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Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection

By Kiera Feldman - Pro Publica, January 4, 2018

Shortly before 5 a.m. on a recent November night, a garbage truck with a New York Yankees decal on the side sped through a red light on an empty street in the Bronx. The two workers aboard were running late. Before long, they would start getting calls from their boss. “Where are you on the route? Hurry up, it shouldn’t take this long.” Theirs was one of 133 garbage trucks owned by Action Carting, the largest waste company in New York City, which picks up the garbage and recycling from 16,700 businesses.

Going 20 miles per hour above the city’s 25 mph limit, the Action truck ran another red light with a worker, called a “helper,” hanging off the back. Just a few miles away the week before, another man had died in the middle of the night beneath the wheels of another company’s garbage truck. The Action truck began driving on the wrong side of the road in preparation for the next stop. The workers were racing to pick up as much garbage as possible before dawn arrived and the streets filled with slow traffic. “This route should take you twelve hours,” the boss often told them. “It shouldn’t take you fourteen hours.”

Working 10- to 14-hour days, six days per week, means that no one is ever anything close to rested. The company holds monthly safety meetings and plays videos, taken by cameras installed inside the trucks, of Action drivers falling asleep at the wheel. “You’re showing us videos of guys being fatigued, guys falling asleep,” a driver told me. (All Action employees asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.) “But you aren’t doing anything about it.”

“In the history of the company I am sure there have been times where supervisors have inappropriately rushed people,” said Action Carting CEO Ron Bergamini. “They shouldn’t be, and they’d be fired if they ever told people to run red lights or speed. But you have to find the balance between efficiency and safety, and that’s a struggle we work on every day. But you cannot turn around and say, ‘Hey just take your time, go as long as you want.’” He pointed out that workers can anonymously report concerns to a safety hotline. As to the questions of overwork and driver fatigue, Bergamini responded, “That’s a struggle that the whole industry has — of getting people to work less.”

In the universe of New York’s garbage industry, Action is considered a company that takes the high road. A union shop, it offers starting pay of about $16 per hour for helpers and $23 for drivers, far more than many other companies. And unlike some other companies, Action provides high-visibility gear and conducts safety meetings. But since 2008, the company’s trucks have killed five pedestrians or cyclists.

In New York City overall, private sanitation trucks killed seven people in 2017. By contrast, city municipal sanitation trucks haven’t caused a fatality since 2014.

Pedestrians aren’t the only casualties, and Action isn’t the only company involved in fatalities. Waste and recycling work is the fifth most fatal job in America — far more deadly than serving as a police officer or a firefighter. Loggers have the highest fatality rate, followed by fishing workers, aircraft pilots and roofers. From the collection out on garbage trucks, to the processing at transfer stations and recycling centers, to the dumping at landfills, the waste industry averages about one worker fatality a week. Nationally, in 2016, 82 percent of waste-worker deaths occurred in the private sector.

There are two vastly different worlds of garbage in New York City: day and night. By day, 7,200 uniformed municipal workers from the city’s Department of Sanitation go door-to-door, collecting the residential trash. Like postal workers, they tend to follow compact routes. They work eight-hour days with time-and-a-half for overtime and snow removal and double-time for Sundays. With a median base pay of $69,000 plus health care, a pension, almost four weeks of paid vacation and unlimited sick days, the Department of Sanitation workforce is overwhelmingly full time and unionized. It’s also 55 percent white, and 91 percent male.

But come nightfall, an army of private garbage trucks from more than 250 sanitation companies zigzag across town in ad hoc fashion, carting away the trash and recycling from every business — every bodega, restaurant and office building in the five boroughs. Those private carters remove more than half of the city’s total waste.

Worker Solidarity with Camp Makwa and the Movement for Environmental Justice

By the Twin Cities GDC - It's Going Down, December 14, 2017

On Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the Twin Cities IWW unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the IWW’s opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as officially declaring its opposition to the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline. The Twin Cities IWW pledged material support to water protectors, rejecting Enbridge’s arguments that the pipeline is necessary for jobs and prosperity for working class people, and put forward a vision of a “Just Transition” to a sustainable economy.

The resolution pledged two donations of $100 each to the legal defense fund and the supply fund of Camp Makwa, a resistance camp using direct action to protect the land and water that Anishinaabe people and other working class Minnesotans depend on. The resolution further endorsed the Black Snake Killaz Circuit, a series of fundraising concerts for Camp Makwa running across the Twin Cities and other towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin throughout the winter.

No Jobs on a Dead Planet

In the resolution, the Twin Cities IWW rejected the attempts by Enbridge and certain unions to paint the pipeline as good for workers. Instead, the resolution focuses on the harm that the oil industry does to its workers, surrounding communities, and the environment.

Enbridge’s existing Line 3 is the cause of the largest inland oil spill in US history, spilling 1.7 million gallons of oil into the Prairie River in 1991. In 2007, tragedy struck in Minnesota again with a pinhole leak explosion in Clearbrook, killing two workers, sparking a large fire, and spilling 15,000 gallons. This spill burned for three days, contaminating the air in the surrounding community. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline also spilled, releasing around a million gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River and causing 30,000-50,000 houses to evacuate—and leaving twice as many without clean drinking water. In the aftermath of these spills, union workers have spoken out against Enbridge for failing to clean up their mess which has resulted in birth defects, illness, cancer, and death of both humans and animals in the area of the disaster.

In addition to these specific acts of negligence, the resolution noted the way in which the oil industry exposes working class communities and especially communities of color and indigenous people to the worst risks. These communities are often ignored and their well-being violated during the permitting process for pipelines and other infrastructure projects. For example, pipeline routes often avoid wealthier or majority-white towns and are directed rather through poorer areas, especially near indigenous land. This was the case with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the same pattern can be seen with Line 3.

The resolution further emphasizes the reality of climate change, an accelerating trend that is already disrupting and destroying lives, economies, ecologies, and communities around the world. As the resolution notes, “there are no jobs on a dead planet.”

Faced with environmental dangers on a local and global scale, and unable to stop the lobbying power of well-connected companies, marginalized communities of workers are left with few choices except direct action. Water protectors face violence from the state and private security to defend the land and the people who live on it from the harm done by the oil industry.

Twin Cities IWW Resolution in Solidarity with Camp Makwa and the movement for environmental justice

Adopted Unanimously by the Twin Cities IWW General Membership Branch - December 5, 2017

Whereas: On March 3rd 1991 the Line 3 pipeline caused the largest inland oil spill in US history, rupturing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota spilling 1.7 million gallons of oil into the Prairie River; and

Whereas: In July 2010, Enbridge also spilled about a million gallons of Dilbit Oil in the Kalamazoo River when the Line 6B pipeline burst and flowed into the Talmadge Creek and then the Kalamazoo before the the spill was contained. On 29 July 2010, the Calhoun County Health Department asked 30 to 50 thousand households to evacuate, and twice as many were advised not to drink their water. Union workers cleaning up the Kalamazoo Spill have spoken against Enbridge for insufficiently cleaning up the spill which has resulted in birth defects, illness, cancer and death of both humans and animals in the area of the disaster; and

Whereas: In 2007, 2 Enbridge workers were killed in Clearbrook, Minnesota when a pinhole leak explosion sparked a huge fire and spilled 15,000 gallons of oil. Enbridge let the spill burn for three days poisoning the air of the surrounding community; and

Whereas: The Oil Industry and many other unsustainable industries sacrifice the health and safety of the working class and poor communities, especially many indigenous and communities of color. These communities are subject to environmental racism and classism and often ignored and violated during the permitting process of such projects; and

Whereas: These communities often are forced to defend themselves with direct action which puts them at greater risk of violence and incarceration from the state and private security; and

Whereas: The construction of these pipelines will contribute to the acceleration of already dangerous levels of currently existing greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to the already dangerous effects of climate change, which could lead to a dead planet with no jobs; and

Whereas: Camp Makwa was established in August of 2017 to resist the pipeline using direct action to protect the water and natural resources such as the wild rice lakes, fishing and hunting, and farming that the Anishinaabe Tribe and working class in the area depend on. They have taken several direct actions to shut down construction of the Line 3 pipeline in Superior, Wisconsin and will resist the possible expansion in the spring. They are currently still camping during the harsh Minnesota winter.

Whereas: Neither the Line 3 Pipeline Dakota Access Pipeline, or the Keystone XL Pipeline will provide anywhere near the number of permanent union jobs the promoters of these projects promise they will, and

Whereas: More permanent union jobs can be created at union wages by decommissioning oil pipelines and upgrading water pipeline infrastructure, such as in Flint, Michigan. LIUNA and many labor unions currently have jobs working in the renewable energy sector such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric and could organize for a rapid transition of energy production and manufacturing to be safe for the workers, the surrounding communities and the environment. Though these renewable energy jobs are currently, typically non-union, trade unions if so determined, could easily develop a successful green energy organizing program, using solidarity unionism, that would revitalize the currently struggling labor movement. Far more jobs currently exist in the growing renewable energy sector than in the declining fossil fuel sector. Also these pipeline projects will not deliver the promised "energy security" or "energy independence" promised by their promoters, including the Building Trades and AFL-CIO Union officials among them and;

Whereas: Many unions, including the IWW, ILWU, ATU, APWU, LIUNA-City Employees Local 236, CWA, UE, SEIU, NNU, Pride at Work, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Labor for Standing Rock, and many members of other Labor organizations have already publicly stated opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and or the Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Whereas: President Donald Trump's executive orders that dismantle environmental regulation and ostensibly "clear a path" for the completion of the aforementioned pipelines are contradictory in nature and are designed primarily to divide workers and environmentalists over the false dichotomy of "jobs versus the environment"; and

Be Resolved that: The Twin Cities IWW reaffirms the IWW’s opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as officially declares its opposition to the construction of the Line 3 Pipeline; and

Be it Also Resolved that: The Twin Cities IWW donates $100 each to both Camp Makwa’s legal and supply fund (Legal | CAMP SUPPLIES FUND) and urges our Union’s members, the Labor Movement, and working class to pass resolutions like this one, donate, join, and organize in solidarity with Camp Makwa, the resistance to Line 3, and the movement for environmental justice, locally and abroad.

Be it also Resolved that: The Twin Cities IWW endorses Black Snake Killaz Circuit, a collection of benefit shows created by organizers, artists, and eco-activists who are standing in solidarity with indigenous water protectors and their accomplices fighting Line 3 to defend Anishinaabe land and water from the extractive industry; and

Be it Further Resolved that: The Twin Cities IWW calls on rank and file members of the Building Trades, Teamsters, and other unions who have declared support for these pipelines and other unsustainable projects to implement Green Bans and take direct action by striking and or slowing down in solidarity with the communities resisting Line 3, additional pipelines, and other projects that are exploitive of the working class and the plant we inhabit.

Be it Additionally Resolved that: The Twin Cities IWW calls on the working class, unions, and the unsustainable companies that employee them, such as Enbridge, as well as their financial supporters to develop and rapidly implement a "Just Transition" plan for workers in unsustainable industries, such as pipeline and oil industry workers, to be trained in and given union jobs in the green energy sector. ; and

Be it Finally Resolved that: The Twin Cities IWW reaffirms our belief and commitment to revolutionary industrial unionism, environmental justice, and community self-defense with our goal to “organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.”

In Puerto Rico, Unions Lead in Hurricane Relief Efforts

By Stephanie Basile - Labor Notes, November 7, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as Puerto Rico faces government neglect, unions’ relief efforts have been critical.

Teachers and students across the island have cleared debris off the roads and delivered medical supplies. On the outskirts of San Juan, communications and transport workers cooked and distributed hot meals. Union volunteers on Isla Verde drove door to door with water and supplies. And these are just a handful of stories among hundreds.

On September 26, less than a week after the storm barreled through the island, Puerto Rico’s storied teachers union, the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), sprang into action. FMPR teamed up with the island’s labor federation (CGT) to set up “brigades.” Teams of teachers, retirees, and students were dispatched to remove fallen trees, clear roads, and put up tents in roofless houses.

Such large-scale efforts require cross-union coordination. The teachers have worked hand in hand with other Puerto Rican unions through the CGT, and with mainland unions such as the New York State Nurses.

Members of Transport Workers (TWU) Local 501—the union of ground service and baggage handling workers at American Airlines in New York and San Juan—and Communications Workers (CWA) Local 3140, which represents American Airlines passenger service workers in Puerto Rico and Florida, teamed up to cook and distribute 400 meals of rice, beans, and chicken in the outskirts of San Juan.

They chose neighborhoods that hadn’t received much attention. “These were the forgotten areas,” said Local 3140 Vice President Georgina Felix. “Everybody’s focusing on San Juan and forgetting everywhere else.”

“Without labor down there right now, half the things that are getting done wouldn’t be getting done,” said Local 501 Executive Vice President Angelo Cucuzza. “Besides being a feel good story, it’s an important story.”

Filling Gaps Left By Trump, Nurses and Labor Unions Join Puerto Rico Relief Efforts

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, October 8, 2017

As President Donald Trump continues to come under fire for failing to deliver sufficient help to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—which killed dozens and left millions without power and running water—nurses, doctors, engineers, and other workers affiliated with various unions including National Nurses United (NNU) and the AFL-CIO have teamed up to assist with relief and recovery efforts.

"I put out the call for help, and who listened? The unions," said Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital. 

Workers representing more than 20 unions boarded a flight to San Juan late last week "in response to the urgent need to get highly skilled workers to Puerto Rico to help people seeking medical and humanitarian assistance, as well as to help with the rebuilding effort," according to the AFL-CIO's Kenneth Quinnell.

"The nurses, doctors, electricians, engineers, carpenters and truck drivers on the flight will engage in various efforts, including helping clear road blockages, caring for hospital patients, delivering emergency supplies, and restoring power and communications," Quinnell added.

"When our union sisters and brothers see a need in our national or international community, we don't ask if we should act, we ask how," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "We are united in lifting up our fellow Americans."

NNU, for its part, sent a delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from throughout the U.S. to help provide urgent medical assistance to those in need.

"As nurses whenever there's a call and there's an ask, we go," said NNU vice president Cathy Kennedy, RN. "From the reports I've heard especially the elderly that have been without oxygen, without food or water, are at risk, everyone's at risk but particularly the children and the elderly."

In total, more than 300 union members are taking part in the joint response effort, which could be seen taking shape on social media over the weekend. 

"We use the word 'solidarity' a lot in the labor movement. The idea that when we come together, we are stronger," wrote Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. "On this relief mission, it was solidarity in the truest sense of the word. Working people united around a common purpose — to provide help for those in need."

The response of union workers to the crisis sparked by Hurricane Maria also garnered the attention of NBC News, which ran a segment Saturday that focused on the dire circumstances affecting millions and the efforts of volunteers to provide help that has not been delivered by the U.S. government.

Railroad Workers and Our Allies Must Unite in Support of AMTRAK

By Ron Kaminkow - Teamsters for a Democratic Union, April 25, 2017

On March 16th, President Trump released a blueprint budget that proposes to slash funding for the Department of Transportation by $2.4 billion, including funding for all Amtrak “long distance” trains, along with funding for dozens of transit expansion projects nationwide. In recent months, Trump has voiced support for massive investment in the nation’s infra-structure. Yet ironically, his first proposed budget not only fails to deliver, it guts funding for existing infrastructure.

The blueprint budget proposes the elimination of most Amtrak routes across the country. If we are to save the national passenger rail system, railroad workers and their unions must unite with passenger advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and communities across the country. The vast majority of Americans want more - not less - passenger trains. In this fight, just like in others, railroad workers have lots of potential allies.

All railroaders – freight, as well as transit and passenger – should be alarmed and concerned by this proposal. Should Amtrak be defunded and dismembered, it is near certain that nothing would replace it. Privately run passenger trains fail to turn a profit – the reason that the rail carriers abandoned such service in the 1960's. And it is highly unlikely that private vendors – even if there were any – who wished to enter such a market would even be allowed by most – if not all – carriers access to their railroads. Amtrak is barely tolerated by the host railroads as it is, and then only because the act which created the entity in 1970 mandates that it be entitled to operate passenger trains on the nation’s railroads.

Thankfully, the President’s blueprint budget is not the last word on the question. We have the potential to save Amtrak – and transit funding too – over the course of the coming weeks and months, as Congress fashions what will be ultimately be the final budget. We have been down this road before of course, when George Bush was President. We will need to mobilize now like we did then. Because if Amtrak is defunded, thousands of fellow rails will lose their jobs, and as a result, we will all potentially suffer as the income for Railroad Retirement is dramatically diminished.

Ironically, as it turns out, Amtrak is one of the most efficient passenger railroads in the world, covering 94% of its operating costs at the fare box! Adjusted revenue of $2.15 billion was the most ever for a fiscal year (2016). Amtrak set an all-time ridership record despite record low gasoline prices inducing travelers to drive rather than seek public transportation. Demand for trains is out there! Considering that all forms of transportation – including airline, inland waterway, as well as automobile, bus and anything else that goes down the highway – are heavily subsidized by the states and federal government, far more than Amtrak, we are getting a great deal with the limited subsidy that Amtrak receives to keep the trains running. And in some cases – especially in rural areas – the train is the only form of public transportation available!

And trains are the safest form of transportation known to humanity. Railroad transport utilizes less land and space to transport an equivalent number of passengers in any other mode. And trains emit less pollutants than other forms, and can make use of alternative and renewable energy. As the nation’s highways and airports become ever more congested, we should be expanding passenger train options, not reducing them! As fossil fuel shipments decline, and demand for public transportation continues to grow, passenger trains could fill the void and excess track capacity in certain lanes. And in select mid-range corridors of 400 miles or less; e.g. Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Twin Cities; Bay Area to L.A., Houston to Dallas; Jacksonville to Miami; L.A. to Las Vegas, there is great potential to develop and expand multi-train departures on faster and more reliable schedules.

But to save Amtrak and expand the use of passenger rail – thereby increasing union rail employment, and ensuring the future of Railroad Retirement – will take a gallant effort. Rail unions cannot do this themselves, passenger advocacy groups cannot, neither can environmental organizations nor municipalities, all of whom are supporters of passenger rail. Therefore, we need a “Grand Alliance” of all of these forces to win the day. While all of us may have a specific agenda and focus, we have far more in common with one another than we have differences, there is far more that unites us than divides us. It is high time that our labor unions reach out, network, and build the necessary alliances with these forces, not just for a one-time lobbying effort for a specific narrow goal, as important as it may be. Rather, we need to build a strategic long-term alliance – despite our differences - with these forces, where we come to see one another as natural coalition partners for the long run.

Governments around the world are investing heavily in passenger rail. They understand that it is the safest, most convenient, environmentally sensitive, and often fastest way to get around. We can do it here too. But it will take the political will power and the formation of a lasting progressive coalition to bring it about. What better time than now to get started!

A healthy planet for our children to inherit, or destroying the earth for jobs? Join Thousands of Workers in Saying: We Will No Longer Accept This Choice!

By Labor for Standing Rock - Labor for Standing Rock, February 2017

Dear Fellow Workers:

We are the people whose blood, sweat and tears built this country’s infrastructure. Our hard work keeps our families fed—and it should also protect the world our children will live in tomorrow.

We play a critical role in making America what it is, and what it will become. Now we have united as thousands of workers across the country to ask a tough question: “What kind of world are we building?”

President Trump recently cleared a path for the completion of the controversial Dakota Access (DAPL) and Keystone X-L (KXL) Pipelines, despite massive global protest against these projects. In violation of the right of all people to clean water, air and land - and in violation of Indigenous peoples’ Treaty Rights - the corporations behind these pipelines continue to dangle the promise of good paying jobs in front of people like us, who need work. In doing so, they force us to trade temporary pay—for the future health of everyone we care about.

As working people, of course we demand decent, well-paid jobs. There is no question about that. But we also demand long-term health and safety for our children and grandchildren. Corporations have been lying in order to profit off our lives and the healthy lives of future generations. They tell us pipelines are safe and that they do not fail, which is demonstrably not true. That leaves working people with a choice between one or the other: a job today or a livable planet tomorrow. We will no longer accept this choice.

IWW Resolution Against DAPL and KXL

Resolution passed by the IWW General Executive Board - January 28, 2017

Whereas: Neither the Dakota Access Pipeline nor the Keystone XL Pipeline will provide anywhere near the number of permanent union jobs the promoters of these projects promise they will, and

Whereas: Far more permanent union jobs can be created at comparable wages by repairing existing pipeline infrastructure, such as water mains in Flint, Michigan, or repairing leaks in existing pipelines (which, if unfixed, release harmful amounts of methane, a known greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming); and

Whereas: Far more jobs currently exist in the growing renewable energy sector than in the declining fossil fuel sector; and

Whereas: Though these renewable energy jobs are currently, typically nonunion, unions if so determined, could easily develop a successful organizing program, using solidarity unionism, that could revitalize the currently struggling labor movement; and

Whereas: Neither pipeline project will deliver the promised "energy security" or "energy independence" promised by their promoters, including the Building Trades and AFL-CIO Union officials among them; and

Whereas: oil pipelines, such as the aforementioned pipelines tend to leak and create unnecessary risk to the surrounding environment both through methane gas leaks and crude oil spills; and

Whereas: such pipelines endanger the communities along their routes, including many indigenous communities whose tribal sovereignty has been often ignored or violated during the permitting process by agencies subject to regulatory capture by the capitalist interests that promote them; and

Whereas: the construction of these pipelines will contribute to the acceleration of already dangerous levels of currently existing greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to the already dangerous levels of climate change, which could lead to a dead planet with no jobs of any kind; and

Whereas: many unions, including the IWW, have already publically stated opposition to one or both the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Whereas: President Donald Trump's "executive orders" that ostensibly "clear a path" for the completion of the aforementioned pipelines  and mandate that they be constructed using US manufactured steel are contradictory in nature and are designed primarily to divide workers and environmentalists over the false dichotomy of "jobs versus the environment", which is utterly false as previously described;

Be it Resolved that: the IWW reaffirms its opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and officially declares its opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW stands in solidarity with the First Nations, union members, environmental activists, and community members who oppose both; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW urges rank and file members of the Building Trades, Teamsters, and other unions who have declared support for these pipelines to call upon their elected officials to reverse their support; and

Be it Finally Resolved that: the IWW demands that the promoters of these pipelines develop a "just transition" plan for the pipeline workers that would be affected by the cancellation of these pipeline projects.

Climate Emergency: Global Insurgency

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, October 14, 2016

Note: The new, updated 2016 edition of Jeremy Brecher’s Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival, from which the following is drawn, can be now be downloaded for free at the author's website here.)

The Lilliputian defenders of the earth’s climate have been winning some unlikely battles lately. The Standing Rock Sioux, supported by nearly two hundred Native American tribes and a lot of other people around the globe, have put a halt, at least for now, to completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that threatens their sacred burial sites and the water supply for 17 million people—not to mention the world’s climate. Before that a seven-year struggle terminated the Keystone XL pipeline. Other fossil fuel extraction, transport, and burning facilities have been halted by actions around the world.

But as Bill McKibben has said, "Fighting one pipeline at a time, the industry will eventually prevail."[1] Is there a plausible strategy for escalating today’s campaigns against fossil fuel infrastructure to create an effective challenge to the escalating climate threat? How can we get the power we need to counter climate catastrophe? My book Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (download) grapples with that question and proposes a possible strategy: a global nonviolent constitutional insurgency. Now that strategy is being tried – and may even be overcoming some of the obstacles that have foiled climate protection heretofore.

Standing Rock Solid with the Frackers: Are the Trades Putting Labor’s Head in the Gas Oven?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 14, 2016

This article first appeared in New Labor Forum. It has been updated to reflect the rising level of union opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

If anyone were looking for further evidence that the AFL-CIO remains unprepared to accept the science of climate change, and unwilling to join with the effort being made by all of the major labor federations of the world to address the crisis, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) provides only the most recent case in point. Taking direction from the newly minted North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), the federation stood against the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribal nations.

In a recent video interview, NABTU president Sean McGarvey dismissed those who oppose the expansion of fossil fuels infrastructure. “There is no way to satisfy them…no way for them to recognize that if we don’t want to lose our place in the world as the economic superpower, then we have to have this infrastructure and the ability to responsibly reap the benefits of what God has given this country in its natural resources.”[i] Although the leaders of NABTU no longer identify with the AFL-CIO and the letterhead does not mention the Federation, the Trades continue to determine the shape the AFL-CIO’s approach to energy and climate. This is despite the fact that a growing number of unions have opposed the DAPL, among them the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Nurses United, New York State Nurses Association, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); SEIU 1199, and the United Electrical Workers. Union locals (branches or chapters) have also opposed the DAPL, among them, GEU UAW Local 6950 and Steelworkers Local 8751.

These unions have been joined by the Labor Coalition for Community Action, which represents well established AFL-CIO constituency groups like LCLAA, APALA, Pride at Work, CBTU, CLUW and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Reacting to the progressive unions’ solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux, NABTU’s president Sean McGarvey wrote a scathing letter to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, copies of which were sent to the principal officers of all of the Federation’s affiliated unions. In a fashion reminiscent of the Keystone XL fight, McGarvey disparaged the unions that opposed DAPL. A day later, on September 15th, the AFL-CIO issued its own already infamous statement supporting DAPL. “Trying to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved” said the statement. “The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”[ii]

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