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labor and environment

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.

California unions endorse a plan for Green Recovery and fossil fuel phase-out

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 21, 2021

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, released in June, is the ninth in a series of reports titled Green Economy Transition Programs for U.S. States, published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and written by researchers led by Robert Pollin. In this latest report, the authors address the challenge of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and contend that it is possible to achieve California’s official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and zero emissions by 2045— and at the same time create over 1 million jobs. The investment programs they propose are based on the proposed national THRIVE Agenda, (introduced into the U.S. Congress in February 2021), and rely on private and public investment to energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The report discusses these sectors, as well as the manufacturing sector, and also includes a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in the fossil fuel industry.

In Chapter 6, “Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers”, the authors note that only 0.6% of California’s workforce was employed in fossil fuel-based industries in 2019 – approx.112,000 workers. They model two patterns for the industry contraction between 2021-2030: steady contraction, in which employment losses proceed evenly, by about 5,800 jobs per year; and episodic contraction, in which 12,500 job losses occur in just three separate years, 2021, 2026, and 2030. After developing transition programs for both scenarios, they estimate that the average annual costs of episodic contraction would be 80% higher ($830 million per year) than the costs of steady contraction ($470 million per year). As with previous PERI reports, the authors emphasize the importance of the quality of jobs to which workers relocate: “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees along with wage subsidies to insure they will not experience income losses, along with retraining and relocation support, as needed. Enacting a generous just transition program for the displaced fossil fuel-based industry workers is especially important. At present, average compensation for these workers is around $130,000. This pay level is well above the roughly $85,000 received by workers in California’s current clean energy sectors.” Relief Programs for Displaced Oil & Gas Workers Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers is a 2-page Fact Sheet summarizing the chapter.

Scottish Trades Union Congress calls for a national energy company, and “Climate Skills Scotland”

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 19, 2021

Green Jobs in Scotland is a recent report commissioned by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), written by economists at Transition Economics. In a highly-readable format, it sets out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, along with fair work with effective worker voice. It takes a sectoral approach, examining the changes needed, the labour market implications and job creation opportunities of those changes, and makes recommendations specific to the sector, for each of 1. Energy 2. Buildings 3. Transport 4. Manufacturing/Heavy Industry 5. Waste 6. Agriculture And Land-Use. As an example, the chapter on Energy is extensive and detailed, and includes recommendations to invest £2.5 billion – £4.5 billion (to 2035) in ports and manufacturing to supply large scale offshore renewables and decommissioning, 2. to establish a Scottish National Energy Company to build 35GW of renewables by 2050, as well as run energy networks and coordinate upgrades; and 3. Encourage local content hiring, with a target to phase in 90% lifetime local content for the National Energy Company. (Note that an auction is currently underway for rights to North Sea offshore development, as described by the BBC here).

Overall, the report concludes that smart policies and large-scale public investment will be required, and recommends “the creation of a new public body – Climate Skills Scotland – to play a co-ordinating and pro-active role to work with existing providers ….. As many of the occupations in the energy, construction, and manufacturing industries are disproportionately male-dominated, Climate Skills Scotland and other public bodies should also work with training providers and employers to make sure climate jobs and training programmes follow recruitment best practice, and prioritise promotion and incentives to historically marginalised groups, including women, BAME people, and disabled people.”

A Plan for Coal Workers as the Industry Declines

Volvo truck workers on strike

By Lee Wengraf - Tempest, June 29, 2021

At Volvo Trucks North America in Dublin, Virginia, picket lines stretch along Cougar Trail Road at the entrances to the 300-acre New River Valley assembly plant. Around 2,900 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2069 have been on strike since June 7 in this small town in the southwestern corner of the state near the West Virginia border. It’s their second strike this year. Just two months ago in April, workers walked out for two weeks after voting down a tentative agreement by a whopping 91 percent. The union went back to the table and again the membership turned down the deal, this time by a 90 percent margin, a resounding rejection.

At stake in the agreement are critical issues around the two-tier wage structure, work schedule and overtime, health and safety, and employee and retiree healthcare benefits, among others. The company claims they’ve offered “significant economic improvements for all UAW-represented workers,” but in reality the proposed 12 percent raise over six years falls well below the current rate of inflation. The latest agreement also calls for higher copays and out-of-pocket expenses from employees, including a doubling of the out-of-pocket maximum over the life of the contract. The last contract amounted to hundreds of dollars of added costs for retirees per month, according to a striker family member. The company hasn’t tried to sugarcoat these givebacks, stating bluntly on their website, “The hard truth is that there’s likely not a company left in the United States that can guarantee its people – hourly or salaried – that they won’t have to worry about retiree health care costs, even after 30 or more years of work.”

The union is fighting to abolish a two-tier wage system introduced in previous contracts. Although Volvo claims it will get rid of the tiers “over a reasonable time frame,” members 
with two years or fewer seniority still wouldn’t reach top pay over the life of the contract. The company is also pushing to change the work schedule to four 10-hour shifts, a move that would cut into overtime pay. Finally, the rejected agreement removed the union’s right to strike at the end of the proposed six-year deal in 2027.

As the US Pursues Clean Energy and the Climate Goals of the Paris Agreement, Communities Dependent on the Fossil Fuel Economy Look for a Just Transition

By Judy Fahys - Inside Climate News, June 28, 2021

Perhaps the proudest achievement of Michael Kourianos’ first term as mayor of Price, Utah was helping to make the local university hub the state’s first to run entirely on clean energy. It’s a curious position for the son, brother and grandchild of coal miners who’s worked in local coal-fired power plants for 42 years.

Kourianos sees big changes on the horizon brought by shifts in world energy markets and customer demands, as well as in politics. The mines and plants that powered a bustling economy here in Carbon County and neighboring Emery County for generations are gone or winding down, and Kourianos is hoping to win reelection so he can keep stoking the entrepreneurial energy and partnerships that are moving his community forward.

“That freight train is coming at us,” he said. “You look at all the other communities that were around during the early times of coal, they’re not around.

“That’s my fear,” he said. “That’s my driving force.”

New research from Resources for the Future points out that hundreds of areas like central Utah are facing painful hardships because of the clean-energy transformation that will be necessary if the United States hopes to reach the Paris agreement’s goals to slow climate change. Lost jobs and wages, a shrinking population and an erosion of the tax base that supports roads, schools and community services—they’re all costs of the economic shift that will be paid by those whose hard work fueled American prosperity for so long. 

“If we can address those challenges by helping communities diversify, helping people find new economic growth drivers and new economic opportunities, that might lessen some of the opposition to moving forward with the ambitious climate policy that we need,” said the report’s author, Daniel Raimi, who is also a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Meeting the Paris agreement’s target of keeping global temperature rise “well below 2 degrees C” by the end of the century means Americans must burn 90 percent less coal over the next two decades and half as much oil and natural gas, Raimi said.

And less fossil fuel use will also affect employment, public finances and economic development region-by-region, according to Raimi. In 50 of the nation’s 3,006 counties, 25 percent or more of all wages are tied to fossil fuel energy, he notes. In 16 counties, 25 percent or more of their total jobs are related to fossil energy.

It’s the hottest week in Portland history and the boss still won’t fix the AC

By CF Ivanovic - (In)Action (Substack), June 24, 2021

The following account, by an IWW member, illustrates just how much climate and the environment are significant workplace issues, and how they will become increasingly relevant to point-of-production, workplace organizing:

An extreme heat wave is sweeping the Northwest right now. Some weather forecasts predict we will see the hottest day in Portland history this weekend with temperatures hitting 110 degrees Fahrenheit. And the climate doomer in all of us is collectively sharing, “hottest day in Portland history, so far.” Yea it fucking sucks. With even more neighbors out on the street, even with a small safety net of the city setting up a few “cooling shelters” for the unhoused, people in all likelihood are going to die.

For those in houses and apartments, most of which without AC, we will deem it too hot to cook, which for restaurant workers it means expect an all day dinner rush baby. Hunched over that pipping hot flat top, AC busted, but thank god the boss was kind enough to plug in a box fan pointed at your feet—or if you’re lucky he’ll let you prop it up on a chair so it’s aimed at your back. Same legal minimum break times being squeezed as short as possible. Hell, maybe your boss is woke and reminded you to drink water. Don’t worry if you’re getting woozy there’s a 33.3% chance you pass out on the sandwich wrapping line instead of the grill or fryer. 

Again, I’m filled with righteous anger. A little voice in the back of my head that wants to shout to my co-workers, “we don’t have to fucking do this.” And how can we? Then I remember it’s the 23rd and rent is due in a week, and I remember there’s an infinite number of excuses and legitimate fears we place in front of us. And that my righteous anger has worked to dissuade those fears in my co-workers about as well as firing a squirt gun at the sun. 

“I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.”

When I started working at Little Big Burger in 2017 it was a super hot summer[1]. A friend of mine got me the job when they were hiring at the start of the summer and I figured getting minimum wage+tips was better than 10 cents above minimum wage operating rides at an amusement park. It was my first restaurant job. Somehow it felt more dangerous working on that narrow line with a clogged grease trap and no slip mats than operating a 40+ year old spinning metal puke machine. It was barely a month in when my friend told me, “hey there’s a union at this other burger joint in town, we flip burgers, why can’t we have that here?” Perhaps not the most “by the books” organizing conversation, as he showed me the Burgerville Workers Union facebook page, but he was my friend. Nuff said for me. Shit needed to change, and we couldn’t do it alone. We reached out to the union and started trying to talk to our co-workers. 

Our union would go on to win a number of amazing changes. Safety concerns, like a non-slip map, a replacement AC system, managers required to go up on the roof to unclog the vent, getting managers to stop calling the cops on homeless people. And, bread and butter policy changes, like schedules that come out two weeks in advance (instead of 1-2 Days in advance) and getting paid sick leave instead of being forced to work sick or fear getting fired. All of this we won by sticking up for each other, building trust over time, co-writing petitions, and regular ass restaurant workers standing together and marching on our corporate bosses. I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation[2]. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.

‘It’s virtually impossible’: Transition to renewables at risk as oil and gas workers struggle to access green jobs

By Daisy Dunne - The Independent., June 22, 2021

The UK’s transition away from fossil fuels to renewable power could be put at risk by barriers facing oil and gas workers looking to move into green jobs, campaigners say.

A survey of 600 offshore workers found that those looking to move from the fossil fuel industry into green jobs in renewable power currently face costly training fees, discouraging them from making the transition.

Workers responding to the poll said they are routinely forced to pay out thousands of pounds of their own cash for training courses when moving between one employer and another in the offshore sector, some of which they have already paid to take part in for their current positions.

One 42-year-old who has worked in the oil and gas sector for 20 years said the cost of training could be putting workers off trying to move into green jobs.

“People really need help to make the transition because it’s just virtually impossible to do it yourself with the way things are at the moment,” he told The Independent. None of the oil and gas workers interviewed wanted to provide their names, for fear of losing work.

He added he was hoping to see more opportunities in renewable power as the country transitions away from using fossil fuels.

“For me, it’s about moving forward in my career and about moving forward for the environment at the same time. I’ve got two young children and I can see the changes that are happening to the climate, it’s obvious to me.”

One 43-year-old who has worked in the sector for 24 years said that he would “love” to see more opportunities in renewable energy.

“I was one of the people living in a bubble thinking ‘that might not be quite right’ when it came to climate change. But it’s really my kids that brought it home to me,” he told The Independent.

Just Transition Strategies: Workers and the Green Revolution

Agreement reached to save Terra Nova offshore oil and gas field in Newfoundland

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, June 16, 2021

UPDATE: As reported by CBC News on June 16 in “New hope for Terra Nova as Suncor announces tentative deal to save N.L. oilfield” , and by a Unifor press release, an agreement in principle has been reached to restructure ownership of the Terra Nova oil fields, offering a path forward which may save the jobs of the workers. Details are not yet available, but Suncor will increase its equity stake and previous owners may participate in the new structure, contingent on the province honouring its commitment to provide $205 million from the oil industry recovery fund, and some $300 million in royalty relief .

Workers demonstrated outside the Newfoundland legislature on June 14 and 15 , as politicians debated inside about the fate of the Terra Nova oil field and an ultimatum from Suncor Energy, asking for the government to buy the assets of the Terra Nova FPSO, an offshore production and storage platform which employed nearly 1,000 workers in 2019, which is the last time oil was produced. Suncor is the last company remaining in the consortium which owned the oil field. The complexity of the situation is described in several CBC articles, including: “Talks to save Terra Nova oilfield collapse after N.L. government rules out equity stake” (June 10), and “As deadline for Terra Nova approaches, pressure mounts to save troubled oilfield” (June 11). To date, the government has refused to buy the asset, saying that the risks are too great because the oilfield is estimated to be 85% depleted. Instead, it has agreed to provide about $500 million in cash and incentives to the company. As of June 16, Suncor Energy has still not announced a decision, as reported by CBC in “Terra Nova deadline comes — and goes — without word of its fate” .

Unifor Local 2121 represents the workers at Terra Nova, and organized the demonstrations at the legislature. Unifor describes the rally here, and in this press release asserts that the Terra Nova decision is a harbinger of the future of the Newfoundland oil and gas industry.

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