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Jobs and equitable transition: Bridging the chasm between rhetoric and action

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, May 26, 2021

There was a time when the sight of rows of office workers hammering away at their Friden adding machines would have sent me into paroxysms of delight because I, the Victor Comptometer salesman, had a new and better “programmable calculator” that could kick the Friden’s ass.

I was a young 1970s college graduate entering the workforce at the tail end of the era of mechanical business automation. Typewriters, adding machines, and mechanical cash registers were still the workhorses of stores and offices.

Behind all that machinery were companies – Burroughs, Monroe, Friden, Victor – whose names were as familiar then as Cisco, Oracle, and SAP are today. And those companies supported factories, sales offices, and repair facilities that provided living wage jobs to hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

Then, within a little more than a decade, it was all gone. A year after I fizzled as a Victor salesman, I was playing at home with my new Radio Shack TRS-80 home computer and five years later, instead of an adding machine and typewriter on my desk at work, there sat an Apple II desktop computer, precursor to the Mac.

Gone too were those hundreds of thousands of jobs plunging not only workers and families, but entire communities, into financial crisis. One could argue that Dayton, Ohio, once home to National Cash Register and the business forms giant, Standard Register, never recovered.

The knock-out blow suffered by the office automation industry was as ferocious and sudden as the one that hit the American steel industry a few years earlier, the textile industry a few decades before that, and also as the one that possibly faces workers in the fossil fuel economy today.

So how did we as a society help displaced workers and communities manage the economic consequences of the transition from the mechanical workplace to a digital one? We didn’t. Thanks to the New Deal, we had unemployment insurance and Medicare and Medicaid were brand spanking new. But that was about it – a little help for individuals and families and none whatsoever for communities.

Utility Workers Union and UCS estimate costs to transition U.S. coal miners and power plant workers in joint report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 12, 2021

Hard on the heels of the April statement by the United Mine Workers Union, Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) jointly released a report with the Union of Concerned Scientists on May 4: Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape. This report is described as “a call to action for thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support for coal-dependent workers and communities across the nation.” The report estimates that in 2019, there were 52,804 workers in coal mining and 37,071 people employed at coal-fired power plants – and that eventually all will lose their jobs as coal gives way to cleaner energy sources. Like the United Mine Workers, the report acknowledges that the energy shift is already underway, and “rather than offer false hope for reinvigorated coal markets, we must acknowledge that thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support are critical to honoring the workers and communities that have sacrificed so much to build this country.”

Specifically, the report calls for a minimum level of support for workers of five years of wage replacement, health coverage, continued employer contributions to retirement funds or pension plans, and tuition and job placement assistance. The cost estimates of such supports are pegged at $33 billion over 25 years and $83 billion over 15 years —and do not factor in additional costs such as health benefits for workers suffering black lung disease, or mine clean-up costs. The report states: “we must ensure that coal companies and utilities are held liable for the costs to the greatest extent possible before saddling taxpayers with the bill.” Neither do the cost estimates include the recognized needs for community supports such as programs to diversify the economies, or support to ensure that essential services such as fire, police and education are supported, despite the diminished tax base. 

The report points to the precedents set by Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities ( 2018), the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment (2019), as well as the New Mexico Energy Transition Act 2019 and the Colorado Just Transition Action Plan in 2020. The 12-page report, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape was accompanied by a Technical Report, and summarized in a UCS Blog which highlights the situation in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. A 2018 report from UCS Soot to Solar also examined Illinois.

Green Energy, Green Mining, Green New Deal?

Calls for sustainable and responsible mining for the clean energy transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 6, 2021

An important Special Report by the International Energy Association was released in May: The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions. Reflecting a mainstream view of the importance of the raw materials for clean technologies such as electric vehicles and energy storage, the IEA provides “ a wealth of detail on mineral demand prospects under different technology and policy assumptions” , and discusses the various countries which offer supply – including Canada. The main discussion is of policies regarding supply chains, especially concerning responsible and sustainable mining, concluding with six key recommendations, including co-ordination of the many international frameworks and initiatives in the area. The report briefly recognizes the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) protocols as internationally significant, and as one of the first to require on-site verification of its standards. The Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative was established in 2004, requiring member companies to “demonstrate leadership by reporting and independently verifying their performance in key environmental and social areas such as aboriginal and community engagement, biodiversity conservation, climate change, tailings management.”

On May 5, the Mining Association of Canada updated one of its TSM protocols with the release a new Climate Change Protocol, a major update to its 2013 Energy Use and GHG Emissions Management Protocol. It is designed “to minimize the mining sector’s carbon footprint, while enhancing climate change disclosure and strengthening the sector’s ability to adapt to climate change.” The Protocol is accompanied by a new Guide on Climate Change Adaptation for the Mining Sector, intended for mine owners in Canada, but with global application. The Guide includes case studies of such mines as the Glencore Nickel mine in Sudbury, the notorious Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories, and the Suncor Millennium tailings pond remediation at its oil sands mine in Alberta. The membership of MAC is a who’s who of Canadian mining and oil sands companies / – including well-known companies such as ArcelorMittal, Barrick Gold, Glencore, Kinross, Rio Tinto, Suncor, and Syncrude. Other documentation, including other Frameworks and progress reports, are compiled at a dedicated Climate Change Initiatives and Innovations in the Mining Industry website.

The demand for lithium, cobalt, nickel, and the other rare earth minerals needed for technological innovation has been embraced, not only by the mining industry, but in policy discussions – recently, by Clean Energy Canada in its March 2021 report, The Next Frontier. The federal ministry of Natural Resources Canada is also supportive, maintaining a Green Mining Innovation Initiative through CanmetMINING , and the government joined the U.S.-led Energy Resource Governance Initiative (ERGI) in 2019 to promote “secure and resilient supply chains for critical energy minerals.”

Alternative points of view have been pointing out the dangers inherent in the new “gold rush” mentality, since at least 2016 when Amnesty International released its 2016 expose of the use of child labour in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most recently, in February 2021, Amnesty released Powering Change: Principles for Businesses and Governments in the Battery Value Chain, which sets out specific principles that governments and businesses should follow to avoid human rights abuses and environmental harm. Other examples: MiningWatch Canada has posted their April 2021 webinar Green Energy, Green Mining, Green New Deal?, which states: “The mining sector is working hard to take advantage of the climate crisis, painting mining as “green” because it supplies materials needed to support the “green” energy transition. But unless demand for both energy and materials are curtailed, environmental destruction and social conflicts will also continue to grow.” MiningWatch Canada published Turning Down the Heat: Can We Mine Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis? in 2020, reporting on a 2019 international conference which focused on the experience of frontline communities. Internationally, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre maintains a Transition Minerals tracker, with ongoing data and reports concerning human and labour rights in the mining of “transition minerals”, and also compiles links to recent reports and articles. Two recent reports in 2021: Recharge Responsibly: The Environmental and Social Footprint of Mining Cobalt, Lithium, and Nickel for Electric Vehicle Batteries (March 2021, Earthworks) and A Material Transition: Exploring supply and demand solutions for renewable energy minerals from the U.K. organization War on Want.

New Analysis Estimates an Equitable Energy Economy will Require $33 Billion to $83 Billion Investment in Workers

By staff - Utility Workers Union of America, May 4, 2021

As the Biden administration considers federal resources for coal workers and their communities, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urge a set of comprehensive supports estimated to cost between $33 billion over 25 years to $83 billion over 15 years. The analysis, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape, underscores that a fair and equitable shift to a low-carbon economy requires intentional, robust, and sustained investments in coal workers, their families, and their communities.

Coal-fired electricity is down to 20 percent today from about half of the nation’s electricity generation a decade ago. With more closures on the horizon, a sustained and comprehensive set of supports is needed to ensure individuals who have powered America for generations can stay in their communities, prepare for new careers with family-sustaining wages, and can retire with dignity.

“For decades, the coal industry has simply locked its doors and forgotten the individuals and communities who rely on the coal industry and who exist in almost every state across the country,” said UWUA President James Slevin. “Approaching these closures with the right set of economic supports offers a better alternative to the chaos and devastation we’re seeing today.”

Recognizing coal and mining facilities often directly employ hundreds of individuals and many more indirectly across several counties, the economic and social infrastructure of a region undergoes lasting changes when facilities close.

“The economic upheaval resulting from the dramatic job losses in the coal industry over the last decade has uprooted families, deepened economic anxiety, and left community leaders scrambling to keep schools open and social services in place,” said report co-author Jeremy Richardson, a UCS senior energy analyst who comes from a family of coal miners. “But solutions are readily available with forward-looking and visionary action by policymakers.”

Mineworkers Union Supports Biden's Green Energy Plan

By Brian Young - ucommBlog, April 21, 2021

One of the biggest impediments to President Biden’s climate plan has done a 180 and is now supporting the plan.

The United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) announced this week that they support the President’s green energy policies in exchange for a robust transition strategy. The union hopes that this will mean more jobs for their members as it becomes clear that more industries are moving away from coal. The move by the UMWA is especially important as they have a close working relationship with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin whose support will be needed to pass any green energy plan. Manchin is also the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The union is also calling on Congress to allocate funds to train miners for good-paying jobs with benefits in renewable energy sectors.

President Biden has proposed allocating $16 billion to reclaim abandoned mines and to plug leaking gas and oil wells. This would not only provide bridge jobs for workers in areas like West Virginia, but it would also address serious environmental issues that these abandoned mines and wells are causing.

Mineworkers President Cecil Roberts said in a live-streamed event with the National Press Club that coal jobs decreased by 7,000 last year leaving only about 34,000 active coal miners in the United States.

“Change is coming, whether we seek it or not. Too many inside and outside the coalfields have looked the other way when it comes to recognizing and addressing specifically what that change must be, but we can look away no longer,” the United Mineworkers stated. “We must act, while acting in a way that has real, positive impact on the people who are most affected by this change.”

“We have to think about the people who have already lost their jobs,” Roberts said. “I’m for any jobs that we can create that would be good-paying jobs for our brothers and sisters who have lost them in the UMWA. As we confront a next wave of energy transition, we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better."

To help these workers through a just transition, the union is proposing significant increases in federal funding for carbon capture technology and storage research and development funding. They are also calling for building out a carbon capture infrastructure such as pipelines and injection wells. This would allow coal-fired plants to remain open, but they would have to install technology that would capture emissions and store them underground instead of in the atmosphere.

Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition

By staff - United Mineworkers of America, April 20, 2021

At the end of 2011, nearly 92,000 people worked in the American coal industry, the most since 1997. Coal production in the United States topped a billion tons for the 21st consecutive year. Both thermal and metallurgical coal were selling at premium prices, and companies were making record profits.

Then the bottom fell out. The global economy slowed, putting pressure on steelmaking and metallurgical coal production. Foreign competition from China, Australia, India and elsewhere cut into met coal production.

Domestically, huge increases in production from newly-tapped natural gas fields, primarily as a result of hydraulic fracturing of deep shale formations, caused the price of gas to drop below that of coal for the first time in years. As a result, utilities began switching the fuel used to generate electricity from coal to gas. An enlarging suite of environmental regulations also adversely impacted coal usage, production and employment.

By 2016, just 51,800 people were working in the coal industryii. 40,000 jobs had been
lost.

Companies went bankrupt. Retirees’ hard-won retiree health care and pensions were threatened. Active union miners saw their collective bargaining agreements – including provisions that had been negotiated over decades -- thrown out by federal bankruptcy courts. Nonunion miners had no recourse in bankruptcy courts and were forced to accept whatever scraps their employers chose to throw their way.

Since 2012, more than 60 coal companies have filed either for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy or Chapter 7 liquidation. Almost no company has been immune.

In 2017 and again in 2019, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and its bipartisan allies in Congress, led by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), successfully preserved the retiree health care and pensions that the government had promised and tens of thousands of miners had earned in sweat and blood.

The UMWA was successful in preserving union recognition, our members’ jobs and reasonable levels of pay and benefits at every company as they emerged from bankruptcy, but in no case has the contract that came out of bankruptcy been the same as the one our members enjoyed when a company went into bankruptcy

Read the text (PDF).

Climate Movement Applauds Coal Miners' Demand for Just Transition, Green Jobs

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

The largest union of coal miners in the U.S. announced Monday that it would accept a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as long as the federal government takes care of coal workers through the provision of green jobs and income support for those who become unemployed.

"There needs to be a tremendous investment here," said Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International. "We always end up dealing with climate change, closing down coal mines. We never get to the second piece of it."

Ahead of a press conference outlining the UMWA's approach to addressing the climate emergency in a way that improves rather than diminishes the well-being of workers in the dirty energy sector, Roberts said in a statement that "energy transition and labor policies must be based on more than just promises down the road. We want to discuss how miners, their families, and their communities can come out of this transition period and be certain that they will be in as good or better shape than they are today."

"Much of the coal-producing areas of Appalachia and elsewhere are already in bad economic shape," said Roberts. "Washington has taken little action to address it over the past decade. That must change."

"As we confront a next wave of energy transition," he added, "we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better."

Sunrise Responds to Decision by United Mine Workers Association, Commits to Fighting Alongside Them and Demands Manchin Supports 'Tremendous Investment'

By Ellen Sciales - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

Today, in response to the news that the United Mine Workers Association, the main and essential union for coal miners, and Senator Joe Manchin are supporting the transition to renewable energy, Evan Weber, Political Director of Sunrise Movement, released the following statement:

“For generations, coal communities have sacrificed to keep the lights on for all of us, while they’ve been abandoned by executives and politicians in DC. Sunrise Movement stands with and celebrates the United Mine Workers Association announcement today as they lean in to the transition towards a renewable energy economy, and we renew our commitment to fight alongside them to ensure the government leads in ensuring coal communities are whole and not left behind. We fully support their calls for job training, investments and prioritization of coal communities to receive economic development, and guaranteeing wages and benefits for workers impacted by the urgent and necessary transition towards a carbon-free economy.

“The radical truth is that at the end of the day, most of us want the same thing — a good, reliable job with a stable wage and a sense of comfort and security. And the brutal reality of the climate crisis is that it has threatened our jobs, our homes and the lifestyles that some of us have known for centuries. We agree wholeheartedly with Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America’s warning that there must be ‘tremendous investment’ as this transformation takes place. From the climate crisis, to technological shifts, to global pandemics, the 21st century promises more disruption — but our government can and must take care of its people along the way. In addition to what the mineworkers have outlined, we support a federal job guarantee to ensure every American has the right to a good job as our society faces more disruption, and see a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps employing millions of Americans in jobs tackling the crisis and revitalizing our communities as a step in that direction.

“Whether or not America has noticed, there has been a movement in West Virginia and across the United States growing around these basic ideas — and towards our vision for a Green New Deal. And today, the labor movement and young activists have proven they can be more powerful than the executives who have delayed action for years. While we may not agree on all of the specifics of how we get there, we are more aligned on the destination than those who seek to divide us would like you to think.

“At Sunrise, we say we have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, and when we see stances that reflect our values, we’ll celebrate those. With Senator Manchin’s support on the PRO Act and for a just transition for coal workers, it is our hope that today marks a turning point for Senator Manchin. If he is truly committed to protecting this community and West Virginians, he will support the ‘tremendous investment’ the Mineworkers call for, starting with $10 trillion over the next decade, or $1 trillion per year, in order to ensure we can truly transition in a way that leaves no one behind. He’ll also stop pretending that this is an agenda that the Republican Party, which has long abandoned its desire to productively deliver for the American people, will come along with, and urge passage of this important agenda for Mineworkers and West Virginians through a simple majority by abolishing the filibuster.” 

Government committee recommends further study for support for workers amid transition to electric vehicle production

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 16, 2021

The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development presented their report, The Road Ahead: Encouraging the Production and Purchase Of Zero-Emission Vehicles In Canada to the House of Commons on April 13. The Committee had received eighteen briefs and heard from twenty-one witnesses since the Fall of 2020 – available here. The importance of reducing transportation emissions was accepted, and the topics of discussion included purchase incentives, expanding ev charging infrastructure and the impact on the electricity sector, the potential of hydrogen-powered vehicles, and more. The resulting report makes thirteen recommendations, to which the government is requested to respond. Amongst the recommendations: the existing federal incentive program for EV purchase be continued and expanded to include used EV’s, that the price cap be eliminated, with eligibility geared to income; that the Government of Canada build on existing initiatives, like the Green Mining Innovation program, to improve the environmental performance of Canadian minerals used in battery and hydrogen fuel cell production; and that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to develop recycling and end of life management strategies for ZEV batteries.

Recommendation #6 addresses the concerns of workers: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada study opportunities to support automotive sector workers while facilities are transitioning to produce ZEVs, and consider dedicated funding to retrain automotive sector workers for ZEV production.”

Most of the input to the Standing Committee was from industry representatives, but the report attributes Recommendation #6 largely to the testimony of Angelo DiCaro, Research Director of Unifor on November 23, 2020. From the report: “Witnesses cautioned that it will be challenging to reorient Canada’s automotive sector to produce ZEVs. It takes time for producers to bring vehicles to market, and to retool facilities and retrain workers to produce ZEVs. Angelo DiCaro suggested that the Government of Canada should ensure that the employment insurance system will support workers during plant retooling. He also noted that the transition to ZEVs could threaten jobs in Canada’s automotive parts sector, especially among businesses that produce parts for the powertrains that propel ICEVs. To compensate, Mr. DiCaro said that Canadian governments should set rules about the afterlife of vehicles that could create jobs in vehicle disassembly and recycling.”

Specifically, when asked later by NDP MP Laurel Collins, “what kind of retraining and income supports do Canadian auto workers need to support a just transition to a zero-emissions future?” DiCaro identified the powertrain segment of the auto parts industry as the most vulnerable, and continued…. “as plants transition, as will happen with Oakville, we have to see how long these transition times will take in our next round of bargaining. I can assure you that, if this is going to be a two-year or a 16-month transition to get that plant retooled, there are going to be questions about income supports for those workers as they retrain and wait for these cars to come online….. This is front and centre. I think the act of collective bargaining gives us an opportunity to explore that. Certainly our employment insurance system and our training systems are going to have to be looked at more carefully.”

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