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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.

Chevron Threatens Our Air: Richmond Community Members and Striking Refinery Workers Speak Out Against Scab Labor and Flaring

By Marisol Cantú, Micheal Hayes, and staff - Richmond Progressive Alliance, May 16, 2022

Flaring at the Richmond Lubrications Oil Plant. April 14, 2-4 pm.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 workers have been on strike at Richmond's Chevron Refinery since March 21, 2022. Since then, workers and community members have carefully documented flaring events at the refinery, which is currently run by strikebreakers who do not have the necessary training to safely operate the equipment. Below are three important documents of this extremely unsafe situation: a) a letter addressed to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) by organizer Marisol Cantú, articulating the current risks to our surrounding community and demands of relevant inspection agencies; b) a photographic gallery of flaring events taken during the strike by workers and community observers; and c) a letter authored by a USW Local 5 refinery worker, describing the extensive training he and his colleagues receive that is necessary to keep the community safe (and that current employees operating the plant do not have).

Why Labor Leader Tefere Gebre Has Brought His Organizing Talents to Greenpeace

By Jessica Goodheart - Capital & Main, May 16, 2022

Tefere Gebre’s biography has touched on the major crises affecting the planet: the massive rise in refugees, skyrocketing economic inequality and climate change. The first of those cataclysms was thrust upon him when he was just a teenager. He fled the civil war in Ethiopia, enduring a perilous 2½ week journey through the desert. “Sometimes you’d find yourself where you were a week ago,” he told Orange Coast magazine in 2014. He spent five months in a refugee camp in Sudan before arriving in Los Angeles, where he attended high school.

As an adult, Gebre became active in the labor movement, organizing trash sorters in Anaheim and holding leadership positions at the Orange County Labor Federation and the AFL-CIO, where he served as executive vice president. In February, he took the position as chief program officer at Greenpeace USA, the 3 million-member direct action organization known for its high-profile banner drops, opposition to whale hunting and campaign against plastic waste.

Capital & Main spoke to Gebre two days before Greenpeace held its first-ever protest in solidarity with fossil fuel workers. Two boats with activists from Greenpeace USA and United Steel Workers Local 5 members formed a picket line from land into San Francisco Bay as an oil tanker headed to Chevron’s Richmond refinery in what Gebre described as “a genuine attempt to build a transformational relationship” with the striking workers. Nearly 500 refinery employees went on strike over safety and salary concerns in March. The two sides have yet to come to an agreement. The oil tanker crossed the picket line, according to sources at Greenpeace.

The Chevron Strike Continues

By Shiva Mishek - Richmond Progressive Alliance, May 4, 2022

“To strike at a man's food and shelter is to strike at his life, and in a society organized on a tooth-and-nail basis, such an act, performed though it may be under the guise of generosity, is none the less menacing and terrible.”

—Jack London, The Scab, 1904

This week, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 enters its seventh week on strike at the Richmond Chevron refinery. Over 500 Chevron employees have been on strike since March 21, rejecting a contract that would codify a meager raise, unsafe working conditions, and Chevron’s so-called “standby” policy.

Chevron would also like to drastically reduce death benefits and pay for the Lubrications plant refinery workers, thereby creating a two-tier wage system and offering wages that do not keep pace with inflation (a reduction from an annual 3% wage increase to .6%).

Refinery operations have continued by employing strikebreakers. Advertisements placed by Chevron offer pay of $70 an hour for non-union workers lacking adequate refinery experience, with the explicit mention of possible work for up to 5 months. Meanwhile, inflation has soared across the United States, and refinery workers must also contend with the skyrocketing costs of basic needs.

Unsurprisingly, the high cost of gas prices in California has been somewhat attributed to the labor action. The day the strike began, the Guardian wrote, “But if the strike were to halt operations at the refinery, that could negatively affect fuel prices in California, which already has the highest gas prices in the US at $5.86 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association.” Meanwhile, Chevron just reported earnings of $6.3 billion for the first quarter (Q1) of 2022, compared with $1.4 billion in earnings during Q1 of 2021. 

It’s typical to see workers villainized when they go on strike—teachers are depriving students of needed support; nurses and doctors are leaving patients to die in their hospital beds. But it is Chevron, not the workers, that has put Richmond at risk for decades. 

Enviros Protect Steelworkers’ Backs

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

On April 29, activists from the environmental group Greenpeace USA and oil workers and Steelworkers Local 5 deployed a “boat picket” at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA composed of three Greenpeace boats floating in formation near the oil tanker delivery dock, with striking refinery workers, banners and picket signs on board.

According to Greenpeace Co-Executive Director Annie Leonard, “The boats intend to notify all incoming and outgoing tankers and tugs of their presence as a “picket line” and ask that they do not cross it by refusing to arrive at or leave the refinery’s dock.”

Why were Greenpeace boats and activists, famous for blocking whale hunts, supporting a strike by oil refinery workers? Annie Leonard explains:

Fossil fuel executives and their lobbyists have maintained their dominance by pretending to have the best interest of workers and communities at heart. But while they are raking in record profits (just this morning Chevron announced they brought in $6.3 billion in just the first quarter this year), they are holding out on fair pay and safe working conditions. That’s why we chose to show up for fossil fuel workers. The only way we can break these companies’ stranglehold on our wallets, our communities, and the planet is by standing together in the call for a livable future.

She adds,

Nearly 500 workers from Chevron’s Richmond refinery have been on strike for over a month as they demand a fair contract from Chevron’s greedy executives. Greenpeace believes that walking our walk in our commitment to a just economic future for all communities means that in the meantime, we must be dedicated to struggle alongside oil workers against the industry that is not giving them a fair shake. Today’s protest is the next step in displaying a powerful front of environmentalists and workers united against fossil fuel corporations. If we stand (or sometimes float) together, we can win.

Greenpeace activist Ben Smith tweeted from a floating picket boat, “We’re also out here to walk the walk. It’s past time for the workers movement and the environmental movement to build bonds of solidarity because our fates are bound up together.”

USW Striking Oil Workers And Supporters Speakout For Health And Safety At Tesoro Refinery

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 30, 2022

In an act of solidarity with Chevron workers fighting for a new labor contract as executives boast of a record-breaking quarter, Greenpeace USA campaigners joined United Steelworkers Local 5 union members on Friday to expand the picket line onto the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Nearly 500 workers from Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California have been on strike for more than a month in what USW Local 5 vice president B.K. White calls "a movement of working people rising up to challenge a corporation." 

Chevron announced Friday that its profits surged to $6.3 billion during the first three months of 2022—four times as much as the fossil fuel giant pulled in over the same period last year, as Common Dreams reported. That prompted fresh calls from progressives for a windfall tax to prevent further price gouging and war profiteering by Big Oil and underscored one of the reasons why workers are demanding better pay.

"What's the answer to corporate greed?" Greenpeace asked on social media. "Solidarity!"

USW 5 Chevron Richmond Refinery Strike Continues Report By USW 5 President BK White

Solidarity with strikers at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California

By Workers' Voice, East Bay - Socialist Resurgence, March 28, 2022

On March 23, members of Workers’ Voice went out to support striking refinery workers at the Chevron facility in Richmond, Calif. This strike is taking place in the wake of the United Steel Workers’ national oil pattern bargaining agreement with the oil companies, which covers some 30,000 workers at refineries and chemical plants across the country. The pattern bargaining agreement now only covers those 30,000 USW-organized oil and chemical workers whose contract expired this year on Feb. 1, which union locals had to ratify.

In Richmond, over 500 oil workers represented by USW Local 5 rejected the tentative agreement, as it was insufficient to meet their needs. They are thus striking over wages, hours, and other workplace issues, including being forced to work during the peak of the COVID pandemic. They have set up 24-hour pickets, with six-hour shifts. The union has created a solidarity fund and will cover basic expenses of workers who can’t pay their mortgage or get health care or food costs covered.

When we visited, the workers were picketing in shifts of a few dozen workers in front of the refinery gate, keeping up an optimistic mood of camaraderie and humor on a chilly, foggy day.

Many of the drivers of vehicles passing by the picket line honked their horns in support. However, a bothersome Richmond cop and one or two surly truckers wanting to drive into the facility—which the workers were trying to block—attempted, unsuccessfully, to dampen the positive atmosphere.

The grievances of the workers relate to wages and to other grievances as well. They need a raise to keep up with cost of living increases, especially in the brutally expensive Bay Area. They’re also confronting increased health-care costs. A worker told us that their new health-care plan would barely be covered by the wage increase of 2.5% currently on offer. This increase would also not keep up with inflation, which was 7% last year alone. Shopping for groceries is much more expensive now, workers we talked to said. In fact, they added, everything is more expensive.

Workers also talked about a manager who got a 10 percent raise to move up from Los Angeles. This upset workers because that manager is already making a good salary. Moreover, Chevron recently reported billions in profits, the most since 2014; but the boss always says there’s no money for workers.

But workers say they’re not just striking about money.

On The Line In The Fight For Justice: USW 5 Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - The Valley Labor Report - March 28, 2022

USW Local 5 striking Richmond Chevron refinery workers rallied with community members and supporters on March 28 2022 in front of the plant. Operators talked about the attack on health and safety conditions, 30% increases in healthcare costs and increasing stress, dangerous long hours and rotating shifts. Last year Chevron made $15.6 billion but obviously that is not enough for the company. Community and labor supporters also talked about health issues for workers and the community and the ongoing efforts that have been made to keep the plant safe.

The strike which included 500 union members started on Monday March 25, 2022 after the company according to workers continued to demand concessions and even wanted to negotiate away health and safety inspectors to keep the plant safe. In 2012, a major explosion nearly killed a fireman. The company managers even though they knew of a serious leak refused to shut he plant down to protect their profits according to workers. It also heavily contaminated the community which is still facing flaring and other dangerous practices by the company.

Additional media:

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 9: We Deserve Nothing Less

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