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Joe Uehlein

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

Why Unions Are the Key to Passing a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizomodo, September 25, 2020

There’s a persistent conservative myth that the clean energy transition must come at the expense of employment. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. The Congressional resolution on a Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last February, includes a proposal guarantee employment to all those who want it. And increasingly, climate activists are focusing on the potential to create millions of good jobs in clean energy.

These pro-worker proposals—and the knowledge that it will take an economy-wide effort to kick fossil fuels and the curb to avert climate catastrophe—have won the platform support from swaths of the labor movement. Yet some powerful unions still oppose the sweeping proposal. The president of the AFL-CIO—the largest federation of unions in the U.S.—criticized the Green New Deal resolution, and heads of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Mine Workers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have outright opposed it. That poses a political roadblock to achieving the necessary transformation of the U.S. economy. 

“The Green New Deal movement needs broader support from the labor movement to be successful,” Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability and former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department, said. “As long as labor isn’t a central player in this movement, they will they have the power to block pretty much anything. on Capitol Hill. They contribute in electoral campaigns. They’re a very powerful force.”

Union Locals Build Support for the Green New Deal’s “Just Transition”

By Candice Bernd - Truthout, April 6, 2019

Undeterred by the Senate’s recent dismissal of the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) recently accepted Congressional Coal Caucus member Rep. Andy Barr’s (R-Kentucky) invitation to tour a coal mine in his district and meet with mine workers and voters in Appalachia to talk about how they could benefit from the resolution’s “just transition.”

That transition, as laid out in Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, would include a federal jobs guarantee for U.S. workers. This includes former fossil fuel sector workers as they transition to build the infrastructure needed to shift the country to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years.

Even as many of the resolution’s proponents are now turning their focus away from passing the Green New Deal on the heels of March’s procedural vote in the Senate, climate change legislation remains a priority for the Democratic Party. The resolution’s supporters are now looking at multiple bills in hopes of advancing standalone elements of the broader initiative as grassroots groups like the Sunrise Movement continue efforts to build support for the plan.

But what exactly would a Green New Deal or another piece of climate chance legislation focused on transitioning to renewables mean for the Kentucky coal workers Ocasio-Cortez is set to meet?

The plan backs union jobs and outlines commitments to “wage and benefit parity for workers” affected by the energy transition. The resolution also supports collective bargaining rights for workers while calling for “trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments” with strong labor protections.

Still, labor leaders like those on the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee remain skeptical of the resolution’s call for a just transition. The Energy Committee sent an open letter to the resolution’s authors, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Ocasio-Cortez, blasting the resolution last month. “We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” wrote Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The March 8 letter comes on the heels of a February letter sent to the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), and its ranking member, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), outlining the “grave concerns about unrealistic solutions such as those advocated in the ‘Green New Deal,’” by seven unions representing workers in the building industry.

The strongest support for the plan has come from the joint executive board of the 163,000-member East Coast property service union, 32BJ SEIU, which passed its own resolution in February in support of the Green New Deal. Union President Héctor Figueroa recently condemned the Senate’s procedural vote to reject the plan, saying in a statement that, “Creating good jobs in this exciting new industry is as doable as it is necessary, but only if we work together in unity rather than giving into Washington’s divisive tactics.”

Joe Uehlein on the Green New Deal

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2019

On Monday, February 18, 2019, Chris Bangert-Drowns, a senior reporter with WPFW, the Pacifica Radio affiliate in Washington, D.C. spoke with LNS founding president Joe Uehlein about the Green New Deal and the tepid response from some unions. Listen below.

Audio Player

Listen here.

12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein - In These Times, December 17, 2018

Workers have gotten a raw deal. Employers and their Republican allies are trying to eliminate workers’ rights both in the workplace and at the ballot box. But even when Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, they did little to protect, let alone expand, the rights of working people. Workers need a new deal.

Now, an alliance of social movements and members of Congress are proposing a Green New Deal to create millions of jobs by putting Americans to work making a climate-safe economy. This program meets the needs of—and has the potential to unite—the labor movement, environmentalists, and all those who have been the victims of inequality, discrimination, racism and, now, climate change.   

In the week following the 2018 midterm elections, a group of 150 protesters led by young people with the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of likely Democratic House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, urging her to support a Green New Deal. Newly-elected House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) joined the protest with a resolution in hand to establish a Select Committee for a Green New Deal. The proposal has since amassed growing support among Congressional representatives, progressive organizations and young people across the country. 

The Green New Deal is poised to become a factor in the 2020 elections. Labor unions should take this opportunity to embrace the proposal—and fight to make sure it’s a strong vehicle for advancing workers’ rights.

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.

Even Trump Can’t Stop the Tide of Green Jobs

By Yana Kunichoff - In These Times, February 22, 2017

Donald Trump was elected in November on a platform that included both climate denial and the promise of jobs for Rust Belt communities still hurting from deindustrialization. In the months since, his strategy to create jobs has become increasingly clear: tax breaks and public shaming of companies planning to move their operations out of the country.

Take the case of Carrier, a manufacturing plant in Indianapolis that produces air conditioners. Trump first threatened to slap tariffs on Carrier’s imports after the company announced it would move a plant to Mexico. Then, he reportedly called Greg Hayes, CEO of the parent company United Technologies, who agreed to keep the plant in the United States in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks. (Carrier later admitted that only a portion of the plant’s jobs would remain in the country.)

The company’s decision to keep jobs in the United States was declared a victory for the Trump PR machine, but it’s unclear that it can create a major change in access to jobs in the long-term. Hayes, announcing that the tax breaks would allow additional investment into the plant, noted that the surge of money would go towards automation. And with automation, eventually, comes a loss of jobs.

“Automation means less people,” Hayes told CNN. “I think we’ll have a reduction of workforce at some point in time once they get all the automation in and up and running.”

Unlike traditional manufacturing jobs, green jobs in the clean energy industry have been on a steady upward swing. This past spring, for example, U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas, and a Rockefeller Foundation-Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors study found that energy retrofitting buildings in the United States could create more than 3 million “job years” of employment.

That means green jobs remain one of the key hopes for revitalizing communities. But can they move forward under a climate-skeptic and coal-loving president?

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.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan: How Unions and Allies Can Protect Affected Workers

By Joe Uehlein, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 5, 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 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just issued the final text of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a regulation whose purpose is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) that climate scientists say are causing global warming. EPA and independent studies indicate that the CPP will create far more jobs than it eliminates. However, some jobs will be lost as a result of the plan, almost entirely concentrated in coal mining and electrical utilities. Affected workers and their communities should not have to bear the burden of environmental protection that benefits all. Public policy can and should provide a “just transition” that protects their wellbeing.

The EPA has released a “regulatory impact analysis” of job and other effects of the CPP. Dr. Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) conducted a further analysis to evaluate and extend the EPA findings and has produced the recently-released study “A Comprehensive Analysis of the Employment Impacts of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.”

Between now and 2020, the CPP will require large investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. It will also reduce jobs in power plants and mining. The new “direct” jobs created by 2020 will outnumber the jobs lost by 96,000 jobs.

How the Labor and Environmentalist Movements Can Put Workers at the Center of Climate Justice

By Trish Kahle - In These Times, July 1, 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.

2015, only halfway over, has already been an extreme year for both labor and the climate: the Midwest and Texas are experiencing record rainfall while California is in a record-breaking drought, and 2015 is the hottest year on record so far (the standing record is from 2014), including a heatwave in India that left more than 2,300 people dead. The Obama administration continues to try and push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership on fast-track, with millions of workers livelihoods hanging in the global balance and attacks on unions like the United Steelworkers continue to threaten worker, community and environmental safety. Meanwhile, energy companies insist that drilling in the soon-to-be ice-free summertime arctic will create jobs—even as it may mean game over for the climate.

There has perhaps never been a more prescient moment to emphasize what a growing number of people already know: the fate of labor and the climate are linked. In his most recent piece for The Nation, Jeremy Brecher notes how well suited the traditions of the labor movement are to the fight for climate protection: "The labor movement's most essential value is solidarity ... that we will survive and prosper only if we look out for one another. Climate protection is the new solidarity." Brecher, a founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability and author of Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival as well as the classic labor history Strike! is at the forefront of the struggle to break down the false dichotomy of "jobs versus environment" and to fight for a just transition that puts workers at the center of a vision of climate justice. 

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