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labor and environment

Is Labor Green? A Cross-National Panel Analysis of Unionization and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

By Camila Huerta Alvarez, Julius McGee, and Richard York - Nature and Culture, March 1, 2019

In this article, we assess whether unionization of national workforces influences growth in national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita. Political-economic theories in environmental sociology propose that labor unions have the potential to affect environmental conditions. Yet, few studies have quantitatively assessed the influence of unionization on environmental outcomes using cross-national data. We estimate multilevel regression models using data on OECD member nations from 1970 to 2014. Results from our analysis indicate that unionization, measured as the percentage of workers who are union members, is negatively associated with CO2 emissions per capita, even when controlling for labor conditions. This finding suggests that unionization may promote environmental protection at the national level

Read the text (PDF).

Workers and the Green New Deal Today

How to “Build Back Better”

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

Anyone interested in how to address the concerns of both labor and environmentalists in upcoming legislation should take a look at the new Sierra Club report “How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal.” Although the Sierra Club is an environmental organization – in fact, the country’s largest–this “blueprint for economic renewal” has been designed with the needs of workers and discriminated-against groups front and center.

The plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and Service Employees International Union.

  • By investing $1 trillion per year, an economic renewal plan based on the THRIVE Agenda would create over 15 million good jobs–enough to end the unemployment crisis–while countering systemic racism, supporting public health, and cutting climate pollution nearly in half by 2030.
  • These investments must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.

LNS Calls for Climate-Safe Infrastructure Not Line 3 and Dakota Access Tar Sands Pipelines

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

The Labor Network for Sustainability calls for a halt to the Line 3 Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline and other climate-destroying fossil-fuel infrastructure of the past. It calls instead to start creating the jobs of the future building the climate-safe infrastructure of the future.

The U.S. is already building extensive new fossil-free energy infrastructure and is creating more jobs than a similar investment in fossil fuel facilities. Rather than spend a penny more on new fossil fuel infrastructure, it is time to invest in a massive, jobs-rich conversion to a fossil-free energy infrastructure.

The U.S. government, the people of the world, and even major oil companies recognize that the climate emergency requires us to move rapidly to a fossil-free economy. President Joe Biden recently recognized this by cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline. It is time to halt other new fossil fuel infrastructure—urgently, the Line 3 and Dakota Access Pipelines—and use our precious resources for a just transition to climate safety.

A 2013 LNS study compares jobs created by the Keystone XL pipeline to the jobs that could be created by water, sewer and gas repair projects in the five states the pipeline crosses. It finds that meeting unmet water and gas line repair infrastructure needs in the five states along the KXL pipeline route would create:

  • More than 300,000 total jobs across all sectors;
  • Five times more jobs, and better jobs, than KXL;
  • 156% of the number of direct jobs created by Keystone XL per unit of investment.

See the full report: “The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy”

Workers should not have to pay the price of protecting the climate—they deserve a just transition to a climate-safe future. Cancelation of fossil fuel projects like the tar sands pipelines should be paired with a program to see that every worker whose job may be threatened by climate policies has access to a new job creating the economy of the future.

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.

Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for West Virginia

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economy Research Institute, February 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in West Virginia, as with most everywhere else in the United States. This study develops a recovery program for West Virginia that is also capable of building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term transition.

In our proposed clean energy investment project, West Virginia can achieve climate stabilization goals which are in alignment with those set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018—that is, to reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent as of 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We show how these two goals can be accomplished in West Virginia through large-scale investments to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in the state and to equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy, including solar, geothermal, small-scale hydro, wind, and low-emissions bioenergy power. We also show how this climate stabilization program for West Virginia can serve as a major new engine of job creation and economic well-being throughout the state. Scaled at about $3.6 billion per year in both private and public investments, the program will generate about 25,000 jobs per year in West Virginia. We also present investment programs for West Virginia in the areas of public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration and agriculture. We scaled this overall set of investments at $1.6 billion per year over 2021 – 2030, equal to about 2 percent of West Virginia’s 2019 GDP. We estimate that the full program would generate about 16,000 jobs per year in the state. Overall, the combination of investments in clean energy, manufacturing/infrastructure, and land restoration/agriculture will therefore create about 41,000 jobs in West Virginia, equal to roughly 5 percent of West Virginia’s current workforce.

The study also develops a just transition program for workers and communities that are currently dependent on West Virginia’s fossil fuel-based industries. It estimates that about 1,400 workers per year will be displaced in these industries between 2021 – 2030 while another roughly 650 will voluntarily retire each year. It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, re-employment guarantees, wage insurance, and retraining support, as needed. We estimate that generous levels of transition support for all workers will cost an average of about $140 million per year.

The study shows how all of these proposed measures can be fully financed within the framework of the Build Back Better infrastructure and clean energy investment program proposed by President Biden during his presidential campaign.

Read the text (PDF).

How to Build Back Better: A 10-Year Plan for Economic Renewal

By Ben Beachy, et. al. - Sierra Club, February 2021

Over 10 million people are out of work, another six million people are underemployed, and yet another seven million people who want a job have given up trying to find one. Unemployment among low-income households is hovering around Great Depression levels. Job losses have been particularly acute for women, and the unemployment rate for Black and Latinx workers remains more than 50 percent higher than for white workers. Due to economic hardship, more than one in three families with children cannot afford adequate food, one in five households could not pay last month’s rent, and over half of all households are having difficulty covering expenses.

To tackle this economic crisis, we cannot simply reopen the economy and hope things return to “normal.” “Normal” was fundamentally unjust, unhealthy, and unstable. Thanks to decades of “normal” conditions, millions of people — particularly in Black and Latinx communities — breathe in air pollution that increases the risks of COVID-19, earn as much in one year as Jeff Bezos makes in 20 seconds, and are forced to grapple with increasing climate-related storms, droughts, and fires.
We have to do better than “normal.”

We need to put millions of people back to work building a healthier, more equitable, clean energy economy that leaves no one behind. The THRIVE Agenda outlines a plan to do just that. Backed by over 100 members of Congress and hundreds of union, racial justice, climate, and other grassroots groups, the THRIVE Agenda offers Congress an eight-pillar blueprint for economy-wide investments. To “build back better” instead of reverting to the unjust status quo, Congress needs to pass a THRIVE-aligned economic renewal plan that is as comprehensive as the crises we face.

Read the text (PDF).

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