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labor and environment

What’s Wrong with Single Employee Train Operations?

By Ron Kaminkow - Railroad Workers United, March 2021

At first glance, the casual observer from outside of the rail industry is prone to say that single employee train operation sounds dangerous. “What if the engineer has a heart attack?” is an often heard question. And while this question has merit, there are many other and far more complex and unanswered questions about just how single employee train operations could be accomplished safely and efficiently for the train crew, the railroad and the general public. How will the train make a back-up move? What happens when the train hits a vehicle or pedestrian? How will the train crew member deal with “bad-order” equipment in his/her train, or make pick-ups and set-outs en route? What about job briefings and calling signals, copying mandatory directives and reminders of slow orders? These are just some questions that we take up in this article.

Remote Control and “Utility Conductors”

In recent years, the Class I rail carriers have been biding their time, slowly but surely inserting language into recent contracts with both unions of the operating crafts that will facilitate their schemes to run over the road trains with a lone employee. They have made arrangements with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (BLET) to allow the BLET represented crew member to make use remote controlled locomotives. With this scenario, the lone operator would strap on a belt pack, dismount from the locomotive, and run the locomotive by remote control operation (RCO) using radio control from the ground. And the carriers have also made deals with the United Transportation Union (UTU) to allow for “utility conductors”; i.e. a conductor who can “attach” to one or more over-the-road trains during the course of a single tour of duty. Between the two arrangements, the rail carriers apparently believe they can safely and efficiently operate road trains with just one employee aboard as opposed to the current standard of two. We disagree.

Just Transition for Pennsylvania estimated to cost $115,000 per worker in latest report from PERI

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 8, 2021

In the latest of a series of reports titled Green Growth Programs for U.S. States, researchers provide analysis and proposals for economic recovery for Pennsylvania, considering both the impacts of Covid-19 and a necessary transition to a cleaner economy. In Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for Pennsylvania: Job Creation, Economic Recovery, and Long-Term Sustainability, Robert Pollin and co-authors estimate that clean energy investments scaled at about $23 billion per year from 2021 to 2030 will generate roughly 162,000 jobs per year in Pennsylvania. They detail those investment programs for sectors including public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration and agriculture, and including plugging orphaned oil and gas wells.

The report estimates that 64,000 people are currently employed in Pennsylvania in fossil fuel-based industries – including in fracking for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale regions, as well as other oil and gas projects, coal mining, and fossil fuel-based power generation. As the state transitions away from fossil-fuel industries, the authors estimate that about 1,800 workers will be displaced each year between 2021 – 2030, and another 1,000 will voluntarily retire each year. The authors estimate that the average costs of supporting these workers will amount to about $115,000 per worker, with an overall cost of about $210 million per year over the duration of the just transition program. The report emphasizes: “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees, wage insurance, and retraining support, as needed”.

The full series of reports, Green Growth Programs for U.S. States, includes similar analysis and proposals for Ohio, Maine, Colorado, New York, and the state of Washington. They are co-written by experts including Robert Pollin, Shouvik Chakraborty, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, Tyler Hansen, Gregor Semieniuk, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim. The series is published by the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Australian unions advocating for Just Transition, economic recovery, and decent jobs in renewables

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 8, 2021

As Australia endures more record-breaking heat in its current summer season, the Climate Council released a report in January: Hitting Home: the Compounding Costs of Climate Inaction, which catalogues the natural disasters and their toll on the country. New Climate Change legislation was introduced in November 2020 which would legislate a net zero emissions target by 2050 and establish a system of emissions budgeting. A Parliamentary House committee has just concluded public hearings on the legislation, to which the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a brief: No-one left behind: Australia’s transition to zero emissions . The ACTU chiefly calls for improved supports for workers in an energy transition, and the establishment of a national Just Transition or Energy Transition Authority . (The ACTU passed a more detailed climate and energy transition policy statement in 2018 )

In November 2020, the ACTU also published Sharing the benefits with workers: A decent jobs agenda for the renewable energy industry, which provides an overview of the renewable energy sector in Australia, and features both best and worst workplace practices. The report proposes an agenda to improve the quality of jobs, with special attention to the small-scale solar industry. “Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.”

In August, the Victoria Trades Hall Council, released Transition from Crisis: Victoria Trades Hall Council’s Just Transition & Economic Recovery Strategy which links climate change and Covid-19 in words that could apply in any country:

“….The scale of the fiscal response to COVID-19 shows that, when a government takes a problem seriously and commits to dealing with it, the finances to get the problem fixed can be found and the spending is supported by the general population. The implications for action on climate change are obvious. …..The trauma, disruption and dislocation caused by COVID-19 are unprecedented outside of war time. The response, with its restrictions of civil liberties and suppression of economic activity, has been necessary, proportionate to the threat, and largely accepted by the population. The deep irony is that acting proportionately to deal with climate change would require none of those infringements of liberties and would produce an economic transformation that would leave Victorians better off. Hence this strategy is not simply for a just transition but for an economic recovery and the reconstruction of Victoria. In the period of recovery, after COVID-19 has been brought under control, we must learn the lessons from the virus response, continue to mobilise the resources we need, build on the incredible growth in community spirit and mutual aid, and get to work to deal with climate change with a determination that is based on hope and necessary action for a better world. “

The Transition from Crisis report has many purposes, but ultimately it is a comprehensive discussion of policy ideas to help the transition to a socially just and sustainable society, with workers at the centre. The strategy is built on eleven principles, which include inclusion of First Nations, gender equality, social equity, and new energy ownership models, among others. The report discusses the many ways in which unions can advocate for climate change action and protect their members: through participation in tri-partite industrial planning, training and retraining, occupational health and safety protection, collective bargaining, and union networking and cooperation. Regarding union cooperation for example, the VTHC pledges “to participate in, or establish if needed, national and state level just transitions committees to formulate policies around just transition, provide support to individual unions, engage with state climate and environment organisations, and provide a conduit into national-level decision making.”

Response to Greg Butler's critique of the Green New Deal and the Rank-and-File Strategy

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2021

As stated in our standard disclaimer (at the end of this editorial), the opinions expressed in this text are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of the IWW or the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. This piece includes very strongly worded opinions, therefore the author deemed it best to emphasize that point.

There are certainly plenty of constructive, comradely criticisms of the Green New Deal, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Kim Moody's "Rank-and-File Strategy", The North American Building Trades Unions, and Jacobin (none of which are either mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, Greg Butler's The Green New Deal and the "Rank-and-File Strategy", published on December 17, 2020, by Organizing Work, is not a good example. In fact, Butler's piece is little more than a sectarian swipe at a number of targets which are only indirectly related to each other, and worse still, it's full of inaccuracies and unfounded claims that have no evidence to support them.

President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation: what impact on Canada?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 1, 2021

Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada. The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement. Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”

The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ; “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28); “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept” and “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.

New Social Contract: Five workers’ demands for recovery and resilience

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation, January 25, 2021

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, outlined the demands during the World Economic Forum, with an ITUC session on the subject taking place at the World Social Forum on the 26 January and a detailed blog on the issues: “The choices made by world leaders and by business in 2021 will either heed the call of workers and civil society to reform the economic model and help create a just and sustainable future or maintain business as usual and see a model of corporate greed entrench inequality, exclusion and despair perpetuating instability for our communities and our planet.”

The five demands are:

  1. Creation of climate-friendly jobs with Just Transition. Job-creating industrial transformation to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, along with jobs in health, education and other quality public services.
  2. Rights for all workers, regardless of their employment arrangements, to fulfill the promise of the ILO Centenary Declarationwith its labour protection floor including rights, maximum working hours, living minimum wages and health and safety at work.
  3. Universal social protection, with the establishment of a Social Protection Fund for the least wealthy countries.
  4. Equality. Ending all discrimination, such as by race or gender, to ensure that all people can share in prosperity and that the appalling concentration of wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many is undone.
  5. Inclusion. To combat the growing power of monopolies and oligarchs, ensure that developing countries can actually develop their economies and guarantee tax systems that provide the income vital for governments to meet the needs of people and the planet. An inclusive approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount, both in terms of economic support as well as universal access to testing, treatment and vaccines.

“Along with the tragic loss of so many lives from the pandemic, almost 500 million jobs have been lost and two billion people are struggling in informal work, including in new internet mediated businesses. People need a New Social Contract that delivers recovery and resilience based on the security that these five critical demands guarantee,” said Sharan Burrow.

Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 20, 2021

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor). Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP).

Principles and best practices for a Just Transition for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

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

Economist Jim Stanford has written a timely new report which should be required reading for politicians setting their hair on fire about Joe Biden’s stated intention to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project on Day one of his presidency. Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels, released on January 18, argues that “the actual number of fossil fuel jobs and the number of communities reliant on the industry is small enough that a just and equitable transition plan for workers is very feasible” – and the key is timing.

Stanford’s report begins by setting out the statistics regarding fossil fuel employment in Canada: “under 1% of total payroll employment in Canada (or about 160,000 jobs) is located in seven industrial sectors which together comprise most of the composite fossil fuel industry. “ Using 2016 Census data, the report discusses the distribution of fossil fuel jobs by province and community, showing that Alberta accounts for 75% of fossil-related jobs in 2016, but even there, only it accounts for 7% of all provincial employment. 18 fossil fuel-dependent communities are named, where fossil fuel jobs account for 9.5% of employment – including two well-known examples, Wood Buffalo/Fort McMurray in Alberta and Estevan in Saskatchewan. The report continues to compare employment in the fossil fuel industry and in the health care sector, Canada’s largest employer. The aim is not to diminish the importance of fossil fuel employment, but to illustrate that employment possibilities exist in other sectors, even within fossil fuel-reliant communities.

Stanford looks ahead and states: “given weakening global demand for fossil fuels, depressed prices, continued infrastructure constraints, and aggressive cost-cutting by fossil fuel employers (shedding labour to protect profits despite lower energy prices), fossil fuel industries will see continued downsizing of their employment footprint.” He summarizes the employment transitions of other sectors in Canada’s history, notably fisheries, auto manufacturing, manufacturing – as well as other sectors currently transitioning, including retail, transportation, and newspapers and media, and documents the overall dynamics which are always churning labour markets. All these arguments build to the report’s final section, which is to outline the principles and best practices for planning effective employment and community transitions for the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. 

GM and Unifor agreement brings production of electric commercial vans to Ingersoll Ontario

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

The 1,900 workers at the CAMI auto plant in Ingersoll Ontario had been facing an uncertain future, as production of the Chevrolet Equinox was due to be phased out in 2023. Yet on January 18, 91% of Unifor Local 88 members voted to ratify a new agreement with General Motors , and as a result, GM will invest in the large scale production of EV600’s, a zero-emissions, battery-powered commercial van said to be the cornerstone of a new GM business unit called BrightDrop, itself only just unveiled in January at the Computer and Electronics (CES) Trade Show.

The official Unifor CAMI Agreement Summary provides details of the terms of the three-year CAMI agreement , and includes a GM Product and Investment Commitment Letter. It states: “the investments described below underscore GM’s commitment to our customers and employees; and are conditional on stable demand, business and market conditions; the ability to continue producing profitably; and the full execution of GMS. Subject to ratification of a tentative 2021 labour agreement reached with Unifor and confirmation of government support, General Motors plans to bring production of its recently announced BrightDrop electric light commercial vehicle (EV600) to CAMI Assembly. In addition, there are other variants of the electric light commercial vehicle program which are currently under study. This investment at CAMI Assembly will enable General Motors to start work immediately and begin production at the plant in 2021, making this the first large scale production of electric vehicles by a major automotive company in Canada. This will support jobs and transform work at the plant over the life of this agreement from the current two shifts of Chevrolet Equinox production to a new focus on the production of the all new EV600 to serve the growing North American market for electric delivery solutions.” GM pledges a total of C$1.0 Billion capital investments for facilities, tools, M&E and supplier tooling. It also states: “…….This investment is contingent upon full acceptance of all elements contained within this Settlement Agreement and the Competitive Operating Agreement.” (which has not been made public).

The GM Canada press release summarizes the recent progress at other GM locations: “C$1.3 billion Oshawa Assembly Pickup investments; a C$109 million product and C$28 million Renewable Energy Cogeneration project at St. Catharines; a C$170 million investment in an after-market parts operation in Oshawa; expansion of GM’s Canadian Technology Centre including investments in the new 55-acre CTC McLaughlin Advanced Technology Track” in Oshawa. As previously reported in the WCR , Unifor has also negotiated historic agreements to produce electric vehicles in the 2020 Big Three Round of Bargaining. As Heather Scoffield wrote in an Opinion piece in the Toronto Star on January 18, “Never mind pipelines: Ontario automakers are showing us a greener way to create jobs now”.

Global Just Transition case studies from a trade union viewpoint

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 14, 2021

Just Transition: Putting planet, people and jobs first” is the theme of a special issue of Equal Times, published in December 2020. The compilation of articles provides a trade union point of view to describe the just transition experiences in Bangladesh, Tunisia, Argentina, and Senegal, as well as the more frequently cited experiences in Spain and Scotland. The complete Special Issue is here , and was supported financially by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Although Spain’s 2018 agreement regarding coal transition is well known, this article is a welcome English-language text, translated from the original Spanish version written by Spanish journalist María José Carmona. Another useful English text on the topic is The Just Transition Strategy within the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework, translated and published by the Spanish government in 2019. And an earlier report from the Central Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) provides brief summaries of Spanish and other Just Transition frameworks, in A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada (2019). It covers Germany, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and Canada in a brief 32 pages.

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