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Joe Uehlein

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. 

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers

By Joe Uehline - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2, 2015

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers The Labor Network for Sustainability today called for environmentalists and other allies of organized labor to support oil refinery workers who went on strike this week.

Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of LNS, said, “Oil refinery workers are in the front line of protecting our communities against the environmental hazards of the oil industry. Their skill and experience is critical for preventing devastating explosions, spills, and releases. The oil companies ar

e creating conditions that make it impossible for refinery workers to protect us. Their strike is about making conditions that are safe and healthy for workers and communities. They deserve the support of environmentalists and everyone concerned about the rights and wellbeing of working people.”

Oil producers have slashed spending because of the falling price of oil. The result has been devastating for workers on the job. According to Steelworkers International Vice-President Gary Beevers, head of the Steelworkers National Oil Bargaining Program, “This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire,” Beevers added.

That does not mean that oil companies lack the money to provide safe and decent working conditions. Refiners’ shares on the Standard & Poor’s 500 have more than doubled since the beginning of 2012. According to LNS Executive Director Uehlein, “It is critical that environmentalists support the rights and needs of working people, just as it is essential that workers support the need for a clean, healthy environment. As we work to protect the earth from climate change, it is particularly important that we advocate for the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries whose wellbeing must not be sacrificed to the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability (www.labor4sustainability.org) is dedicated to engaging trade unionists, workers, and their allies to support economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Contact: Joe Uehlein, Labor Network for Sustainability: joeuehlein@mac.com

Can We Earn a Living on a Living Planet? The need for jobs, and the ecological limits to growth

By Chuck Collins - American Prospect, October 13, 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.

It has been a tough couple of years in the effort to unite labor, community, and environmental groups, an alliance that has always been strained.

The extractive energy sector—coal, gas, oil—has historically had strong union representation and well-paying jobs. Tensions rose in 2011 after the Sierra Club escalated their campaign to close coal plants and 350.org, the climate protection group led by activist Bill McKibben, called for a halt to the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  Even Obama’s relatively mild order this past June on reducing pollution from power plants was opposed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Mineworkers.

At a February 2013 meeting of labor and environmental activists, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s director of policy and special counsel, yelled and pounded the table, “Where is the transition plan for workers? Why isn’t this part of your demands?”

Divisions will increase in the coming years, as two competing urgencies collide. Labor and community justice organizations will demand jobs, economic growth, and reductions in inequality. And environmental activists will increase pressure to curtail fossil fuel production in the face of climate disruptions. Both the politics and the policies of these goals seem to diverge. But must they?

“Pitting jobs versus the environment is a false choice,” says Joe Uehlein, a longtime trade unionist, now board president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which builds alliances between environmental and labor sectors. “We need to figure out how to make a living on a living planet.”

If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change

By Jeremy Brecher, Ron Blackwell, and Joe Uehlein - New Labor Forum, September 2014

We are on a climate change path that, unless radically altered, will lead to an unsustainable global warming of seven degrees Fahrenheit or greater. We also face the most serious employment crisis since the Great Depression, with wages that have stagnated for four decades and economic inequality now at levels not seen since the 1920s.

Many leaders and activists at different levels of the labor movement recognize the challenges we face in creating a more just and sustainable economy. A few unions have supported strong climate protection policies and have actively participated in the climate protection movement; many have stood aloof; a minority have feared their members’ jobs are threatened by some climate protection measures. Organized labor’s approach to climate change has been primarily employment-based. Unions like green jobs, but they fear the potential job losses from phasing out carbon-fueled industries. This should not be surprising because unions are organized primarily to look after the specific employment interests of workers. Even the most far-sighted trade union leaders have a very difficult job: They must represent the immediate interests of existing members, some of whom may face job losses in the transition to a low carbon economy, while keeping in mind the longer term social and ecological concerns.

The AFL-CIO and most unions have failed to endorse the basic targets and timetables that climate scientists have defined as necessary to pre- vent devastating global warming. They have promoted an “all of the above” energy policy that supports growth rather than reduction in the fossil fuels that are responsible for global warming. Although they have supported some climate legislation, they have opposed most policies that would actually begin cutting back on fossil fuel emissions. And they have fought climate action designed to block major carbon threats like coal-fired power plants and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Download the complete report (PDF) here.

Making a Living on a Living Planet

By Joe Uehlein - Common Dreams, August 27, 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.

On Labor Day 1940, American workers faced the aftermath of the Great Depression, with mass unemployment persisting and a divided labor movement facing a renewed counterattack from corporate America. They were barely becoming aware of an even greater threat, one that would determine the future of their country and their labor movement: the threat of Nazi armies mobilizing for war.

On Labor Day 2014, American workers face the lingering results of the Great Recession, with unemployment still at historic highs, burgeoning inequality, and attacks on the very right to have a union. But, like workers in 1940, we are being pressed by another threat, one that will far overshadow our current problems if we do not take it on.

Today the American labor movement -- like the rest of American society and like labor movements throughout the world—is being forced to grapple with global warming, climate chaos, and climate protection strategies. The future of labor’s growth and vitality will depend on its ability to play a central role in the movement to build a sustainable future for the planet and its people.

Climate change changes everything: Everything about how we organize society, how we conduct politics, even how we think of progress. For us in the labor movement, it must change how we envision the role of an organized labor movement in society. 

Society will change—either through the effects of climate degradation or through a colossal struggle to avert it. Labor has to decide whether to fight the transition to a climate-safe society or to help lead it. 

Tar Sands: Rejecting False Conflict Between Trade Unions and Environment

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 23, 2011

Sometimes a decision forces you to think deeply about what you believe in and how you act on those beliefs. It was like that when the climate protection leader Bill McKibben asked me to sign a letter calling for civil disobedience to block the building of a pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Opposing the pipeline might strain ties with unions that I’ve worked with and been part of for my whole adult life. And yet the pipeline might be a tipping point that could hurtle us into ever more desperate acceleration of climate change.  Amid these conflicting pulls, what should I do? Having lived at the confluence of trade unionism and environmentalism, what’s the right course of action – what has my life’s work meant?

I was born into a union family. My dad worked in the steel mills in Lorain, Ohio and was a founder of the Steelworkers Union. My mom had been an organizer in the Clothing Workers Union in Cincinnati. I grew up near Cleveland and I walked the picket line with my dad during the 1959 steel strike.

My own trade union life began the day I walked through the factory doors at Capital Products Aluminum Corporation in Mechanicsburg, PA. I was 17 years old, and I joined the United Steelworkers of America. That summer I engaged in my first strike. The following year Hurricane Agnes pounded the mid-Atlantic states; Central Pennsylvania was devastated, and the mill was flooded out. So I joined the Laborer’s Union and went to work on construction.

That’s where I first learned something about working on pipelines. I worked building the Texas-Eastern pipeline as it wound its way through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania. Small teams of operating engineers, pipefitters, and laborers traveled across the state doing work we enjoyed and that we understood to be useful and important. (We didn’t know then what we know now.) It was a great job and I was a member of a great union, Laborer’s Local 158. We formed friendships and shared a solidarity that touched us all deeply.

On another job building a railroad bridge across the Susquehanna river, a buddy of mine got fired by a hubris-filled college kid. (The kid’s dad owned the construction company so the kid had been made chief foreman over all laborers.) We struck and shut the job down. The operating engineers, carpenters and ironworkers supported us. Without that support we would have lost, but we won and my brother laborer was hired back.

These jobs helped me pay my way through college. They also taught me a lot about solidarity and trade unionism, and helped launch me on a life-long pursuit of workers rights and jobs with justice, first as a local leader and eventually as an official with the AFL-CIO.

I grew up along the banks of Lake Erie and I learned at a tender age about the possibility of human threats to the environment. I was there when they posted the signs telling us to stop swimming in the lake and stop eating the fish. I’d already eaten hundreds of Lake Erie Yellow Perch and swallowed more of that lake water than I care to think about.

I also learned early about the potential conflict between protecting labor and protecting the environment. In the 1970s I worked on the concrete crew during the construction of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and my local union put out a bumper sticker that read “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an Environmentalist.”

Since then I’ve devoted much of my life trying to bridge the gap between labor and environmental movements. I’ve argued that both share a common interest in combining economic and social sustainability with environmental sustainability. I’ve argued that “jobs vs. the environment” is a false choice.

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Znet, April 19, 2010

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.

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