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Tony Mazzocchi

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project

By J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 17, 2021

The idea of “just transition” has recently become more mainstream in climate discourse. More environmental and climate justice advocates are recognizing the need to protect fossil-fuel workers and communities as we transition away from fossil-fuel use. Yet, as detailed in our report, transition is hardly new or limited to the energy industry. Throughout the decades, workers and communities have experienced near constant economic transitions as industries have risen and declined. And, more often than not, transition has meant loss of jobs, identities, and communities with little to no support.

While transition has been constant, the scale of the transition away from fossil fuels will be on a level not yet experienced. Fossil fuels are deeply embedded in our economy and society. Transition will not only affect the energy sector, but transportation (including passenger and freight), agriculture and others. Adding to the challenges of the energy transition, we are also transitioning to a post-COVID-19-pandemic world. As such, we cannot afford, economically or societally, to repeat the mistakes of the past that left so many workers and communities behind.

To better understand how transition impacts people, what lessons can be learned, and what practices and policies must be in place for a just transition, in the Spring of 2020 we launched the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP). The JTLP has captured the voices of workers and community members who have experienced, are currently experiencing, or anticipate experiencing some form of economic transition.

Those who have suffered from transitions are rarely the ones whose voices are heard. Yet, no one is more able to fully understand what workers and communities need than those who have lived that experience. The JTLP is the first major effort to center these voices. In turn, the recommendations provided can make communities and workers whole. In many ways, these recommendations are common sense and fundamental to creating a just society, regardless of transition. Yet, the failure of elected officials to deliver just transition policies points to the need for wide scale movement building and organizing.

This report summarizes lessons learned and policy recommendations in three overall concepts for decision-makers: Go Big, Go Wide, and Go Far.

Read the text (PDF).

Unions Have the Potential and the Responsibility to Advance a “Just Transition”

Norman Rogers interviewed by C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, January 22, 2022

The idea of a “just transition” has emerged as an absolute requirement for any progress toward a clean energy future. An energy transformation will impact workers in the fossil fuel industry but will also affect regions and communities differently. A just transition must be designed to ensure that the benefits of greening the economy are shared widely and that no worker is left behind.

Norman Rogers, a 20-plus-years employee of a southern California refinery and second vice president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675, also serves on the Joint Health and Safety Committee and Negotiating Committee at the refinery. In this interview, Rogers shares his insights on the principles and aims of a just transition and how we could get there.

C.J. Polychroniou: “Just transition” is associated with the environmental transition, in sectors such as chemicals and energy, although it is now moving into other areas such as health care and even development. Can you talk, from your experience as a refinery worker and labor organizer, about what the notion of just transition entails and how it is being used in connection with workers in the fossil fuel industry?

Norman Rogers: The term “just transition” is very much linked with the labor movement. Tony Mazzocchi, a trade unionist with the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers union (OCAW), coined the term as it related to the dangerous, toxic, life-threatening chemicals to which his members were exposed. The idea then, as it is now, is to find other ways to meet the needs for the products being made and the health and welfare of the workforce he represented.

Today, the move to renewables, the increase in the use of electric vehicles and even steel being made without the petroleum coke (petcoke) from the refining process is set to have a profound impact on the number of fossil fuel industry jobs. Knowing what the future holds and the serious repercussions set to take place, and planning for that outcome, that is what the call for a just transition is all about.

As a labor organizer representing fossil fuel workers in the current atmosphere, the philosophy behind a just transition is ensuring that no worker is left behind when transitioning to a clean energy economy. Everyone must be accounted for, whether they are toward the end of their career, just starting out, or any point in between. This fight must be won if the transition to a sustainable future is to be realized. To the extent that we do not do this, we will not be successful in building the community of allies needed for the task at hand.

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Climate Change Racial Justice and Economic Justice

Equitable Access to Clean Energy Resilience

By various - The Climate Center, August 5, 2020

Featuring Janea Scott, California Energy Commission; Genevieve Shiroma, California Public Utilities Commission; Carmen Ramirez, Mayor Pro Tem of Oxnard; Ellie Cohen, The Climate Center and others about policies to support climate justice and community energy resilience in lower-income communities who suffer disproportionately from pollution and power outages.

This summit gave overview of what California is doing now for clean energy resilience and what new policies are needed to provide access to clean and reliable power for all. Mari Rose Taruc, Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign; Gabriela Orantes, North Bay Organizing Project; and Nayamin Martinez, Central California Environmental Justice Network discussed the issue of equitable access from an Environmental Justice perspective.

Mark Kyle, former Director of Government Affairs & Public Relations, Operating Engineers Local 3 and currently a North Bay attorney representing labor unions, nonprofits, and individuals; Jennifer Kropke, Workforce and Environmental Engagement for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 11, and Vivian Price, CSU Dominguez Hills & Labor Network for Sustainability talked about the Labor perspective.

Carolyn Glanton, Sonoma Clean Power; Sage Lang, Monterey Bay Community Power; Stephanie Chen, Senior Policy Counsel, MCE, and JP Ross, East Bay Community Energy discussed the work that Community Choice Agencies are doing to bring more energy resilience to lower-income communities.

LNS Webinar Explores the Origins of ‘Just Transition’

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainabaility - July 22, 2020

“Just Transition” has become one of the most common—and most controversial—themes in the Labor-Climate movement. On July 22, the Labor Network for Sustainability helped illuminate the idea with a webinar on “Just Transition: Love It, Hate It – You’ve Heard the Term, Now Hear the Story.” It featured some of those who first originated and campaigned for a Just Transition for workers and communities. Watch and learn the backstory for this essential building block for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just future.

The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership

By John Treat, Sean Sweeney, and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 15, 2019

On September 28, 2019, more than 150 trade union representatives, activists and policy allies from more than a dozen countries came together in New York City for a one-day international conference on “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the massive “Global Climate Strike” actions led by young people in numerous countries around the world, coinciding with the UN “Climate Week” of talks in New York City. In the weeks before those actions, TUED organized a “Global Web Forum” on the #Strike4Climate, and subsequently compiled a list of union statements and actions in support of the strikes.

Framing and Meeting Highlights

The conference program was framed around a number of issues and concerns that have emerged out of recent union-led struggles to both defend and extend public ownership of energy in key countries and regions. Over the course of the day’s proceedings, a number of key themes and broadly shared conclusions emerged, including:

  • Investor-focused climate policy is not delivering the energy transition
  • Privatization of state-owned electricity utilities has failed—but alternatives exist
  • Defending public ownership of energy requires a reform agenda that can drive “de- marketization”
  • Confidence is rising to reverse electricity privatization where it has happened
  • Defending and reclaiming public energy requires building union power
  • The transition must take into account the real development needs of the global South, while contesting carbon- intensive “development as usual”
  • There is an urgent need for technical, programmatic work to make achieving the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal possible

Read the report (PDF).

Broadening Engagement With Just Transition: Opportunities and Challenges

By Robin Webster and Dr Christopher Shaw - Climate Outreach, September 2019

The idea of just transition first emerged in the 1970s, when US union leader Tony Mazzocchi1 proposed that people whose jobs were threatened by nuclear disarmament should be compensated for the loss. In the 1990s Mazzocchi broadened the argument to refer to workers in environmentally damaging jobs, whose employment is affected by new policies aiming to reduce pollution.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) now defines just transition as reducing emissions while ensuring “decent work, social inclusion and poverty eradication.” Its basic elements, according to ITUC, include public and private investment to create green jobs, advance planning to compensate for the negative impacts of climate policies and opportunities for retraining for people whose jobs are affected.

A wide range of groups - including environmental NGOs, labour justice groups and policymakers - have since adopted the idea and it is codified in international climate policy. The preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement requires the international community to take into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” and the European Commission aims to bring more focus on “social fairness” in tackling climate change.

Just transition is an important concept; a tool for facilitating dialogue between different stakeholders and challenging the discourse of ‘jobs versus climate.’ As one report puts it, it has the potential to be “at the heart of a powerful narrative of hope, tolerance and justice; a narrative that is grounded in people’s actual lived experiences and aspires to guide collective action while simultaneously giving rise to tangible alternatives.”

It is also important from a pragmatic perspective. Recent events - including the Gilets Jaunes protest against a government proposal to raise fuel prices in France and President Trump’s championing of jobs in the US coal industry as a reason for pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement - demonstrate the need to seek social consent for the low-carbon transition, or risk it being undermined.

The term itself, however, is little used outside the policy and technical literature, and hardly used at all in the global South, where it may conflict with other strong cultural narratives - for example the need for poorer countries to develop and use more energy.10 In countries where the idea is more current, only a limited amount of research has been carried out exploring what the idea of just transition means to the communities it is meant to help.

Yet the idea of ‘social dialogue’ between governments, businesses, trade unions and civil society is at the core of just transition, according to many unions.12 Social dialogue means engaging in discussions about what transition means for people’s lives and sense of identity; for jobs, communities and place.13 If just transition is to move from pages of policy reports into reality, then attention needs to be paid to how to frame the dialogue between advocates of a low-carbon economy, and those who are likely to be most fundamentally affected.

Read the report (PDF).

Ecological Politics for the Working Class

By Matt T Huber - Catalyst, Spring 2019

The climate and ecological crisis is dire and there’s little time to address it. In just over a generation (since 1988), we have emitted half of all historic emissions.1 In this same period the carbon load in the atmosphere has risen from around 350 parts per million to over 410 — the highest level in 800,000 years (the historic preindustrial average was around 278).2 Human civilization only emerged in a rare 12,000 year period of climate stability — this period of stability is ending fast. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests we have a mere twelve years to drastically lower emissions to avoid 1.5 C warming — a level that will only dramatically increase the spikes in extreme superstorms, droughts, wildfires, and deadly heat waves (to say nothing of sea-level rise).3 New studies show changing rainfall patterns will threaten grain production like wheat, corn, and rice within twenty years.4 A series of three studies suggest as early as 2070, half a billion people will, “experience humid heat waves that will kill even healthy people in the shade within 6 hours.”5

You don’t have to be a socialist to believe the time frame of the required changes will necessitate a revolution of sorts. The IPCC flatly said we must immediately institute “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”6 The noted climate scientist Kevin Anderson said, “… when you really look at the numbers behind the report, look at the numbers the science comes out with, then we’re talking about a complete revolution in our energy system. And that is going to beg very fundamental questions about how we run our economies.”7

The radical climate movement has long coalesced around the slogan “system change, not climate change.” The movement has a good understanding that capitalism is the main barrier to solving the climate crisis. Yet sometimes the notion of “system change” is vague on how systems change. The dilemma of the climate crisis is not as simple as just replacing one system with another — it requires a confrontation with some of the wealthiest and most powerful sectors of capital in world history. This includes a mere 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of the emissions since 1988.8 The fossil fuel industry and other carbon-intensive sectors of capital (steel, chemicals, cement, etc.) will not sit by and allow the revolutionary changes that make their business models obsolete.

Like all other such battles, this confrontation will take a highly organized social movement with a mass base behind it to force capital and the state to bend to the changes needed. Yet, as Naomi Klein argues, this is really “bad timing” because over the last several decades it is capital who has built formidable power to neutralize their main challenges like a regulatory state, progressive tax structures, and viable trade unions.9 The history of the nineteenth and twentieth century shows that the largest challenge to the rule of capital has come from organized working-class movements grounded in what Adaner Usmani calls “disruptive capacity” — particularly strikes and union organizing. 10 It is the working class that not only constitutes the vast majority of society, but also has the strategic leverage to shut down capital’s profits from the inside.11

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

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