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Labor Network for Sustainability

A national coalition demands transit justice

By Kacie Harlan - Socialist Worker, February 14, 2018

JUST OVER 62 years ago, Rosa Parks defied Jim Crow segregation that consigned Black passengers to sit in the back of the bus. Her act of resistance spurred the African American community to organize the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most important events of the civil rights movement.

Half a century later, Park's civil disobedience has inspired a national coalition of labor, civil rights and environmental groups to organize Transit Equity Day.

According to the Labor Network for Sustainability, Transit Equity Day "is a collaborative effort of several organizations and unions to promote public transit as a civil right and a strategy to combat climate change." The coalition chose Parks' birthday of February 4 for the day of action, but observed it on February 5 this year since it was a weekday.

While the coalition is small and the day of action made few headlines, Transit Equity Day is a good first step toward a badly needed public transit movement in the U.S.

Labor and climate groups support Transit Equity Day

By Bill Onasch - Socialist Action, February 1, 2018

On Feb. 5, civil rights, trade union, student, church, and environmental activists in communities across North America will come together in a variety of events to call attention to a looming crisis in public transit.

The diversity of these groups indicates that they recognize not only the urgent need to save what we have but also the potential crucial role transit expansion can play in providing affordable transportation that is accessible to all, that can reduce traffic fatalities and congestion—and that can curtail greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

But today, New York City’s subways—moving a record 5 million passengers a day—are on the verge of collapse, a major line is being shut down for renovation lasting for more than a year, and their buses aren’t doing much better. Washington, D.C., has neglected even routine maintenance, leading to accidents and delays on the Metro.

Transit-union contract negotiations remain highly contentious in Washington and Chicago. Some public agencies continue to contract work out to non-union penny-pinching private outfits who can do it cheaper only by providing inferior service and paying substandard wages. Washington, D.C., is moving to privatize the Red Line subway. More of the same—and even worse—are in store.

This is not the first crisis for transit. After setting record ridership numbers during World War II, when there was full employment, no new cars were being built, and tires and gasoline were rationed, the ruling class took America into a very different postwar development scheme. From the end of World War II on, highly subsidized urban sprawl promoted a massive exodus of residents and jobs to new suburban areas. The streetcar and bus lines in the urban cores did not follow them.

In many cases, such as in Los Angeles and Kansas City, consortiums of auto, oil, and tire companies became silent owners of transit properties. They dismantled their impressive electrified streetcar and trolley bus networks—which would require many billions to replicate today—replacing them with diesel buses produced by General Motors, as they steadily slashed service. One result in Los Angeles was the introduction of a new word to our vocabulary—smog. Out of sprawl an important new division in the working class soon emerged—either car dependent or transit dependent.

Because a high percentage of the transit-dependent population remaining in the depleted urban cores are African Americans, transit has often been on the agenda of the Civil Rights movement. The chosen date in February marks the birthday of the late Rosa Parks, who became famous for an act of civil disobedience that launched the well-planned boycott campaign to end racial segregation on Montgomery, Ala., buses in 1955. This pivotal action, initiated by Black trade unionists led by E.D. Nixon, is credited with launching the revival of the mass Civil Rights Movement in the South—and propelling Dr Martin Luther King into national prominence.

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.

Would the Atlantic Coast Pipeline be the job creator its TV ads claim?

By Sue Sturgis - Facing South, December 15, 2017

Dominion and Duke Energy got more bad news about their controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project this month, with North Carolina regulators announcing they would not issue the necessary air quality permit for a planned compressor station in Northampton County by Dec. 15, as the utilities had hoped. The proposed 600-mile pipeline would carry fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, with most of it used to generate electricity at gas-fired power plants.

On Dec. 4, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) — headed by the Environmental Defense Fund's former Southeastern regional director Michael Regan — asked for additional information about air pollution impacts, indefinitely extending the deadline for a response. This marks the fifth time that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's administration has asked the ACP developers for more information about the project, which has the necessary approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but still needs air, water and erosion permits in North Carolina. Last month the state requested additional details about economic benefits to communities along the pipeline's route.

Amid ongoing questions from state regulators about the ACP's impacts, its developers are running TV ads in North Carolina touting the project's job-creation potential. They're doing so through a group called the EnergySure Coalition, an alliance of pro-pipeline businesses and associations that's funded by Dominion and Duke as well as the other two minor ACP investors, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

One of the recent ads features Durwood Stephenson, a commercial and industrial construction contractor based in Johnston County, which lies along the ACP's route. He's also the executive director of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission, a regional economic development group.

"We need the pipeline if we're going to bring in industries and jobs," Stephenson says.

But are those job claims accurate? Will the $5.5 billion pipeline that would be financed primarily by Dominion and Duke Energy ratepayers be an economic boon for Eastern North Carolina, a region that faces higher-than-average unemployment?

An analysis released last week concluded that the developers' jobs claims are overly optimistic. It was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and carried out by the Applied Economics Clinic (AEC), a nonprofit consulting group housed at Tufts University in Massachusetts that focuses on energy, environment and equity. The researchers looked at the overall economics of the ACP as well as specific claims about manufacturing jobs and found the developers' promises to be unsubstantiated.

"Recent data on states with new natural gas pipeline capacity does not support the claim that the addition of a new natural gas pipeline in a state is correlated with lower industrial electricity prices or an increase in the number of manufacturing jobs in that state," the report said.

NYC Public Pension Funds Fossil Fuels Divestment Campaign

By Nancy Romer - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 22, 2017

New York City Public Worker Pension Funds are on the cusp of selling off or divesting from their fossil fuel stocks.  How and why are NYC workers and climate activists so intent on achieving this?  What will it mean if they win this?  First some background.

Pension Funds are the Capital of US Workers

American workers too often feel overwhelmed by the power of capitalism in general and financial corporations in particular.  We may feel we have few economic resources with which to exert our opinions and defend our needs in a system based on money.  We may want to challenge “fossil fuel capitalism” that threatens the future for our grandchildren, but how?

Most American workers do own capital in the form of their own homes and, especially, in their pension funds.  Often the pension funds are managed with the support and participation of their unions or, more specifically, their union leaders. What if union members were to look closely at our pension funds and see how we could use them to create the kind of world we want:  investments in renewable energy, public transportation, affordable housing, public education, regenerative agriculture?

As a sector, pension funds are the single largest institutional investor followed by banks, investment firms, and insurance companies (Global Pension Statistics Project, GPS).  Approximately $40 trillion was invested by pension funds in financial markets in 2015 and that gives workers much more financial punch than we realize or use.

Pensions represent deferred compensation to workers and are negotiated through contracts on behalf of union members.  The intention is to provide income during retirement years. Workers have the potential financial power through collectively using their pension funds to both protect us through financially insecure times such as these and to have an impact on the world we want to see, the world we want to leave to our children and future generations.  Too often the second part of this formula—having an impact on the world we want to see—is totally ignored.

A growing number of American workers are questioning the wisdom of keeping their hard-earned deferred income in fossil fuel holdings.   Some unions, particularly public service unions, are joining the other financial entities, like universities, faith organizations, and foundations, which have divested their funds from fossil fuel holdings. Pension funds committed to divestment comprised 12% of all divestment commitments. Globally, a full $5.2 trillion in assets has been pledged to divest from fossil fuels. [Arabella Global Divestment Report, 2016]  That’s a huge start!  We are denying funds from the fossil fuel industry, devaluing their stocks, stopping to “feed the beast”, making fossil fuel corporations pariahs, like we did with tobacco companies that caused cancer.

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.

The New AFL-CIO Stand on Climate Change

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, November 3, 2017

At its Quadrennial Convention in late October, the AFL-CIO unanimously adopted a resolution on “Climate Change, Energy, and Union Jobs.” [https://aflcio.org/resolutions/resolution-55-climate-change-energy-and-union-jobs] The resolution says that the fastest and most equitable way to address climate change is for “labor to be at the center of creating solutions that reduce emissions while investing in our communities, maintaining and creating high-wage union jobs, and reducing poverty.”

If acted on, the resolution will bring about significant changes in organized labor and will bring American trade unions into far closer alignment with allies in the climate protection movement.

The resolution starts with the facts of global warming. It acknowledges “the overwhelming scientific consensus” that climate warming is “due to human activities” and that higher global temperatures will trigger “irreversible changes in our climate,” causing “a rise in sea levels and storm surges, an increase in droughts and extreme weather events, a substantial threat of increased extinctions, decreased food security in some regions, and an increase in heat-induced health problems.”

The resolution turns next to the social justice dimensions of climate change. “Workers, communities of color and low-income Americans suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and climate change” through “polluted air, water and land,” and from “drought and extreme weather events.” It cites Pope Francis and other religious leaders on the “moral imperative to address both climate change and poverty.”

The resolution notes that tens of thousands of union members work in industries that rely on fossil fuels or live in regions where fossil fuels are “the primary economic driver in their communities.” Like all workers, they have a right to “a strong, viable economic future” including good jobs at union wages and benefits. It cites the Paris Agreement on “the imperative of a just transition” of the workforce and “decent work and quality jobs” when addressing climate change. It resolves to fight politically and legislatively “to secure and maintain employment, pensions and health care” for workers affected by changes in the energy market.

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for “Climate Solidarity” on Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, Octber 24, 2017

On this fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, it is time to recognize that climate change is a dagger pointing at the jobs and well-being of American workers.

Since Sandy we have seen storm after storm, wildfire after wildfire, flood after flood, all demonstrating the greater intensity that climate scientists have warned us will result from climate change. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Labor Department said 1.5 million workers were not at their jobs because of weather. And the experience of Sandy, Katrina, and other climate-intensified storms shows that the devastation to workers and unions continues for years after the immediate impact.

There is no escape from climate devastation except a planned transition from a fossil fueled economy to a fossil free economy. That will require change in every industry from manufacturing to construction to agriculture. And that will require millions of jobs. Climate protection is our best jobs program.

The transition to a climate-safe economy must be a just transition. We need to use that transition to reverse the growing inequality and injustice of our society. And we need to make sure that poor and working people are protected against any unintended side effects of climate protection.

The labor movement’s most essential value is solidarity. Summed up in the hallowed adage “An injury to one is an injury to all,” it is the recognition that “looking out for number one” doesn’t work, that we will survive and prosper only if we look out for one another. Climate protection is the new solidarity: protecting our brothers and sisters as well as ourselves from destruction.

Open Letter To Union Leaders: Act On Climate

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 2017

To the leaders of the American labor movement:

Working people, poor people, and frontline communities are most heavily impacted by the effects of climate change. We feel the force of this devastation first and worst—from more powerful hurricanes to wildfires, from rising sea levels to crop-destroying droughts and floods. Our families and communities receive the greatest blow and have the biggest stake in moving as rapidly as possible from a fossil fuel-based society to a sustainable energy society.

Global warming represents an existential threat to the world’s people. We must act rapidly to avoid even more devastating climate change. But moving to 100% renewable energy will also impact jobs for many of us. So any transition, to be just, must protect workers and frontline communities impacted by the changes we must make from having to disproportionately bear rather than share the social cost.

Organized labor with its allies is the strongest, best-organized force to turn this around. Who will speak for the global majority of working people and poor people if organized labor does not?

The Earth is our only home. There is no Planet B. And there are no jobs on a dead planet.

As union members and families of union members, we call on you to take the lead in backing policies that call for:
(1) A rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy;
(2) Massive rebuilding of our energy, transport, and other infrastructure in support of that transformation; and
(3) A just transition for workers and communities directly affected by climate change and the transition to renewable energy – including income support, retraining, retirement security, and the creation of quality living-wage union-protected jobs in infrastructure, energy efficiency, and clean energy.

Future generations will ask what the labor movement did to respond to, slow and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. We urge you to take bold action to address the climate crisis with solutions that protect our planet and our people. You will have my full backing for these policies and the backing of millions of working Americans who are looking for your leadership at this critical moment.

The actions we take today will determine the world that our children, grandchildren, and future generations will inhabit tomorrow and for centuries to come. Let’s act decisively now to improve rather than imperil their lives.

Fritz Edler on Green Unionism

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