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Are Refinery Workers Climate Enemies? - Part 2

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, May 25, 2022

For context and background, see part one, here. Unlike the first installment, this second response has ommitted the comments that preciptated it, for the sake of clarity, as well as the fact that the author tried to echo the rebutted points in the response. It should be noted that only one individual has expressed outright opposition to showing solidarity with striking refinery workers. It's a foregone conclusion that the overwhelming majority of the IWW does not share this one individual's view.

First of all, let me be clear: my position is that humanity must collectively phase out burning fossil fuels for energy, transportation, and locomotion as rapidly as possible.

That said, nobody seriously believes we can collectively cease burning fossil fuels in a single day, so the likelihood is that the burning of them will continue for some time (I aim to make that as little time as possible).

Regardless of how long it takes, no oil refinery is going to simply shut down just because large masses of people, even 3.5% of the population demand it. It’s not even technically possible, let alone economically or politically possible. Most of the Environmental Justice and Climate Justice organizations (other than a few ultra-sectarian extremists) get this, and they’ve crafted their demands accordingly.

While there’s a degree of variation among the various organizing, most of them call for the following:

  1. No new extraction of new fossil fuel sources;
  2. Rapid phase out of existing fossil fuel sources;
  3. Managed decline of the existing fossil fuel supply chain;
  4. Just transition for any and all affected workers in the entire fossil fuel supply chain;
  5. Repurposing of equipment for non fossil fuel burning purposes;
  6. Bioremediation of damaged ecosystems across the extraction supply chain;
  7. Reparations for the affected communities and tribes.

Supporting refinery workers involved in a strike is not in any way contradictory to the above demands.

Are Refinery Workers Climate Enemies?

By an anonymous ex-member of the IWW (with a response by Steve Ongerth) - ecology.iww.org, April 28, 2022

Editor's Note: Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases and demanded cuts in union staffing that focused on health and safety in the refinery. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). Meanwhile, USW Local 5 members have been picketing the refinery 24-7, and have been, at times, joined by members of the local BIPOC and/or environmental justice community. After IWW EUC cofounder and long-time Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch member, Steve Ongerth, brought a call for solidarity with the striking workers to the April branch meeeting, a disgruntled member (who has since resigned from the organization), sent the following letter to the branch (name deleted for privacy reasons).

Message from a Disgruntled (former) Member:

I’m sorry to say how disappointed I am in the IWW. I’m a relatively new wobbly and although I believe in standing in solidarity with fellow workers it seems at some point lines must be drawn.

As I’ve read through these last emails about the USW Local 5 and the call to action for us to stand with them as they strike, many questions come to mind. The first one is what if fellow climate activists, many of whom are wobblies were to implement a protest blockade to stall production of this refinery in defense of the environment? I wonder if those refinery workers with whom we are picketing would come outside and join our protest line? I also wonder if they would be interested in the invitation to join the 2022 Global Climate Strike that you forwarded to us? In both cases I assume it is reasonable to conclude they would not.

As wobblies, where do we draw the line? What if oil pipeline workers go to strike for hazard pay because a tribal nation, whose land the pipeline is planned to cross blocks safe access to thier jobsite in protest of the poisoning of thier waterways? Would the IWW Environmental Caucus also put a call out to picket with those Union workers? We draw the line when it comes to police unions who’s membership is hellbent on beating and imprisoning people protesting civil injustices. Why are we supporting refinery workers? This makes no sense. Iunderstand that just about every industry is to some degree tainted with These workers primary job is to process and prepare for market the product that’s catapulted us into the current global warming apocalyptic meltdown!

Green Unionism on the Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Picket Line

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, April 15, 2022

Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). The strike has gotten a good deal of media coverage:

However, the capitalist (and progressive) media have mostly missed some important details.

First of all, the striking refinery workers and their elected union leaders continue to emphasize that their issues extend beyond narrow bread and butter issues, such as wages and benefits. A major concern that they continue to articulate is that Chevron continues to try and cut unionized safety jobs and refuses to hire sufficient workers to safely and adequately staff the facility. Workers have complained of 12-hour days and six-day workweeks. All of these deficiencies not only risk the health and safety of the workers, but the surrounding, mostly BIPOC communities as well. Worse still, they have adverse environmental effects, a problem that hasn't been lost on the striking workers. As stated by USW Local 5 representative, B.K White:

“If we had more people and could get a better pay rate, maybe our members wouldn’t feel obligated to come in and work as many as 70 hours a week to make ends meet. We don’t believe that is safe. (that and the use of replacement workers) is at the detriment of the city of Richmond and the environment.”

Even less noticed by the media has been the presence of environmental justice activists (including, but not limited to, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free California, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Sierra Club, Sunflower Alliance, Sunrise Movement, and 350), various socialist organizations (including DSA in particular), and members from the nearby front-line BIPOC communities, who have joined the pickets in solidarity with the workers, something the workers have also not hesitated to point out. Indeed, in spite of the fact that many environmental justice activists and community members are harshly critical of Chevron's role in turning the city of Richmond into a capital blight infested sacrifice zone, they recognize that the workers are not their enemies nor are the latter responsible for the damage done by the company. On the contrary, many recognize that the unionized workforce is one of the best mitigations against far worse capital blight (it bears mentioning that there has also been a good deal of support and picket line presence from rank and file workers and union officials from many other unions, including the AFSCME, IBEW, IWW, ILWU, SEIU, UFCW, and the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council).

Such seemingly unlikely bonds of solidarity, though delicate and, at times, fragile didn't arise out of thin air, but, in fact, have resulted from years of painstaking grassroots organizing.

Workers Say They Breathe Polluted Air at “Green” Insulation Facility

By Mindy Isser - In These Times - March 3, 2022

As the acceptance of climate change becomes increasingly commonplace, more and more companies will be created or adapted to ​“fight” or ​“solve” it — or, at the very least, minimize its effects. Kingspan Group, which began as an engineering and contracting business in 1965 in Ireland, has since grown into a global company with more than 15,000 employees focused on green insulation and other sustainable building materials. Its mission is to ​“accelerate a zero emissions future with the wellbeing of people and planet at its heart.” 

But workers at the Kingspan Light + Air factory in Santa Ana, Calif. don’t feel that the company has their wellbeing at its heart — and they say they have documented the indoor air pollution in their workplace to prove it. Differences between Kingspan’s mission and its true impact don’t stop there, workers charge: One of its products was used in the flammable cladding system on Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor public housing tower in London that went up in flames in June 2017, killing 72 people. Kingspan has been the target of protests in the United Kingdom and Ireland for its role in the disaster. Both Kingspan workers and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have called on the company to put public safety over profits.

Since the 1990s, union organizers say there have been multiple attempts from the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union to organize employees at Kingspan, but none were successful. The company says its North America branch employs ​“1,600 staff across 16 manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States and Canada.” Workers at the Santa Ana plant are tasked with welding, spray painting and assembling fiberglass to produce energy-efficient skylights. During the pandemic, when workers say Covid-19 swept through the facility, employees reached back out to SMART — not just because they wanted to form a union, but because they grew concerned about what they say is poor air quality in the facility. 

While SMART provided support for their campaign for clean air, the workers took control: In the summer of 2021, the Santa Ana workers came into work armed with monitors to measure indoor air pollution. Their goal was to measure airborne particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM 2.5). Such fine particulate matter constitutes a form of air pollution that is associated with health problems like respiratory and cardiovascular issues, along with increased mortality. The workers found that the average PM 2.5 concentration inside the facility was nearly seven times higher than outdoors. (To put that in perspective, wildfires usually result in a two- to four-fold increase in PM 2.5.) The majority of monitors found PM 2.5 levels that would rank between ​“unhealthy” and ​“very unhealthy” if measured outdoors, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards, the workers reported. 

Because this is the air workers were breathing in for 40 hours per week, in October 2021, they went public with both their campaign to form a union and their fight for a safe workplace — a campaign that continues to this day. 

LNS and 45 Environmental Groups Call on the Green Building Community to Stop Partnering with Kingspan

By Sydney Ghazarian - Labor Network for Sustainability - March 2022

Labor Network for Sustainability is proud to be among 45 climate and environmental justice groups calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan, an international building materials company that’s so-called ‘green’ manufacturing processes are polluting the indoor air and local watershed (learn more here).

We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities.Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here.

This effort is part of Clean up Kingspan, an inspirational campaign led by Kingspan factory workers in Santa Ana, CA who are holding the global manufacturing company accountable for health, safety, and pollution issues in their community and demanding a fair process to decide whether to unionize. In collaboration with UC Irvine pollution scientist Dr. Shahir Masri, these workers measured unhealthy levels of PM2.5 pollution inside their workplace.They also blew the whistle on Kingspan for misrepresenting its daily operations and water pollution clean-up efforts to the CalEPA.

What this campaign makes clear is that the struggle we face isn’t ‘jobs vs. the environment;’ it’s corporate greed vs. everyone else. LNS is proud to stand with workers, community activists, faith leaders, & environmentalists in this campaign for true economic and environmental justice. It’s time for the green building community to stand with us too.

Join us in calling on the green building community to stop partnering with Kingspan: https://cleanupkingspan.org/take-action/

Carbon Capture and Storage Exposed: Key Reports

By Staff - Sunflower Alliance, September 4, 2021

“Carbon Capture and Sequestration” sounds like it could save us—but the current massive campaign for CCS is led by fossil fuel companies. They are advocating and implementing CCS measures that would prop up and even expand carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel, and worsen environmental racism.

Several recent reports explain the current push for CCS and why it’s so dangerous.

Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate and Our Jobs?, from the Labor Network for Sustainability, takes apart the claims of carbon capture proponents, describes the failures of many carbon capture projects financed with federal tax money, and shows how carbon capture projects allow the pollution of frontline communities to continue or increase.

Top 5 Reasons Carbon Capture And Storage (CCS) is Bogus, from Food and Water Watch, gives a brief explanation of these five reasons:
1. Carbon capture is an expensive failure.
2. Carbon capture is energy intensive.
3. Carbon capture actually increases emissions.
4. Storage presents significant risks.
5. Carbon capture trades off with other critical solutions.

DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System is a horrifying report revealing that “Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and major labor group AFL-CIO are behind the ‘blueprint’ for a multi-billion dollar system to transport captured CO2—and offer a lifeline to fossil fuel plants.”

Gassing Satartia: Carbon Dioxide Pipeline Linked to Mass Poisoning is a Huff Post report about a recent explosion in one of those pipelines.

And the most delightful five-minute video from Australia, satirizing CCS with tons of facts and attitude.

ecology.iww.org web editor's note: See also: 10 myths about net zero targets and carbon offsetting, busted - Climate Home News.

Labor-Backed Report on Path to Equitable Green California

By Staff - Sunflower Alliance, June 10, 2021

Nineteen labor organizations—including unions representing refinery workers in Northern and Southern California and the Alameda Labor Council— have endorsed a detailed plan for an equitable transition to a clean-energy economy in California.

This major new report, A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, details programs for meeting California’s 2030 climate goal (40 percent economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s 1990 level) by creating roughly 418,000 jobs. It argues that state policy should ensure that the jobs created are good-paying jobs with full labor rights and access by historically excluded people.

The same strategies, the report says, could be continued to meet California’s longer-term goal of being carbon-neutral by 2045.

The report was commissioned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers Local 675. Its authors are faculty members of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, including Robert Pollin, a leading expert on just transition.

The report provides detailed calculations for strategies outlined in an earlier report, Putting California on the High Road, from the UC Labor Center. Both reports emphasize the need for measures to protect fossil fuel industry workers including:

  • Pension guarantee for all workers.
  • Re-employment and income-level guarantees for all displaced workers.
  • Retraining and relocation support as needed.
  • “Glide-path income support” for workers 60 – 64.

The report comes as the Newsom administration is developing a report on Just Transition in California.

Open Letter to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Just Transition

By Andreas Soto and Ann Alexander - Communities of a Better Environment and NRDC, November 20, 2020

Candace Anderson, Diane Burgis, John Gioia,
Karen Mitchoff, and Federal D. Glover
Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors
651 Pine Street, Room 107
Martinez, CA 94553

Dear Chair Anderson, Vice-Chair Burgis, and Supervisors Gioia, Mitchoff, and Glover, The undersigned organizations applaud your recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency in Contra Costa County, which underlines the need to "plan for a ' Just Transition' away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy." In furtherance of this goal, we seek your immediate action to ensure just transitions for workers and communities threatened with sudden abandonment by refineries located in the County. We believe climate protection must go hand in hand with environmental and economic justice. All of this is now at risk in the Contra Costa County oil belt.

As you know, Marathon abruptly announced in August the immediate permanent end to crude processing at its Martinez refinery. Phillips 66 followed suit with notice of the impending partial closure of its San Francisco Refinery Complex facilities in Rodeo, Franklin Canyon, and Arroyo Grande. Both companies proposed switching to significantly downsized production of non-petroleum fuels, which will involve fallowing of large portions of the refineries. Neither announcement identified any explicit commitment to full cleanups of the contaminated industrial sites. Of even more immediate concern, neither company committed to support the wages, health care, or pensions of all whose jobs these facility closures threaten.

These refinery downsizings—which may well be a harbinger of additional closures in the future—will jeopardize not just the livelihoods of the refinery employees, but those of thousands of families in the surrounding communities whose jobs are indirectly dependent upon the existence of the refineries. Refinery downsizing and shutdown also threaten a significant portion of the tax base upon which community government and essential services depend. Ultimately at risk are future prospects for environmentally healthy and economically sustainable development in communities hosting the decommissioned plant sites.

Letter to Contra Costa County, California on Just Transition from Fossil Fuels

By staff - Sunflower Alliance, November 20, 2020

Just weeks after Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors declared a climate emergency, a diverse group of environmental, labor, and public health advocates sent a letter to the Board calling for a planned and equitable transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, in what many are calling a “just transition” that supports refinery workers and frontline communities.

“We applaud your recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency in Contra Costa County, which underlines the need to ‘plan for a ‘just transition’ away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy.’  In furtherance of this goal, we seek your immediate action to ensure just transitions for workers and communities threatened with sudden abandonment by refineries located in the County.  We believe climate protection must go hand in hand with environmental and economic justice,”  reads the letter’s opening paragraph.  See the full letter here.

The letter highlights concerns over recent news regarding changes to traditional refinery operations in Contra Costa County—including Marathon’s announcement of a permanent end to crude oil processing at its Martinez refinery, and Phillips 66’s notice of an impending partial closure of its San Francisco Refinery facilities in Rodeo, Franklin Canyon, and Arroyo Grande.

Both companies have proposed changes that would significantly decrease the production of non-petroleum fuels, which will involve shuttering large portions of the refinery.  Neither company has identified plans for full cleanups of their industrial sites, nor have they made adequate commitments to support the wages, health care, or pensions of workers whose jobs are threatened by these changes.

“The large oil companies who have for so long made their profits in Contra Costa County’s local communities ought to be the ones to pay the steep cost associated with their departure,”  the letter states.

The letter also identifies how the communities facing shuttered refinery operations are ultimately at risk for future prospects for environmentally healthy and economically sustainable development.

Decommissioning California Refineries and Beyond Workshop

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