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Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS)

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

Statement in Support of U.S. Railroad Workers on the Precipice of Their Historic Strike

By Jim Abernathy - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) stands firmly in solidarity with railroad workers in this historic moment. Our railways are the veins of our nation, and these workers ensure our healthy circulation, getting our people and our goods wherever they are needed. Every person in this country fundamentally relies on the hard work and immense expertise of rail workers.

They worked on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the country alive, without a contract, and they have been thanked by private railroad corporations with sweeping layoffs, a refusal to pay just wages and benefits, and utterly inhumane working conditions. Let us not mince words - being forced to work alone, in dangerous conditions, sometimes for up to 80 hours a week is fundamentally inhumane. These workers, too long pitted against one another by the bosses, by CEOs who seek to divide and conquer the working class of the nation, now stand united as one against this unacceptable status quo.

Rail transportation and rail labor are also vital to the health of our entire planet. They are a crucial piece of solving the climate crisis, and they must be respected as a core part of the solution to many of our systemic problems. Respect for rail transportation and rail workers means expanding the workforce so that workers can have decent schedules, ensuring robust compensation, and ensuring their safety - putting our railroads front and center in the fight for good union jobs and a livable planet.

The bosses will not act unless they are forced to by a unified working class. Our railroad workers, united, spurred on by their own righteous history of labor militancy, are prepared now to use their collective power. LNS stands ready to support our brothers and sisters on the railroad and their fight for justice on the job and for all our communities.

Read the text (PDF).

What It Will Take to Build a Broad-Based Movement for a Just Transition: Environmental and labor organizers reflect on hard-won lessons

Images and words by David Bacon - Sierra, August 31, 2022

In 2020, Washington State passed the Climate Commitment Act, and when it went into effect on January 1, 2022, Rosalinda Guillen was appointed to its Environmental Justice Council. The appointment recognized her role as one of Washington's leading advocates for farmworkers and rural communities.

Guillen directs Community2Community Development, a women-led group encouraging farmworker cooperatives and defending labor rights. She has a long history as a farm labor organizer and in 2013 helped form a new independent union for farmworkers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Guillen agreed to serve on the council but with reservations. She feared that the law's implementation would be dominated by some of the state's most powerful industries: fossil fuels and agriculture. 

"Its market-based approach focuses too much on offsets,” she says. “Allowing polluting corporations to pay to continue to pollute is a backward step in achieving equity for rural people living in poverty for generations." Just as important to her, however, is that while the law provides funding for projects in pollution-impacted communities, it doesn't look at the needs of workers displaced by the changes that will occur as the production and use of fossil fuels is reduced.

The impact of that reduction won't affect just workers in oil refineries but farmworkers as well. "The ag industry is part of the problem, not just the fossil fuel industry," Guillen says. "They're tied together. Ag's monocrop system impacts the ecological balance through the use of pesticides, the pollution of rivers and clearing forests. As farmworkers, this law has everything to do with our miserable wages, our insecure jobs, and even how long we'll live. The average farmworker only lives to 49 years old, and displacement will make peoples' lives even shorter." 

The key to building working-class support for reducing carbon emissions, she believes, is a commitment from political leaders and the environmental and labor movements that working-class communities will not be made to pay for the transition to a carbon-free economy with job losses and increased poverty. But the difficulties in building that alliance and gaining such a commitment were evident in the defeat of an earlier Washington State initiative, and the fact that the Climate Commitment Act lacked the protections that initiative sought to put in place. 

In Washington State fields, at California oil refineries, and amid local campaigns around the country, this is the big strategic question in coalition building between the labor and environmental movements: Who will pay the cost of transitioning to a green economy? 

Some workers and unions see the danger of climate change as a remote problem, compared with the immediate loss of jobs and wages. Others believe that climate change is an urgent crisis and that government policy should protect jobs and wages as a transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy takes place. Many environmental justice groups also believe that working-class communities, especially communities of color, should not have to shoulder the cost of a crisis they did not create. And in the background, always, are efforts by industry to minimize the danger of climate change and avoid paying the cost of stopping it. 

Book Review: Eat Like a Fish; My Adventures as a Fisherman Turned Restorative Ocean Farmer

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, August 11, 2022

Eat Like a Fish: My Adventures as a Fisherman Turned Restorative Ocean Farmer (2019: Knopf Publishing), is a personal, autobiographical account by Bren Smith, a one time, working class fisherman and native of Newfoundland turned pioneer of regenerative ocean agriculture.

In his early adult and working life, Smith experienced all the horrors of capitalist fishing industry, including its deeply detrimental effects on workers, the environment, and consumers. After much trial and error, mostly error, and after many wrong turns in life, he learned methods of regenerative ocean farming.

Regenerative ocean farming involves growing seaweed & kelp in poly cultures vertically in small cubic volumes of water. It also can include shellfish and other aquatic species which clean toxins out of the ocean, diversify and increase biomass, and restore once dead zones. If done on a massive scale, they can be a major (if overlooked) solution to climate change which produces food, creates livelihoods, and restores the ocean environment.

The Inflation Reduction Act Has Passed

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 8, 2022

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better resulting in compromise legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Passage of the IRA, despite its drawbacks and limitations, is the most significant climate legislation ever passed into law. It could represent a huge opportunity for the labor-climate movement to shape the significant federal subsidies provided for non-fossil energy development, manufacturing, and for consumers. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs. It includes very modest funding to address pollution in frontline communities.

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. 

It allows increased drilling for fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows drilling and pipeline construction that will continue to see areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia turned into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good union jobs. It makes no “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the transition to a climate-safe economy. 

The Inflation Reduction Act can provide the basis for an unprecedented people’s mobilization for climate, labor, and justice. That is what it will take to provide a sustainable future for our environment and a fairer economy.

Transforming Transportation–from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

People are acting at the local and state level to create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and equalize transportation by expanding and electrifying public transit, electrifying cars and trucks, and making it safe to walk and bike. It’s a crucial part of building the Green New Deal from Below.

More than a quarter of greenhouse gases [GHGs) emitted in the US come from transportation – more than from electricity or any other source.[1] Pollution from vehicles causes a significant excess in disease and death in poor communities. Lack of transportation helps keep people in poor communities poor.

Proposals for a Green New Deal include many ways to reduce the climate, health, and inequality effects of a GHG-intensive transportation system. “Transit Oriented Development” (TOD), “smart growth,” and other forms of metropolitan planning reduce climate-and-health threatening emissions while providing more equal access to transportation. Switching from private vehicles to public transit reduces GHG emissions by more than half and substantially reduces the pollution that causes asthma and other devastating health effects in poor communities. Changing from fossil fuel to electric vehicles also greatly reduces emissions. Expanded public transit fights poverty and inequality by providing improved access to good jobs. And expansion of transit itself almost always creates a substantial number of good, often union jobs. Every $1 billion invested in public transit creates more than 50,000 jobs.[2]

Plans for a Green New Deal generally include substantial federal resources to help transform our transportation system.[3] The 2021 “bipartisan” Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $20 billion over the next five years for transit projects. But meanwhile, efforts at the community, local, and state level have already started creating jobs reducing transportation pollution – models of what we have called a Green New Deal from Below.[4]

These Green New Deal from Below programs are often characterized by multiple objectives – for example, protecting the global climate, improving local health, providing jobs, and countering inequality. And they often pursue concrete ways to realize multiple goals, such as “transit-oriented development” that builds housing near transit to simultaneously shift travel from cars to public transit and to expand access to jobs and urban amenities for people in low-income communities.

US to Use Defense Production Act to Boost Renewable Energy

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

On June 6, President Joe Biden issued a “Presidential Determination” under Section 303 of the Defense Production Act to expand US production of heat pumps, declaring it a matter of national security. “Ensuring a robust, resilient, and sustainable domestic industrial base to meet the requirements of the clean energy economy is essential to our national security, a resilient energy sector, and the preservation of domestic critical infrastructure.” The Determination found:

Electric heat pumps are industrial resources, materials, or critical technology items essential to the national defense;

without Presidential action under section 303 of the Act, United States industry cannot reasonably be expected to provide the capability for the needed industrial resource, material, or critical technology item in a timely manner; and

purchases, purchase commitments, or other action pursuant to section 303 of the Act are the most cost effective, expedient, and practical alternative method for meeting the need.

“Action to expand the domestic production capability for electric heat pumps is necessary to avert an industrial resource or critical technology item shortfall that would severely impair national defense capability.” — Memorandum on Presidential Determination Pursuant to Section 303 of the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended, on Electric Heat Pumps.

The Presidential Determination follows a public campaign to persuade President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to produce heat pumps to reduce European dependence on – and payments for — Russian natural gas that is helping pay for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The June issue of Making a Living on a Living Planet published a letter and petition from 11-year-old activist Lillian Fortuna asking Biden to “immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity, so we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen Putin’s power.” She cited an article by Bill McKibben laying out how the Defense Production Act could be used to expand heat pump production to compensate for natural gas shortages and price increases in Europe, the US, and worldwide.

A child has led them – to produce climate-saving heat pumps!

Read Bill McKibben’s “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom” here.

Rhode Island Unions Help Win 100% Renewable Power by 2033

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

The Rhode Island legislature has just required that 100 percent of electricity sold in the state comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2033. That’s sooner than any other state in the country.

According to the Boston Globe, “Labor and environmental groups have joined together in the Climate Jobs Rhode Island coalition” which is advocating for a “just transition to a pro-worker and pro-climate green economy” in Rhode Island.

Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and Co-Chair of Climate Jobs Rhode Island said,

 We’re hoping that by demonstrating that the labor movement and the environmental movement can work together, that other states—my sister and brother labor organizations across the country—can look at this as an example for how to get things done in a big way.

“If we continue down this path, we will show the labor and environmental communities across the country that this is how it’s done,” Crowley said. “If you want to get it done, you do it the Rhode Island way.”

Bridgeport CT Schools Seek Climate Safety for Teachers, Kids

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

Local initiatives around the country are advancing the goals of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. A good example is the Bridgeport Carbon Free & Healthy Schools campaign. The campaign was launched May 14 at Bridgeport Public Schools’ Volunteer Day, where members of the building trades, teachers, parents, and students worked to make improvements to a Bridgeport school.

An opinion article in the Connecticut Post by Bridgeport superintendent of schools Michael Testani explained why these groups have joined to fight for Carbon Free and Healthy Schools:

The climate crisis and extreme weather events contribute directly to the well-being of our faculty, staff and students. We’ve seen the impact of the climate crisis on Bridgeport when floods from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 revealed the city’s vulnerabilities and damaged homes, businesses and public school buildings.

We can conduct energy audits and get students involved through an apprenticeship program so they can assist in the modernization of their own schools. We can expand our rooftop solar initiative, build solar carports, install fuel cells, address the battery shortage in some of our schools, upgrade the boiler systems, provide EV charging stations, and invest in small-scale wind demonstration projects.

Not only are these projects good for the environment, they are good for the city’s budget. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects will save the city and the district money that can be reinvested in after-school and summer programs, in addition to the recruitment and hiring of highly qualified teachers.

Union Alliance Calls for Electric School Buses

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

On May 31, autoworkers and teachers rallied in Washington, DC to call on states, local governments, and school districts around the country to electrify the nation’s school bus fleet with union-built, climate-safe, pollution-free electric school buses.

AFT President Randi Weingarten called the rollout a “win-win-win” for children’s health, for the climate and for the economy. “We need to make sure these electric buses are made in America at unionized factories. We need to ensure that students and drivers are protected from environmental hazards. We need to address the climate crisis.”

UAW President Ray Curry said he wants to see electric buses not only in a handful of cities but in every school district in the country—for “a future that all of us can thrive in.” The workers who build these vehicles need a voice on the job, he said, so that each bus will be built to union standards.

The UAW represents workers at two of the largest bus manufacturers in the nation, Thomas Built in North Carolina and IC Bus in Oklahoma. As a result of the federal infrastructure bill, Thomas Built and IC Bus plan on significantly increasing their hiring to meet the demand for electric school buses. Thomas Built Buses, for example, will supply hundreds of electric school buses to Montgomery County, MD, which will provide the largest single deployment of electric school buses in North America.

You can rewatch the AFT-UAW press conference and rally here.

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