It is not an accident that my co-workers and I were asked to do these similar studies at basically the same time. In both cases, the groups supporting the studies are advancing ambitious green economy programs within their respective states. It is obvious that nothing good on climate change is going to be coming out of the federal government under Trump. It is equally obvious that we can't wait around on climate issues (and many other matters) until somebody less awful gets into the White House. We therefore have to take the most forceful possible actions at the level of state politics. This is what the coalitions are doing in both New York and Washington States.

It is also significant that, with both studies, our priority was to show how a viable climate change project can be completely compatible with -- indeed, supportive of -- a pro-labor agenda. Trump and others on the right have feasted on the divides between labor and environmentalists, claiming that if you are for the environment, then you have to be against working people and their communities. These studies show in great detail (some might even say excruciating detail) that these Trump claims are flat-out wrong.

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska's Economy

By John Talberth, Ph.D. and Daphne Wysham - Center for Sustainable Economy, October 2017

Of the 50 United States, Alaska best exemplifies the types of problems the rest of the country may well face in a matter of decades, if not years, if we don’t wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The U.S. is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom, one that has caused oil and gas prices to plummet, with devastating consequences for Alaska, a state that has grown dependent on revenue from the oil and gas industry for its public funds.

However, if one only looked at the prominent outlines of the boom-and-bust, oil and gas economy in Alaska, one would miss a subtler shift happening on a much smaller scale: A more sustainable, self-reliant economy is beginning to take shape in remote villages and towns throughout the state.

While this sustainable economy is beginning to take root, it needs special care. In a report, commissioned by Greenpeace USA, entitled “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska’s Economy,” CSE’s John Talberth and Daphne Wysham write that this nascent economy in Alaska shows great promise but will require investments in the following key sectors if it is to thrive:

  • human capital—particularly in computer literacy in rural areas;
  • sustainable energy, including wind, wave, tidal and solar energy;
  • greater local self-reliance in food including produce, which currently is imported at great cost, and fisheries, which is often exported for processing, and manufacturing;
  • the clean-up of fossil fuel infrastructure, including abandoned infrastructure sites;
  • the protection of ecosystems;
  • tourism led and controlled by Alaska Native communities;
  • and sustainable fisheries.

But investment in these key building blocks is only the first step. Also needed are policy changes at the state and federal level that would remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, begin to internalize the price of pollution, and make federal funds available that are currently out of reach for many Alaska Natives.

Read the report (PDF).

Victory Over the Sun

By Connor Kilpatrick  - Jacobin, August 2017

The greatest environmentalist of postwar America wasn’t a scientist or a wonk. He didn’t even finish high school.

Brooklyn native Tony Mazzocchi, who passed away in 2002, isn’t a household name — yet. But when a future socialist society on the other side of the climate crisis goes looking for statues to build and parks to name, he will be at the top of the list.

Today, the AFL-CIO lobbies Congress to pass the Keystone XL pipeline while noted NASA climate scientist James Hansen, one of the first to link global warming to fossil fuels, is repeatedly arrested for protesting such projects. And while in 2017, the idea that the interests between wonky environmentalists and jobs-focused trade unionists would diverge seems like common sense, it’s only because the bad guys won.

But it wasn’t a preordained victory. For nearly a decade in the 1960s and ’70s, environmentalism seemed to be on the cusp of a popular reckoning against the powers of capital. And it found an ally in the labor movement which, for a few years, looked like it might be able to not only cling to life but find a way back into the heart of American society.

Mazzocchi and his union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International (OCAW), were the primary muscle behind the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), signed into law by Richard Nixon. Looking back on that victory, which mobilized both labor and the burgeoning environmental movement, Mazzocchi said: “We have demonstrated that an unpopular idea can be generated into a powerful political program that’ll reignite the consciousness of the American people.”

When the postwar boom was fizzling out, Mazzocchi — one of the few officials in the labor movement who bought into neither Cold War anticommunism nor business unionism — wanted to push harder: “workers should be ready to learn about the problems of capitalism.” And in the last decades of his life, Mazzocchi cofounded the Labor Party — whose 1996 convention saw Jeremy Corbyn taking the stage in Cleveland to declare it “one of the most hopeful and inspiring events I’ve been to in very many years.” Much like Sanders, Mazzocchi was a survivor of decades of left retreat — a Brooklyn Red from another era who, somehow, managed to stay fighting so that when the Left was ready, he was there. And with the appearance of the environmental movement, Mazzocchi saw an opening.

Well, if You Ask Me: Oil and Me

By Dano T Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 14, 2016

So, a large part of my life has revolved around oil refineries.

I was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a suburb of Louisville , Kentucky in 1981. My father worked for Ashland Oil (now Marathon Oil) in their Louisville Refinery. This refinery was shut down in 1983, and my dad accepted a transfer to Ashland Oil’s main operation in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, where my family moved when I was 2 years old. Many other workers from Louisville, and from another shuttered refinery in Buffalo, New York were also relocated to the Ashland Oil refinery there.

So, my entire childhood, youth, life, etc. were directly affected by the flux of the industrial economy, one that is now dying or dead in most of the U.S., offshored to other places for higher profits and lax regulation. And as my life was affected by this move, I learned many things from this refinery, which still touches me in various ways.

The refinery is why I grew up in Appalachian, Kentucky, never knowing another place until traveling and moving around years later. Hell, the high school I went to was named after former Ashland Oil executive Paul G. Blazer, know for his pioneering work to seek federal subsidies for the domestic oil industry in the U.S. (ugh, I know, right?) This refinery paid for most everything in my life (my mother worked as well, but for minimal wages), clothes, school, cars, what have you. This refinery not only influenced me economically in a personal way, but it controlled the economy of the whole town and region, sponsoring events and filling city coffers with tax revenue and the like. When it was bought out in 1998 by Marathon Oil from Ohio, and the corporate office in Ashland closed and jobs were slashed, this decimated the area in a way that it has never recovered from. The NAFTA years, which also resulted in what has led to near death blows for the steel industry around Ashland as well, were not kind to the Appalachia Rust Belt on the Ohio River. People left, capital left, towns shrank in half, infrastructure crumbed and drugs arrived. For a good read about these years in Appalachia and how folks fought back, I highly recommend the book, “To Move a Mountain:Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia.”

As industry fled, its residual pollution and the consequences remained. This refinery also not only affected my health and my families, but the health of the whole region, and still continues to do so. Beyond destroying my dad’s back, industry also worked over the air quality of the region. One gem from a few years ago, concerning the elementary school that I went to and that my mom worked at, is linked here: “Chemical found in air outside 15 schools” Oh, of those schools, three of them are in Ashland, and all of them were exposed to, “elevated levels of a substance that — in a more potent form — was also used as a chemical weapon during World War I.”

This link with Ashland Oil extends to my adult working life as well, again concerning not only air pollution but water pollution as well. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, who used to employ your truly, fought its first big campaign back in the 1980’s and 90’s against Ashland Oil and their assault on the health and environment of the community. A summary of their great work on this can be found here. Highlights include: “in response to persistent (ten-years) and intense pressure from OVEC members and the organized surrounding communities, the US Department of Justice fined Ashland $5.8 million, and forced them to put aside over $30 million to bring their three US refineries into full compliance with pollution laws. Ashland was forced to install video cameras linked to regulators’ offices for pollution monitoring-the first such action taken in the United States.”

Ashland Oil later went on to spin off its nascent coal division into a separate company, which became Arch Coal, which is now the second largest supplier of coal in the U.S and the major proponent of Mountaintop Removal coal mining in Appalachia.

This oil refinery also shaped my views of organized labor and the power of a union. My father was a proud member of OCAW, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, which later became PACE and was eventually folded into the United Steelworkers union. These union wages and benefits are what prompted my father and my family to relocated for this job, and also made them able to pay for the things I mentioned previously. It was not just oil that enable me to have a middle class upbringing, and it was not just my father’s labor, it was the collective labor of all those at the refinery and their collective union bargaining for these wages and benefits. I distinctly remember a labor dispute in the early 90’s, the picket lines, the strike fund, the scabs and the solidarity. It gave me a profound respect for these brave workers and how the middle class was built in this country, which was not given to us by corporations but by us demanding our fair share. It was also great to see their successful labor action of last year as part of a nationwide refinery strike, speaking up for worker safety and winning.

How Do We 'Change Everything' without Pitting Workers against the Planet?

By Alexandra Bradbury; image by Sam Churchill - Labor Notes, September 8, 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.

As fights erupted in the Pacific Northwest this summer over fuel export terminals and Arctic drilling, the idea of a just transition has been on my mind.

The late Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers (now part of the Steelworkers) coined the term. A “just transition” away from fossil fuels wouldn’t pit workers against the planet. Those displaced should be able to count on decent new green jobs and retraining.

“There’s a Superfund for dirt,” Mazzocchi used to say. “There ought to be one for workers.”

SHELL NO?

As Shell Oil’s drilling rig and ice cutter churned toward the Arctic, activists in Seattle and Portland, paddling kayaks and dangling from cables, tried to block them. Some unions backed the protests, but not the usually progressive Longshore Workers (ILWU).

Servicing Shell’s fleet will provide “an awful lot of family-wage jobs,” said Justin Hirsch, an ILWU Local 19 executive board member—at a time when condo developers are eyeing the waterfront and longshore jobs are squeezed by shipping industry consolidation.

Don’t get him wrong. Hirsch also says “climate change is a massive issue, and it’s going to have to be dealt with by labor.”

But he’s worried the shift to a green economy offers employers an opportunity to destroy the pay, benefits, and workplace control it took generations of struggle to achieve. Will green jobs be lower-waged and nonunion?

Tony Mazzocchi's Spirit Haunts Big Oil Again

By Steve Early - CounterPunch and Beyon Chron, February 4, 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.

Twelve years ago, America’s leading advocate of occupational health and environmental safety succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

In the U.S., where the influence of organized labor has long been contracting, the death of a former trade union official is often little noted. Yet Tony Mazzocchi was no ordinary labor leader. His passing from the scene, at age 76, was widely recognized and correctly mourned as a great loss for the entire union movement.

As a top strategist for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), Mazzocchi pioneered alliances between workers concerned about job safety and health hazards and communities exposed to industrial pollution generated by companies like Shell, Chevron, and Mobil.

In 1973, members of the OCAW (who are now part of the United Steel Workers) conducted a national contract campaign and four-month strike at Shell Oil over workplace safety rights and protections. As Mazzocchi’s biographer, Les Leopold notes, “the strike helped build a stronger anti-corporate movement” because OCAW members learned “that you can’t win these fights alone.” To win—or even just battle Big Oil to a draw—workers had to join forces with the very same environmental organizations long demonized by the industry as the enemy of labor and management alike.

Beating Climate Change by Retooling the Economy—The Story Begins in Navajo Country

A proposed community-owned solar project on an abandoned coal mine in Arizona illustrates how cooperative economics make it possible to stop extracting fossil fuels—without leaving workers behind.

By Mary Hansen - Yes Magazine, October 17, 2014

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.

“I grew up without running water,” Nichole Alex, a young woman from Dilkon, Ariz., says in a video released by the activist group Black Mesa Water Coalition. Alex grew up on the Navajo reservation in the rural Black Mesa region of Arizona, where for decades a controversial coal mine emptied the region’s aquifer, leaving local wells dry.

“I grew up traveling 20 miles to gather water,” Alex continues. “That’s not fair, that my community is being sacrificed to power the valley here.”

In 1970, the Peabody Coal Company began mining on the reservation. Although tribal members were initially enthusiastic about the jobs the mine would provide, over time the relationship grew rocky. The company built a coal slurry pipeline that cut straight through the reservation and pumped billions of gallons of water from the Navajo Aquifer. Peabody mixed the water with coal and pumped the fluid mixture to a power plant in Nevada where the coal was burned to generate electricity for the nearby cities of Phoenix and Tucson, as well as other parts of the Southwest. But local people like Alex were left without access to water.

It’s a story echoed around the country: From the East Bay in California to the mountains of Appalachia, fossil fuel companies have drilled, burned, and mined their way into towns, cities, and rural areas—especially communities of color, as well as indigenous and low-income ones—disrupting the lives of people and damaging the environment.

But local residents have fought back. In 2001, Navajo and Hopi youth created the Black Mesa Water Coalition to stop the depletion of the Navajo Aquifer. They educated their peers and neighbors about the problem, and eventually persuaded the Navajo Tribal Council to cut off Peabody Coal’s access to the aquifer. That work, combined with a lawsuit that charged Peabody with violation of the Clean Air Act, helped to force the shutdown of the Black Mesa coal mine in 2005.

The problem with that outcome was that it left many residents of the reservation without jobs. About 300 Navajo and Hopi people had worked for Peabody, according to the advocacy group Cultural Survival . Efforts by the Black Mesa Water Coalition and its allies to create green jobs through traditional livelihoods, like wool-making and farming, have made only a small dent in the unemployment rate, which hovers around 50 percent. Furthermore, the land where the coal mine had been is not suitable for living or farming.

The story of Black Mesa illustrates a realization that is sweeping through the network of organizations, individuals, and coalitions working to fight global warming: While the burning of fossil fuels causes climate change, simply shutting down these industries leaves workers and their families behind, and often result in a familiar conflict over “jobs versus the environment.” That in turn prevents many workers and low-income groups from joining the fight against climate change—something movement leaders say they cannot afford.

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