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Defend and Transform: Mobilizing Workers for Climate Justice

By Jeremy Anderson - Global Labour Column, September 8, 2021

Mobilizing the global labour movement for climate justice and just transition is one of the defining challenges of our times. However, for workers in many sectors, it is unclear how climate issues will affect them specifically, and how they should respond. To date, much of the debate around just transition has focused on workers in industries that are facing job losses. These struggles are important. But in order to build a transformational vision that can mobilize workers in all sectors from the ground up, we need to understand a wider array of industry perspectives.

In this essay, I will discuss three issues. First, I will make the case for why climate justice and just transition are fundamental issues for the labour movement. Second, I will review debates around just transition, and particularly the contrast between worker focused and structural transformation approaches. I will argue that we need to build a bridge between the two perspectives, particularly in scenarios where it is important to engage workers about the future of their specific industries. Third, I will analyse three different scenarios from the transport sector that illustrate the various challenges that workers face: public transport as an example of industry expansion, aviation as an example of industry contraction, and shipping as an example of industry adaption.

Staff at Anti-Mountaintop Removal Nonprofit Coal River Mountain Watch Unionize with IWW

By Maxim Baru - IWW.ORG, September 7, 2021

Workers fighting destruction of communities & environment by mountaintop removal mining in WV join expanding non-profit labor union

NAOMA, West Virginia — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers at the Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) have organized with unanimous support under the banner of the IWW.

As of September 7, the IWW has asked for and received voluntary recognition from CRMW management.

Employees at CRMW join their colleagues at Holler Health Justice and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in the widening slate of nonprofits unionized with the IWWs West Virginia Branch.

Coal River Mountain Watch is a grassroots organization created in 1998 in response to the fear and frustration of people living near or downstream from enormous mountaintop removal sites. From humble beginnings as a small group of volunteers working to organize Southern WV residents to fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, CRMW become a major force in opposition to mountaintop removal.

As an organization that stands for human rights in mountain communities and against community destruction by the coal industry – in recognizing their staff’s union – the CRMW can now proudly boast that their values align with their practice.

“I’m beyond proud to be in a union now, and I’m beyond proud to work for an organization that values my rights as a worker,” said Coal River Mountain Watch staff member Junior Walk, adding “Here’s to a brighter future for West Virginia and the brave souls who try to make it a better place to live.”

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a labor union representing nearly 9,000 workers across North America. Established in 1905, the IWW is known for its high standards of democracy, transparency, multi-nationalism, and active use of the right to strike.

Leeds trades unionists: zero-carbon homes can help tackle climate change

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 2, 2020

Leeds Trades Union Council has issued a call for large-scale investment to insulate homes and install electric heat pumps, to cut carbon emissions and help tackle global warming.

Such a drive to retrofit and electrify homes would be an alternative to a multi-billion-pound scheme, supported by oil and gas companies, to turn the gas network over to hydrogen.

That scheme, Northern Gas Networks’ H21 project, could tie up billions of pounds of

government money in risky carbon capture and storage technology, which is not proven to work at the scale required – but would help to prolong the oil and gas industry’s life by decades.

This is a test for social and labour movements all over the UK.

The demand for retrofitting and electrification should be taken up, and fossil-fuel-linked technofixes rejected. Otherwise, talk of “climate and ecological emergency” is empty words.

“Our most important and urgent action is to halt the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere”, says a draft document that the Leeds TUC published last week. “This means radical changes to the way we use energy for work, travel and to heat our homes.”

In setting out a plan for Leeds, the TUC there hopes to “offer a model that will be taken up by other towns, cities and regions”, where it can form the basis for collaboration between local authorities, and a focus for trade unions and community campaigners.

Coal River Mountain Watch Workers Anticipate Union Recognition

By Christian Prince - Industrial Worker, August 18, 2021

In late July, workers at Coal River Mountain Watch in Naoma, West Virginia, requested voluntary union recognition from the environmental nonprofit organization’s board of directors. They anticipate full recognition of the Coal River Mountain Watch Union, organized with the Industrial Workers of the World, by month’s end.

The campaign to unionize CRMW is being led by Junior Walker, a longtime employee. CRMW workers had considered forming a union previously, but only committed after witnessing the campaign at another West Virginia-based environmental nonprofit, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which is also organized with the IWW. Workers at OVEC, a larger nonprofit that has collaborated with CRMW in the past, faced significant resistance to union recognition from both management and their board of directors. Walker began speaking with the West Virginia branch of the IWW, which is supporting both campaigns, about unionizing CRMW in solidarity in March. 

Last month, CRMW workers submitted their request for voluntary union recognition to management with no resistance. Workers are now awaiting formal consent from the board of directors, who meet only every few months, thereby slowing the process. Regardless, Walker says that workers have received every indication that the CRMW Union will be recognized by the end of August.

Walker emphasizes that managers at CRMW are “about as good as they come.” Workers are seeking the right of union representation to preserve their current working conditions and, as mentioned, to express solidarity with organizing efforts at allied organizations, like OVEC.

On a personal level, Walker describes the CRMW Union as carrying on a family legacy. His grandfather was a longtime member of the United Mine Workers of America and went on strike against Massey Energy, the first non-union coal company in the area, in the 1980s. Massey was also the parent company of a subsidiary that is now seeking a permit for mountaintop removal mining, which CRMW opposes due to its devastation of mountainside biodiversity and release of carcinogenic blasting dust.

“The fact that I now have a union card in my pocket makes me really proud,” says Walker. “This is the first time I’ve been in a union in my life.”

Are you interested in forming a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Long Hours, Sleepless Nights: Nonprofit Workers Unionize in the Appalachian Coalfields

By Caitlin Myers - Strike Wave, August 13, 2021

Nonprofit workers can be a self-abnegating bunch. As a sector tasked with solving the world’s ills in ways the state can’t or won’t, from filling gaps in social services and campaigning for environmental justice to running charities and educational programs to ostensibly end poverty, nonprofits can induce in their workers a sense of moral obligation not to complain. After all, almost everyone else is worse off, right? 

That sense of obligation kept the staff of one West Virginia environmental nonprofit quiet for many years. As paid community organizers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), their principal duty was to organizational members, with whom they fought against mountaintop removal coal mining, natural gas development, and petrochemical buildout through lobbying, direct action, and sustained campaign work. In coalitions such as the Alliance for Appalachia and Reimagine Appalachia, OVEC organizers have contributed to policy proposals and lobbying efforts designed to bring the region an explicitly pro-labor, ecologically sustainable economic transition away from coal.

When he was hired, Dustin White was thrilled to be able to dedicate his life to the fight against strip mining, and like many organizers, built a deep and complex network of relationships in communities like the one that raised him. But, he says, paid organizing is time-consuming, travel-intensive, and deeply emotional work, and he found it draining to a degree he felt management simply didn’t understand. 

“Self care ended up being work, too,” said White. As a result of long-term issues with burnout, he and others on staff privately reached out to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the winter, and hoped to go public on Earth Day. 

“I have had long work hours, sleepless nights, countless hours on the road, hundreds of blisters on my feet, and more during my time with OVEC,” White wrote in a letter to the staff and board. “Time after time I have been told that we trust and support each other and our board of directors would always have our back.” 

A staff member spilled the beans early, though. According to White, management was incensed, and after months of vitriol he and fellow staffer Brendan Muckian Bates were fired. White was fired allegedly for violating the organizational handbook’s civility rules, and Bates for organizing as a manager. Both were prominent in the union effort, though, and believe management’s goal was to discourage others involved in the unionization effort. White had experienced a series of health problems; Bates was a new father. But the lesson from this historically pro-labor organization was this: unions are great for coal miners, but you don’t need one. You have it easy. 

Voodoo Doughnut Workers Hold National Day of Action

By Shawn Kinnaman - Industrial Worker, August 11, 2021

Our changing climate is increasingly becoming a workplace issue. because these workers engaged in strike action to protest being forced to work in the extreme heat which hit the Pacific Northwest in Summer of 2021, as this article details:

Workers at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland held a national day of action on July 29 to protest against the allegedly illegal firing of staff and to demand better working conditions. The workers, unionized as Doughnut Workers United with the Industrial Workers of the World, were supported by IWW branches in Portland, Eugene, Austin, Houston, Orlando and Los Angeles, who organized actions outside of local outlets of the Portland-based doughnut chain.

The workplace organizing campaign at Voodoo Doughnut goes back several years. Workers tell Mark Medina, an organizer with the Portland IWW who is supporting the campaign, that they earn minimum wage, receive little respect from management, and feel they are at all times close to being demoted or let go altogether. They have also complained of being harassed and even assaulted when leaving the store. During one robbery, an assailant jumped over the counter and threatened staff with a hatchet. Despite the danger, management refused to hire security until pressured to do so by the union.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further deteriorated working conditions at Voodoo Doughnut. Forty workers were initially laid off, with only three being reinstated. Workers allege that management chose to rehire the minimum number of workers necessary for the company to qualify for pandemic-related relief funds from the federal government and that pro-union workers were intentionally excluded. Workers have also had to procure their own personal protective equipment, which management inexplicably asked them to discard, promising replacements but never delivering.

More recently, workers at Voodoo Doughnut were forced to contend with a heatwave that swept through the region from late June to mid July. Management refused workers’ request to close the shop due to inadequate climate control, forcing them to stage a two walk-out involving nearly the entire staff.

Hoping to address these grievances, Voodoo Doughnut workers organized the recent national day of action across six US cities. Workers have asked supporters to amplify this effort across social media and to contribute to a strike and hardship fund organized by the union. Together, Medina believes that workers and their supporters can show management that the union means business.

“We outnumber them,” he says.

Are you interested in organizing a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Alameda and Contra Costa Labor Climate Convergence 2021

Opinion: Public Utility Campaigns Have A Labor Problem

By C.M. Lewis - The Strike Wave, July 28, 2021

Maine Governor Janet Mills’ labor-backed veto of LD 1708—which would have consolidated two private utility corporations into a statewide consumer cooperative, Pine Tree Power—is a sober warning to those fighting for public utilities: neglect unions at your peril.

Mills is no friend to labor. She previously vetoed pro-worker labor reforms and pledged to veto the right to strike for public workers. But her veto, sustained by the legislature, still accomplished the goal of concerned unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 567, who were alarmed at a potential change in legal jurisdiction.

Union resistance to progressive proposals can often cause consternation. Culinary 226’s opposition to Medicare for All notably caused a stir during the Nevada caucuses, raising the ire of many progressives. However, an immediate assumption that IBEW was wrong to oppose the bill buries the complicated reality: the bill would’ve tangibly harmed union workers. 

IBEW’s opposition was driven by concern that the bill would move workers from jurisdiction under the National Labor Relations Board to the Maine Labor Relations Board, bringing them into the public sector. Although that superficially sounds like a minor administrative change, and no reason for opposition, it would’ve had severe consequences for their workers—notably losing the statutory right to strike, and the imposition of the open shop through the Janus vs. AFSCME ruling

Viewed through that lens, IBEW’s opposition—while frustrating—is not unreasonable, and it speaks to a difficult problem faced by advocates for public utilities: that under present law, there is little to no way to bring private utilities under public control without stripping union rights from workers.

Texas Unions Launch Major Effort to Combat Climate Change, Tackle Inequality in US Energy Capital

By Bo Delp - Texas AFL-CIO, July 27, 2021

A new and growing coalition of Texas labor unions Monday launched the Texas Climate Jobs Project (TCJP), a major joint effort to fight climate change and reverse income inequality in the energy capital of the country.

A new report by climate and labor experts at Cornell University, Northeastern University, and Occidental College, in consultation with 27 Texas labor unions, accompanied the launch and outlays out a comprehensive climate jobs action plan to put Texas on the path to building an equitable clean-energy economy. A provision of the plan includes the installation of 40 GW of solar energy and 100 GW of wind energy and the electrification of school bus and public vehicle fleets by 2040.

The launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project comes a day before the Texas AFL-CIO convention, at which the state’s labor leaders are expected to pass a resolution backing the coalition’s mission and its foundational report.

“Texans are facing several converging crises: a changing climate that is hurting working people first and worst, skyrocketing income inequality, and deep racial injustice,” said Rick Levy, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “Today, the Texas labor movement is coming together to endorse a historic proposal that would tackle these crises by creating good union jobs across our state and combating climate breakdown. As the unions that power the energy capital of America, we believe the Texas Climate Jobs Project can lead the way in transforming our economy in ways that lift up working families and communities while protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must make sure that the workers who have powered this state for generations are not left behind.”

The Texas Climate Jobs Project will advocate for long-term solutions to these intertwined crises by pushing state and local lawmakers to tap the state’s massive renewable energy potential and create millions of new family-sustaining union jobs, as outlined in the report’s recommendations.

In addition to outlining targets for renewable energy development and vehicle electrification, the report calls for the retrofitting and installation of solar panels systems on all Texas public K-12 schools by 2035, the creation of a Just Transition Commission, and the construction of a high-speed rail network.

“Climate change is hurting every working person in Texas,” said Bo Delp, Executive Director of Texas Climate Jobs Project. “Today, unions from across our state are advancing their vision of a pro-worker, pro-climate agenda that gives everyone a fair shot to succeed in our clean energy transition.” 

US Energy Transition Presents Organized Labor With New Opportunities, But Also Some Old Challenges

By Delger Erdenesanaa - Inside Climate News, July 27, 2021

President Biden’s push for “good, union jobs” in clean energy has increased hope that organizing solar and wind workers can close the pay gap between them and fossil fuel workers.

President Biden’s push for “good, union jobs” in clean energy has increased hope that organizing solar and wind workers can close the pay gap between them and fossil fuel workers.

Two years ago, Skip Bailey noticed a lot of trucks from a company called Solar Holler driving around Huntington, West Virginia. A union organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Bailey saw an opportunity.

“We want to get in on the solar business,” he said, predicting the industry will grow in his home region, which includes historic coal communities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Bailey talked to Solar Holler about unionizing its employees who install photovoltaic panels on homes. IBEW showed the company its local training facility for electricians, and explained the health insurance and pension plans it offers. 

“It wasn’t a hard sell in either direction,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Dan Conant. He was already interested in securing union protections for his employees when Bailey contacted him, he said. The move fit with Solar Holler’s dedication to West Virginia’s legacy of energy production and strong union membership.

“It was not just good business, but it just really spoke to our history as a state,” he said.

Conant and Bailey’s efforts paid off in March 2020, when IBEW Local 317 and Solar Holler signed a contract. It’s just a start—Solar Holler only has about 20 unionized employees—but the agreement is an early example of the future Joe Biden is promising. The president frequently pledges to create millions of jobs while transitioning the U.S. to clean energy. Every time he does, he’s quick to add that these will be “good, union jobs that expand the middle class.”

“It’s a great talking point,” said Joe Uehlein, president of the Maryland-based Labor Network for Sustainability, an advocacy group pushing to unionize green jobs. But he added that Biden faces a difficult balancing act to achieve his pledge. 

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