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just transition

Just Transition

The term "just transition" was coined by Tony Mazzochi of OCAW (now USW) in the early 1990s (Mazzochi was contemporary with Judi Bari, and both probably influenced each other, at least indirectly). He declared, “there is a superfund for dirt, there also ought to be a superfund for workers”;

Judi Bari (along with timber workers allied with—or at least in contact with—her) was proposing demands for timber workers that effectively represented a “just transition” (even though its not clear that she ever used that specific term herself);

The concept initially basically meant that, “workers adversely affected by a transition away from polluting industries—whether by conversion or decommissioning—must be made whole”, however, the definition has become somewhat contested territory in recent years.

More conservative unions and/or their officialdom, particularly those that represent workers in the industries most likely to be targeted by decarbonization and/or greening, especially the Building Trades and/or fossil fuels have tried to water down the definition to mean that workers (and/or the businesses that employ them) “transition” to “false solutions”, i.e. CCS, “clean” coal, Geoengineering, biofuels, cap-and-trade, and/or hydrogen (meaning hydrogen that is identified by any one of the rainbow of “colors” other than green)

By contrast the Climate Justice and Environmental Justice communit(ies) have attempted to expand the definition to incorporate the core of Mazzochi’s vision, but also to include reparations to the front line communities, particularly BIPOC communities who have been adversely affected by the “capital blight” caused by the businesses being targeted. However, the unions, even sometimes the more progressive unions, don’t necessarily agree to this expansion.

The following articles, videos, and documents--organized in reverse chronological order from most recent to oldest--offer further insights into Just Transition if you wish to take a deeper dive and learn more:

Transition to EVs: a Win for Climate; Let’s Make it a Win for US Workers

By Don Anair - The Equation, October 24, 2023

A global transition to electric transportation is underway and momentum is growing. Traditional and new auto manufacturers are bringing more and more models to market. Even in California, where a tradition of stringent regulation has pushed the industry to innovate over the past 50 years, automakers are selling EVs at levels well above sales requirements. This momentum is spreading across the country with US EV sales now over 9% and climbing.

When a change as big as this is underway, it’s important to understand what impact it can have on employment and to take steps to ensure that workers benefit from the transition and aren’t left behind.

But what is the outlook for jobs in an electric transportation future? Can the EV transition support good, family- and community-supporting jobs and support a strong US economy?  The fundamentals show there’s reason to be optimistic.

GM UAW Member Calls In To Discuss His Coworkers Thoughts on Negotiations

UAW Settles With Big 3 U.S. Automakers, Hoping to Organize EV Battery Plants

By Dan Gearino and Aydali Campa - Inside Climate News, October 31, 2023

The shift to electric vehicles is looking better today for U.S. auto workers than it did before a strike against the three major Detroit automakers, thanks to agreements that expand the reach of the United Auto Workers to include battery manufacturing plants.

But the legacy of the strike—at least as it relates to EVs—will depend on the extent to which the United Auto Workers can use its gains from new contracts to build momentum in organizing nonunion plants, like those operated by Tesla, Honda and Toyota.

The union reached a tentative agreement with General Motors on Monday, which follows similar resolutions in recent days with Ford and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler. The UAW made several major gains, including provisions that will ease a path to unionization of workers at battery manufacturing plants, even if those plants are not wholly owned by the automakers.

The proposals, which end a strike that began on Sept. 15, still need to be ratified by members.

“We’ve said for months, ‘We refuse to allow the EV transition to become a race to the bottom,’” said UAW President Shawn Fain following the Ford agreement. “Corporate America is not going to force us to pick between good jobs and green jobs.”

EVs are only 8 percent of sales of new cars and light trucks in the United States, but their share is growing as manufacturers introduce waves of new models and as governments and consumers take steps to reduce carbon emissions. Transportation is the country’s leading source of emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Inflation Reduction Act has helped to supercharge investments in EV manufacturing. Much of the investment is at joint ventures between automakers and battery companies, and the UAW was seeking an opportunity to represent this fast-growing part of the automotive supply chain.

Big 3 Buckled as Stand-Up Strike Spread

By Dan DiMaggio - Labor Notes, October 31, 2023

All three dominoes fell in a few days.

The Auto Workers (UAW) now have agreements with each of the Big 3 automakers. The new contracts are a sharp about-face from decades of concessions.

The tentative agreements go further than many thought possible on issues that the companies insisted were off the table. Stellantis agreed to reopen its idled Belvidere assembly plant. GM and Stellantis will include new battery plant workers in their master agreements.

While the contracts don’t abolish benefit tiers, they get rid of the many wage tiers the Big 3 had created to drive down pay. Some workers will see their pay more than double as a result.

The gains are a testament to the UAW’s bold, aggressive strategy under its new leadership, which ramped up the strikes, at first slowly and then faster until the companies caved one by one. It was a master class in worker power.

On Monday, the UAW announced it had reached a tentative agreement with General Motors, the last holdout. Workers at GM’s Spring Hill, Tennessee, Cadillac factory had joined the strike Saturday night.

The union announced tentative agreements with Ford and Stellantis last week. The agreements came after UAW members struck at each company’s most profitable truck plant, the latest escalation in the union’s six-week Stand-Up Strike.

The 146,000 UAW members at all three automakers will vote on the contracts in the coming weeks. In the meantime, 50,000 strikers are headed back to work.

UAW Pledges All Necessary Resources to Help Unionize Key Tesla Factory

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, October 31, 2023

The United Auto Workers has reportedly offered to provide organizers with all the resources they need to unionize Tesla's electric car factory in Fremont, California, an effort that would pit an invigorated UAW against a company run by Elon Musk—the world's richest man and an aggressive union-buster.

Following news Monday that the UAW reached a tentative contract agreement with General Motors—the final Big Three holdout—after six weeks on strike, Bloombergreported that "Tesla's roughly 20,000-worker plant in Fremont, California currently has a UAW organizing committee whose members are talking to coworkers about the advantages of collective bargaining."

"The UAW has committed to providing whatever resources are necessary for the campaign," Bloomberg added, citing an unnamed person familiar with the nascent organizing push.

How They Did It: Labor Journalist Jane Slaughter on UAW’s “Life-Changing” Deal with Big 3 Automakers

Auto Workers Win Step Toward a Just Transition

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 30, 2023

In the on-going strike by UAW auto workers against the auto industry Big Three, one of the central objectives is to win a just transition to climate safe vehicle production for auto workers. At press time the strike continues, but the union has already won significant concessions that will contribute to a just transition. (See next story for more on what a just transition means for auto workers.) 

While collective bargaining is often shrouded in darkness, the UAW has revealed to union members and the public news of what is happening at the bargaining table. In addition to negotiations over wages, hours and working conditions, a central just transition demand has already been met by one of the Big Three.

GM has agreed that all its electric vehicle and battery plants will be included in the UAW master agreement. This puts an even floor under worker conditions and prevents worker-against-worker competition leading to “race to the bottom.” It thereby reduces the incentive for the company to site new EV and battery facilities in low-wage, anti-union states in the South and elsewhere. 

UAW president Sean Fain said, “GM has agreed to lay the foundation for a just transition.” Fain said GM agreed to the concession in response to the union’s threat to extend the strike to some of the company’s more profitable plants. Harley Shaiken, labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “This defines the transition to EVs. Clearly, GM’s concession on the master agreement will positively be matched by Ford and Stellantis.”

Join a Picket Line?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 30, 2023

Picket lines are an essential way that workers show their determination and collective power. And they are a key way that others can show their support. Environmental, environmental justice, community, and other supporters have been joining picket lines at auto plants around the country to show their solidarity with striking auto workers.

Not on strike yourself but want to help workers who are? Then a new LNS publication, “How You Can Support Striking Workers: An LNS Guide to Solidarity,” is for you. It will tell you

  • How to get informed about a strike even if you are not a participant
  • How to find out about joining a picket line
  • How to prepare to join a picket line
  • Picket line do’s and don’ts
  • Other ways to support strikers

As the Guide concludes,

When you turn out to support strikers, you are doing more than helping to win the strike. You are contributing to creating new relationships and helping create a movement based on common interests and mutual aid. 

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The labour-environment nexus: Exploring new frontiers in labour law


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