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Going on Offense During Challenging Times

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione - New Labor Forum, December 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader, shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception. The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869) acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years. Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature: “Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely, organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

Fighting for Green Solutions to Pittsburgh’s “Sewage in the Rivers Problem”

By Thomas Hoffman - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 4, 2018

Almost 7 years ago, six Pittsburgh based organizations realized that our region was going to spend $2-4 billion dollars of area residents’ money to stop 9+ billion gallons of untreated sewage from flowing into our iconic three rivers. The overflows occur when stormwater runs off roads roofs and parking lots into the storm sewers which are the same as the waste sewers.

Pittsburgh is not unusual – many older industrial cities have the same problem. If you combine all the money that will be spent by these cities fixing this problem it totals to roughly half a trillion dollars.

The groups formed the Clean Rivers Campaign to win a “maximum green first followed by right sized gray” solution to cleaning our rivers. They felt that in addition to cleaning our rivers such a solution would bring maximum community benefits back to area residents. These benefits include long term local family sustaining Union jobs, cleaner air and water, and revitalized communities.

The six organizations are Pittsburgh United, a PWF affiliate composed of labor, faith and community groups, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, a faith based organization, three enviro groups -Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and Action United, a low income neighborhood organizing group. The Unions in Pittsburgh United (SEIU, UFCW and USWA) have been very supportive of the campaign because the neighborhoods where much of the green investments would happen are where their members live.

The alternative solution being promoted by our regional sewer authority, ALCOSAN, is the construction of miles of massive tunnels to collect all the stormwater runoff and sewage overflow. The sewage would then be pumped out of the tunnels using pumps powered by fossil fuels and then treated  before being released into the river again. While this would solve the sewage in the rivers problems it would have none of the community benefits listed above. It would also do nothing to reduce the flooding that may low income and minority communities are experiencing.

Youth encircle Tagami’s Rotunda building to launch #DeCOALonize Oakland boycott

By staff - No Coal in Oakland, November 21, 2017

“We are the children-
The mighty, mighty children!”

This chant rang out as about 80 people encircled the Rotunda Building, half of them young people, mostly of elementary school age, with placards proclaiming “Boycott the Rotunda,” “Youth vs. Coal,” and “DeCOALonize Oakland.”

“Hey hey ho ho
Dirty coal has got to go.”

The practice picket line was part of the November 21 DeCOALonization action organized by young people, with support from Climate Workers and other groups including No Coal in Oakland. This was a launch of the boycott of the Rotunda Building: asking organizations—particularly social justice nonprofits—to stop using the event venue owned by Phil Tagami and to notify him that they are boycotting this space until he drops his lawsuit aiming to reverse Oakland’s ban on coal.

Speakers included several youth, with messages about the dangers of pollution and—considering that Thanksgiving is approaching—support of Indigenous people. Labor was also represented by a speaker from Unite HERE Local 2850, which organizes hospitality workers. She pointed out that the Rotunda Building uses non-union labor and encouraged groups to find a unionized event space through

After picketing, the demonstrators enjoyed a meal that included soup and corn bread prepared by the activist youth. In contrast to the fancy events in the Rotunda, the demonstrators fed community members who came up to the tables clearly in need of good nutrition.

If you want to help contact organizations about the boycott, please e-mail NoCoalInOakland [at] gmail [dot] com.

Photo credit: Sunshine Velasco from Survival Media Agency

U.S. unions fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 7, 2017

Labour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

Youth and Workers Zombie March Against Coal in Oakland

By staff - Climate Workers, October 30, 2017


CONTACT: Brooke Anderson - 510-846-0766,

What: A day before Halloween, high school students and union members from across Oakland will lead a “Zombie March on Coal” to the home of Oakland developer Phil Tagami to protest his attempt to overturn Oakland’s 2016 ban on the storage, handling, and transport of coal through the city. Youth plan to hold a Halloween street carnival outside Tagami’s house to educate about coal’s role in driving both climate and public health crises and to celebrate the resilience and determination of young Oaklanders.

When:  4:30 PM. Monday, October 30, 2017.

Where: Corner of Mandana Blvd. and Carlston Ave. in Oakland, CA.
March will leave at 5PM for Phil Tagami’s house (1012 Ashmount Ave, Oakland).

Visuals: Banners, youth in Halloween costumes, union members and marchers covered in “coal dust,” musicians & band, Halloween street carnival including: coffins and tombstones, face painting, reading circles, games and activities.

Oakland City Council banned coal in June of 2016.Tagami is now suing the city over this decision. At a moment when Oakland has been experiencing extremely poor air quality due to the North Bay fires, those who live and work in the city are saying no to Tagami’s plans to further pollute the air and poison Oaklanders lungs. Young people are refusing to accept dirty air in their city. Tagami promised the terminal would create jobs, but by suing the city over coal, he’s now holding up these jobs from coming to Oakland. The marchers will demand that Tagami drop his lawsuit and make the right choice: a thriving, healthy Oakland.

People will gather a few blocks away from Tagami’s house and march, setting up a youth-led Halloween street carnival. This march and carnival is organized by Climate Workers, and co-sponsored by 20+ youth, labor, and environmental justice organizations in Oakland.

For more information: No Coal in Oakland

California’s largest union opposes wasteful Delta Tunnels/ WaterFix

By Bob Schoonover, President SEIU Local 721 - Red, Green, and Blue, August 25, 2017

An open letter from the SEIU to the Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors

Dear Board of Directors:

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 urges you to oppose the proposal to build massive water tunnels in Northern California, known as the so-called California WaterFix. Our 97,000 members deliver public services in counties, cities, sanitation and water districts and non-profits across six counties including Los Angeles. Water quality is vital to our members both as residents and workers.

Fixing aging infrastructure for Southern California is linked with creating environmentally sustainable water capture at the local level. During the recent storms in L.A., the region enjoyed a deluge of rain that turned yards and hills green again. But we also saw the negative impacts to aging infrastructure, with road sink holes, emergency calls to Sanitation Districts and, most importantly, a rush of uncaptured water rolling through storm drains to the ocean.

We support efforts to capture our stormwater, and last month’s LA County Supervisors motion to determine an appropriate parcel tax to fund stormwater capture and water quality projects and programs in the coming year. We also support the partnership between Metropolitan Water District and L.A. County Sanitation Districts to build a new recycled water facility and upgrade our treatment plants in Carson and the City of Los Angeles, producing a new water source.

We support Mayor Eric Garcetti’s goals to increase reliability and double local water sources by 2035. The City of Santa Monica, the City of Camarillo, Ventura County Water, Orange County and L.A .County are also proposing similar efforts to increase local and regional water projects.

Neither the State nor Metropolitan Water District has released a credible financial plan on the real impacts to ratepayers, and there is good reason to suspect the costs will be much larger.

We oppose the so-called California WaterFix to build massive water tunnels in Northern California.

An Open Letter to Developer Phil Tagami

By Ted Franklin - No Coal in Oakland, April 7, 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

On Saturday, April 8, the Alameda Labor Council will sponsor a Labor, Climate & Jobs Forum with plenary and workshop sessions devoted to how Unions are addressing climate and environmental challenges by organizing workers and communities.  Speakers will include Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer, Alameda Labor Council; Kathyrn Lybarger, president, California State Federation of Labor; Cesar Diaz, State Building and Construction Trades Council; and Carol Zabin, UC Berkeley Labor Center Green Economy Program.

The Forum follows the Labor Council’s pathbreaking support for the No Coal in Oakland campaign.  In September 2015, in one of the first actions by any labor council in the United States to oppose a developer’s plans on environmental grounds, the Alameda Labor Council passed a resolution calling on Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Oakland City Council, and the project developers “to reject the export of coal through the Oakland Global project, to not take funds from Utah to secure use of the terminals for coal, and to execute a binding agreement or adopt an ordinance that will bar export of coal from this public land.”

With strong support from Labor, faith, environmental, and community organizations, the Oakland City Council banned the storage and handling of coal in the City of Oakland by adopting an ordinance prohibiting bulk storage and handling of coal within Oakland’s city limits.

The City supported its decision by reviewing extensive evidence of serious local health and safety impacts that would result from locating a large coal export facility in West Oakland as well as disastrous effects on global climate that would result from burning the vast quantities of coal that would be shipped overseas.

The Women’s March was a huge success. Next up: Sustained Resistance

By Elizbeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 22, 2017

Unionists were among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who joined in the Sister Marches for the Women’s March in Washington on January 21, 2017 . The Canadian Labour Congress statement of “Why we March” is here . Unifor’s President Jerry Dias endorsed the March and called for a “united mobilization effort” against the Trump agenda. The March was an undeniable success, and the Washington organizers, quoted in a Globe and Mail report, recognized: “This is more than a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement – to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity. ”

Jeremy Brecher of Labor Network for Sustainability tackles this issue for U.S. labour unions in “How Labor and Climate united can trump Trump” . After cataloguing some of the worst threats under a Trump administration , he calls for “an alliance of unions and allies willing to fight the whole Trump agenda” and states: “Such a “big tent” needs to include unions that are not part of the AFL-CIO, such as SEIU, Teamsters, and National Education Association. Some unions may choose not to join because they are unwilling to take a forthright stand against the Trump agenda; it would be both absurd and catastrophic for that to prevent the rest of the labor movement and its allies from taking on a fight that is about the very right of unions to exist.”

The United Resistance, led by the NAACP, Greenpeace USA, and the Service Employees International Union, is chief among these new alliances, pledging to “stand together” on the issues of civil rights, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, social equality, action on climate change, public health and safety, public dissent, and access to information. Their inspirational video is here , as well as a list of the alliance members. The AFL-CIO is not listed as a member of the United Resistance, though their recent blogs oppose Trump’s nominees, and they promoted the Women’s March. For more about the United Resistance, see “More than 50 Organizations Launch United Resistance Campaign as Trump’s Cabinet Hearings Begin” in Common Dreams (Jan.10).

In a second article , SOCIAL SELF-DEFENSE: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism , Jeremy Brecher borrows a term from the Solidarity movement in Poland 40 years ago, and takes a larger, more global focus. He writes that “Social Self Defense includes the protection of the human rights of all people; protection of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; and global cooperation to provide a secure future for people.” “Social Self-Defense is not an organization – it is a set of practices to be engaged in by myriad organizations, hopefully in close coordination with each other.” Although the article highlights a number of examples, such as the growing Sanctuary movement in the U.S., and case studies of alliances, including Vermont Labor Council Initiates Social Self-Defense , the overriding impact is to emphasize the scale of the task: “These actions appear to be on the way to being the greatest outpouring of civil resistance in American history.”

Unions Congratulate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Denial of Authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

Statement from 1199 SEIU; Amalgamated Transit Union; Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employees Division, Pennsylvania Federation–Teamsters; National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Nurses United; New York State Nurses Association; United Electrical Workers - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 9, 2016

We are unions representing members in health care, domestic work, public transit, railroads, manufacturing and other sectors.

We congratulate leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of supporters for the news that the federal government will deny authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline to go through tribal lands posing a threat to water sources and sacred sites.

The Obama Administration’s decision respects the sacred grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux and takes into consideration the potential of a hazardous pipeline leak that would harm the community’s life and livelihood.

This is a historic victory, and an organizing victory that every union member can identify with, against one of the most powerful economic and political forces in the world: the fossil fuel industry and its many allies inside and outside government. These forces have used private police that have not hesitated in using violence to intimidate those participating in peaceful protest.

Mindful of our own history in facing private police and vigilantes in the fight to establish workers’ rights, trade unionists have stood shoulder to shoulder with the First Nation water protectors, environmental and community supporters, and many allies who have mobilized and rallied for months against huge odds.

Our unions will continue to join with opponents of the Dakota Pipeline along other routes and fight to halt similar projects that transport dirty crude oil that jeopardize public health and contribute to the climate crisis.

We also stand in solidarity with the construction workers who build our country’s infrastructure, and also with the workers in coal, oil and gas, many of whom have lost their jobs due to the collapse in global prices. In accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement, we call for a “just transition” for workers whose jobs and livelihoods may be threatened by the move away from fossil fuels.

But there is much work to be done in modernizing and repairing bridges, roads, tunnels, public transit systems, etc., many of which have become dilapidated and dangerous to workers and the public.  But jobs based on expanding (and exporting) fossil fuels will simply lead to more environmental destruction, worsening health, climate instability and social upheaval at home and abroad.  Business as usual is not an option.

Together we can demand the development of sustainable energy production and resource initiatives that unequivocally provide good, safe union jobs while salvaging the health and well-being of the earth’s population.

Our future depends on our willingness to engage and organize among progressive forces and social movements in order to effectively meet the challenges ahead.

Over 500 people in Sacramento stand in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux

By Dan Bacher - Indybay.Org, November 18, 2016

Over 500 Sacramento area residents, including Native Americans, social justice advocates and environmentalists, joined tens of thousands of others throughout the world on November 15 to demand that the Obama administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halt the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

They lined both sides of the street in front of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office on J Street, proclaiming their solidarity with the struggle of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and their allies to stop the pipeline that carries fracked crude Bakken oil. Many drivers passing by on the busy street honked their horns in support of the protesters.

The protest took place the day after the Corps announced it is delaying an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline project until it conducts further environmental review and discussion with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Corps said “construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement.”

The Standing Rock Sioux and the water protectors opposing the pipeline are worried that the final Corps decision won’t be made until next year after Donald Trump is inaugurated. Trump’s transition team has vowed to expand offshore and offshore oil production throughout the nation.

Even more worrisome, Trump has invested between $500,000 and $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, according to financial disclosure forms, Wes Enzinna of Mother Jones reported. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren also donated more than $100,000 to help elect Trump.

“Trump also owns stock worth between $500,000 and $1 million in Phillips 66, which will own a 25 percent share of the finished pipeline. One of Trump's key energy advisers is North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, who has encouraged him to dismantle key aspects of the Clean Water Act, which gives the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate the nation's waterways and wetlands,” Ezinna wrote.

Tuesday’s protest was one of the largest regarding an indigenous struggle ever held in the Capital City. “We had an incredible turnout at our event,” said Chris Brown, an organizer from the Sacramento Climate Coalition. “A special shout out goes to the Nevada County protectors of water, who came out in droves.”

Brown noted that the Corps approved the construction pipeline without proper consultation or adequate environmental studies.

“The Standing Rock Sioux are resisting the DAPL, which threatens their water, ancestral burial sites, and Native sovereignty,” according to Brown. “They have been met with militarized police using automatic rifles, sound cannons, tear gas and mace, flash-bang grenades, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets. The courage of the Water Protectors has inspired people all over the world.”

Cosponsors of the local action included Sacramento Area Friends and Relatives of the Lakota Nation, Sacramento Climate Coalition, 350 Sacramento, Davis MoveOn, Davis Stands with Standing Rock, Raging Grannies of Sacramento, Sacramento Stands with Standing Rock, Alianza, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

"The state of North Dakota has deployed the National Guard, State and Local Police and police from several other states as well as the FBI to protect Energy Transfer Partners, a privately owned pipeline construction corporation,” said Francisco Dominguez (Tarahumara) of Sacramento Area Friends and Relatives of the Lakota Nation. “The last time I checked we were still a Democracy."

Mariana Rivera from the Zapatista Coalition noted the links between the Sioux Tribe’s struggle in North Dakota and struggles of indigenous peoples and their allies to stop the raising of Shasta Dam, the environmentally destructive Delta Tunnels of Governor Jerry Brown and fracking in California.

“Native people are taking the lead on something that concerns us all, protecting our water and land. All of us to need to take a stand with Standing Rock now,” said Rivera.

“Extracting fossils fuels jeopardizes water systems and native rights — and that’s why we’re here in solidarity with them,” explained Alicia Esquivido, a local Greenpeace activist, who was there with fellow activist Trent Pearson.

Rick Guerrero, an SEIU organizer and former president of the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) Board said, “I'm here to stand with our brothers and sisters in North Dakota. Last week’s election crystallized how our resistance needs to be immediate and sustainable. This destruction needs to be be stopped not only for native people, but for the earth and all workers.”