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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]

Why has the Dakota Access Pipeline become a divisive issue for U.S. Labour?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 7, 2016

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are continuing, according to Democracy Now on October 7.  On October 5, three U.S. federal judges heard arguments  over whether to stop the construction, but they are not expected to make a ruling for three or four months.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability released a new post , Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor,  which asks “Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?”  The article discusses the AFL-CIO’s  statement  in support of the pipeline, and points to the growing influence of the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ within the AFL-CIO through their campaign of “stealth disaffiliation”.  It also cites an “ unprecedented decision” by the Labor Coalition for Community Action,  an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO , to issue their own statement in support of the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in direct opposition to the main AFL-CIO position. The Climate Justice Alliance, an environmental justice group of 40 organizations, has also written to the AFL-CIO in an attempt to begin discussions.  Brecher’s article concludes that the allies and activist members of the AFL-CIO are exerting increasing pressure, and asks “Isn’t it time?” for a dialogue which will shift direction and build a new fossil-free infrastructure which  will also create jobs in the U.S.    For unions interested in supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a sample resolution for local unions is available from the Climate Workers website.

AFL-CIO Backs Dakota Access Pipeline and the “Family Supporting Jobs” It Provides

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, September 17, 2016

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) came out this week in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of which was delayed last week by an order from the Obama administration—a decision that itself stemmed from months of protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux.

In a statement, Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, said, “We believe that community involvement in decisions about constructing and locating pipelines is important and necessary, particularly in sensitive situations like those involving places of significance to Native Americas.”

But it “is fundamentally unfair,” he added, “to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. The Dakota Access Pipeline is providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs.

“(Trying) to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved. The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”

It’s an open secret in labor that North America’s Building Trades Unions—including many that represent pipeline workers—have an at-times dominating presence within the federation’s 56-union membership. Pipeline jobs are well-paying union construction gigs, and workers on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) can make some $37 an hour plus benefits. As one DAPL worker and Laborers International Union member told The Des Moines Register, "You’ve got to make that money when you can make it.”

But an old blue-green mantra says, “there are no jobs on a dead planet.” The parts of organized labor that have taken that phrase to heart are far from unified around Trumka’s DAPL backing—even within the AFL-CIO. National Nurses United (NNU) has had members on the ground at Standing Rock protests and others around the country have participated in a national day of action.

"Nurses understand the need for quality jobs while also taking strong action to address the climate crisis and respecting the sovereign rights of First Nation people,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU’s executive director and a national vice president of the AFL-CIO.

In response to the federation’s endorsement, DeMoro cited the work of economist Robert Pollin, who found that spending on renewable energy creates approximately three times as many jobs as the same spending on maintaining the fossil fuel sector.

NNU isn’t alone. As protests swelled this month, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) released a statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, stating that “CWA stands with all working people as they struggle for dignity, respect and justice in the workplace and in their communities.”

Unions like the Amalgamated Transit Union and the United Electrical Workers have each issued similar statements supporting protests against the pipeline, and calling on the Obama administration to step in and block the project permanently.

For those who follow labor and the environment, however, the above unions might be familiar names. Many were vocal advocates for a stronger climate deal in Paris, and sent members to COP21 at the end of last year. They were also those most vehemently opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, and all supported Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. While friendly to progressives, these unions have tended to have a relatively limited impact on bigger unions, like the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

According to Sean Sweeney, though, this small group of unions might now be gaining strength. “Progressive unions are becoming a more coherent force,” he told In These Times.

Sweeney helped found a project called Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, which works with unions around the world on climate change and the transition away from fossil fuels, including the National Education Association and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ in the United States. He also runs the International Program for Labor, Climate and the Environment at City University of New York’s Murphy Institute.

“It could be said that it’s just the same old gang making the same old noise, but for health unions and transport unions to go up against the building trades and their powerful message and equally powerful determination to win ... that was a bit of a cultural shift in the labor movement,” he said, referencing the fights against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “That suggests that it's going to continue.”

Sweeney mentioned, too, that it wasn’t until much later in the fight around Keystone XL that even progressive unions came out against it. “A lot of these unions,” he added, “know a lot more about energy and pollution and climate change than they did before.”

Between Trumka’s DAPL endorsement and the Fraternal Order of Police’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president, this week has shown a stark divide between parts of American labor and today’s social movements. Progressive unions face an uphill battle on many issues, within and outside of organized labor. The question now—on the Dakota Access Pipeline—is whether today’s “Keystone moment” can break new ground in the jobs versus environment debate.

Dakota Access opens rift in AFL-CIO and debate within labor movement

By Paul Roland - KBOO, September 28, 2016

Audio File

After AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement on September 15 (link below) harshly criticizing Native Americans and others opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline DAPL), a growing number of progressive unions and labor organizations--many of them AFL-CIO affiliates--stepped forward to stand with the Standing Rock and other Native Nations and their allies.

While a similar conflict surfaced during the KXL pipeline controversy, it remained less openly contentious because the section that would have passed through the Dakotas was ultimately cancelled by President Obama. Now, with DAPL construction massively underway and hundreds of Native Nations uniting against the pipeline and gathered in an encampment of thousands, the battle lines are being more clearly drawn.  Perhaps Native troubadours there are singing the old United Mine Workers song from the 1930's, "Which Side Are You On?" 

Among the unions and organizations opposing the pipeline are Oregon's SEIU 503, the Pacific Coast Pensions Association--ILWU, the Labor Coalition for Community Action (which includes the 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, and Pride at Work), National Nurses United, ATU transit workers, California Faculty Association, Communication Workers of America, IWW Environmental unionism Caucus, National Writers Union UAW Local 1981, UE ( United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America) and others.

Today's guests are Gregory Cendana, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, an AFL-CIO member organization (http://www.apalanet.org/national-staff.html); Roben White, enrolled Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge and long-time local union activist;  Laura John, Blackfeet/Seneca and member-activist of SEIU Local 503 who pushed her local to adopt a statement in support of the Standing Rock and against the DAPL, and Rob Sisk, President of SEIU Local 503.

Work Week Radio: AFL-CIO and Opposition To Pipeline and Brazilian Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - Work Week Radio KPFA, September 27, 2016

WorkWeek looks at the growing conflict in the labor movement over the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the protests by Standing Rock Sioux Native Americans and other tribes and supporters against the pipeline. LIUNA, the Teamsters, Operating Engineers and Richard Trumpka of the AFL-CIO have supported the pipeline. Additional LIUNA, IBT, Pipefitters and Operating Engineers have also called for calling in the National Guard to protect the pipeline workers from protest.

Unions including the National Nurses Union NNU, Amalgamated Transit Union ATU, Communication Workers Of America CWA and American Postal Workers Union have opposed the pipeline and supported the protesting Native American tribes.

WorkWeek interviews NNU Director of Director of Environmental Health and Climate Justice for National Nurses United (NNU) Fernando Losada. We also interview Jeremy Brecher who is a labor writer and with Labor For Sustainability.

They discuss the split in labor, what is behind it and also the labor management partnership between the building union leadership and the oil and fossil fuel corporations.

Next WorkWeek looks at the upcoming strike in Brazil of auto and metal workers along with bank and public workers with Fabio Bosco who is with the Sao Paulo Metro workers union and Conlutas a labor federation which is supporting the strike.

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