Unions and climate change

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jerrym
Unions and climate change

A false picture often appears in the mainstream media of blue collar workers and unions usually being opposed to dealing with the problems created by climate change. However, much of the union movement and many blue collar workers understand full well the disastrous implications for them that not dealing with global warming effectively will bring for them and have accordingly begun to demand change in this area, often working in conjuction with environmentalists and indigenous groups. In 2019

- A coalition composed of unions, Indigenous groups, environmentalists and celebrities called on Canada Monday to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of a proposed "Pact for a Green New Deal."

Members of the wide-ranging, 60-group coalition spoke at events held in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, decrying the lack of political action and calling for everyone to adhere to the pact that calls for the emissions cut, the creation of a million sustainable jobs and recognition of Indigenous rights.

The pan-Canadian group, which also includes scientists, health professionals, students and artists, denounced what it called the inertia of governments at all levels in taking tougher measures to fight climate change.

The movement said the scientific findings are indisputable that all efforts must be made to cut Canada's greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. ...

The proposed pact goes beyond the environment and includes a fight against social and economic injustice, aiming for accessibility to housing, the sustainability of work and the eradication of racism.

https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/coalition-of-unions-and-activists-calls-fo...

jerrym

More and more unions and their members are demanding changes related to climate change that are needed to improve their labour conditions and their lives in general. 

On September 27, workers across the world went out on strike in the largest global climate strike in history, walking out of their classrooms and workplaces to protest government inaction on climate change. ...

In Edmonton, thousands of students, workers, and community members marched to the legislature to call for state action on the climate crisis and a Green New Deal for Canada.

The labour movement must be on the frontlines in calling for a Green New Deal and immediate action on the climate crisis. Working class communities are the ones that will be disproportionately impacted by climate crisis – the fight for environmental justice must be a fight for economic and social justice that prioritizes frontline communities and the most marginalized workers. Unionizing and expanding the renewable energy sector is one step of many to lead towards a future where Indigenous sovereignty is prioritized and workers are respected. 

“I want a Green New Deal because I know that there are limits to how long the oil and gas industry will last for,” said Stephen Buhler, an oil and gas worker and organizer with Our Time, an electoral campaign that focuses on electing federal candidates that will take action on the climate emergency. “I know that if we don’t have a plan in place Indigenous communities and workers will be left behind. I not only financially need it, but I morally need it.”

As unions begin to recognize the precarity and unreliable boom and bust nature of the energy sector, they must become a key player in leading the fight for a Green New Deal. Having a climate strategy that ensures good unionized jobs, retraining programs for existing workers, and moves towards a just transition that reframes the way our economy is structured is a fight that unions must take on in a substantive way. 

One of the most tangible ways unionists can get involved in taking action on climate is ‘bargaining for the common good’ which uses union bargaining to service fights for community benefits. Given this, under a Green New Deal, bargaining forward can take a number of forms:

  • Working towards decolonization through challenging the extractive industries that violate indigenous consent
  • Returning the land to Indigenous land protectors
  • Supporting the protests and legal challenges attempting to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion
  • Creating a federal jobs guarantee with new, low carbon jobs and providing retraining for oil and gas workers
  • Ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and investing in low-carbon jobs such as childcare and healthcare
  • Calling for education and campaigns that address the environmental racism faced by Indigenous, Black, people of colour
  • Demanding publicly owned affordable energy
  • Expanding public transit subsidies, high speed rail, and renewable energy vehicles
  • Delivering community power and supporting CUPW’s call for postal banking
  • Training workers on emergency response to climate disaster
  • Divesting union members pensions from the fossil fuel industry
  • Demanding affordable housing in your communities ...

The transition away from oil and gas is inevitable. If we are to have a livable planet, there is no choice but to ensure that the Indigenous voices leading the movement for climate justice are amplified by the union movement. The role of unions in building towards a just transition must fit the scale of the crisis. Labour has an incredible opportunity to use the platform of a Green New Deal to demand publicly owned services, organizing against regressive anti-worker taxation, and calling for large-scale job creation through the creation of one million climate jobs. The climate emergency is a labour issue, and it is the responsibility of labour to take action. 

https://portside.org/2019-10-03/canadian-unions-and-green-new-deal

jerrym

On February 27th, the first strike for action on climate change occurred in the United States. 

On Thursday February 27 thousands of Minneapolis cleaning workers walked off their jobs and struck their downtown commercial high-rises. Among their key demands was that their employers take action on climate change. It was one of the first—as far as I have been able to discover, the very first—union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands. 

The janitors are members of Service Employees International Union Local 26. They are employed by over a dozen different subcontractors like ABM & Marsden to clean corporate buildings like IDS, Capella Tower, EcoLab, U.S Bank, Wells Fargo, United Health Group, Ameriprise and many more across the Twin Cities. The workers are overwhelmingly immigrants and people of color. ...

But what could their union do about climate change besides put out statements and support other organizations? They received a partial answer from California janitors who had won demands for “green cleaning.” Local 26 included green cleaning demands in their 2009 negotiations. They won contract language establishing in each company an “Ad Hoc Committee” of union and company representatives. It would “review the use of green chemicals.” It recognized company responsibility for a safe and healthy workplace and “the use of materials that contribute to a healthy and sustainable ecological environment.” The employer would provide training to employees on the “use, mixing and storage” of cleaning chemicals. The employer “shall make every effort to use only green, sustainable cleaning products where possible.”[5]

While this language gave them a toehold on the issue, it was vague and provided nothing that could be enforced. As the latest contract negotiations approached, the union decided it needed something that had more substance and that could be enforced. But this brought them up against a obstacle: the restrictions of U.S. labor law. ...

Under federal labor law companies are required to bargain over “mandatory” bargaining issues like wages, hours, and working conditions. Unions can make demands in other areas, but that can be a rather futile effort because companies can simply ignore them without fear of legal sanction. The line between what is and isn’t a subject for bargaining is inherently ambiguous and has been the subject of hundreds of NLRB disputes.   

The strategy Local 26 developed for addressing this dilemma is similar to one described by Nato Green of SEIU local 1021 in San Francisco. In an article in In These Times, Green wrote, “In my union, we advance our goals on parallel tracks via collective bargaining and public policy, using each to reinforce the other.” ...

Local 26 put together a package of demands some but not all of which could be brought up at the bargaining table. In the second bargaining session, the union presented a demand for the creation of a Green technician janitorial training program. It brought in janitors from California who already had such a training fund. ...

They proposed contract language would create a “training program for Green Technicians (including $0.20 differential) and expanded use of green cleaning.”

The demand for a training program could be seen as simply a conventional collective bargaining proposal. But it transcended some of the limitations of the previous contract. It created a vehicle for actually implementing, monitoring, and enforcing good practices. It realizes a strategy that has sometimes been called “regulation in civil society.”

Other demands went beyond wages, hours, and working conditions as usually interpreted. In its bargaining update the union also proposed to create a “table” with building owners and community groups focused on climate to develop “bold solutions.” They would include “GREEN NEW DEAL” policies, getting Minnesota to 100% renewable energy, reducing waste, and closing the HERC incinerator that burns trash from downtown office buildings and pollutes nearby neighborhoods.

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/03/01/did-we-just-witness-first-...

jerrym

On March 14 Local 26 of the Service Employees International Union in Minneapolis annouced that their one day climate strike discussed in the previous post had helped win them new contract language related to creating a green working environment. 

The union has released a press release on March 14,  announcing agreement with most employers and members’ approval of  a contract which includes funding towards a Labor-Management Cooperation Fund for green education and training.  Notably, given that these are the workers keeping airports and commercial buildings clean in the Covid-19 crisis, the agreement also provides for an increase for all full-time workers to six paid sick days by the second year of the contract.

https://workandclimatechangereport.org/tag/service-employees-seiu/

 

jerrym

Even in Texas many where many construction union workers are involved in the fossil fuel industry, a resolution supporting a Green New Deal easily passed at union convention in December 2019. 

The building trades have often been one of the more reactionary elements of organized labor in the United States. Even as a tradesman myself — an inside wireman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) — I had my own doubts about how much support for the Green New Deal (GND) could be garnered from the building trades.

My recent experience at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention shattered that understanding. Not only were many of my fellow trades siblings — plenty of whom work in the fossil fuel industry or represent fossil fuel workers `— strongly in favor of the GND at the start of the convention, but the political struggle to get most everyone else on board required minimal effort. In the end, our state AFL-CIO passed a GND-style resolution. This victory is a powerful model for conventions across the country; it shows how resolutions like this one can become a standard labor demand. ...

In March of this year, shortly after the release of the GND resolution in Congress, the AFL-CIO Energy Committee released a memo harshly criticizing the resolution. Surprised by the response of an organization that I felt the resolution intended to strengthen, I set out to identify their reasons for opposition. In the process, I discovered a pro-GND resolution passed by the Alameda, California Central Labor Council (CLC), a confederation of union delegates that make recommendations on local and statewide labor and political issues.

After reading the Alameda resolution, I wondered if I could pass something similar in my own CLC (Austin, TX), to which I’m a delegate. After tweaking the language of the Alameda resolution to make its references to the crisis in California more relevant to Texans, I submitted the resolution at the July meeting of the Austin CLC. After some explanation and discussion, the resolution passed unanimously. ...

Soon after the meeting agenda went public, I received a call from my friend Jeff Rotkoff, the campaign director for Texas AFL-CIO, letting me know that leadership at Texas AFL-CIO loved my resolution, but that it was also already causing a stir. While they applauded my efforts, they didn’t expect it to get very far. I didn’t blame them at all for their pessimism. I didn’t expect much progress myself. Over the next few days, entire districts of building trades threatened to walk out of the convention if my resolution even made it to the floor. I came ready to fall flat on my face.

When I arrived at the stakeholder meeting that had been set up to discuss my resolution, however, my expectations quickly brightened. I was immediately introduced to Lee Medley, president of a Gulf Coast United Steelworkers (USW) local, who, instead of writing me off as I had expected, showed both good faith and a genuine interest. He asked me if I was familiar with the concept of just transition. As I informed him that the trades defining our own terms for a just transition was exactly what I was trying to accomplish with this resolution, I understood that we were going to be making some serious progress that weekend.

Folks in the stakeholder meeting gave some constructive criticisms of the resolution. Reference to the desires of “young climate activists” and “Congress” were removed, as rank-and-file tradespeople generally couldn’t care less about what activists or Congress think. It was also pointed out that “the Green New Deal” would trigger members already inoculated by media, so we replaced GND with “Federal Environmental Policy,” to placate those members and allow for the resolution to apply to policy other than the GND itself. These changes proved to be critical in getting this resolution through the next round of meetings — the union caucuses. ...

Of course, not everyone felt this way. A few objections were made, mostly in bad faith. One member thought they could score points by getting me to say that a GND-style policy would increase the deficit (fortunately, others and I shot this point down). Interestingly, the most ardent opposition came from a representative for the international level of the IBEW. When he saw that his arguments weren’t winning him any favor, he disappeared into the hall and then reappeared, claiming to have called his bosses. He explained they told him that they were currently negotiating the GND, and to not let us pass any resolution on it as it had the potential to contradict their negotiations. I smiled and informed him that this was great news, as my resolution made no reference to the GND.

With that, we felt we had reached consensus and took a vote. Out of the sixty or so delegates in the room, all but a few voted to support the resolution. The next morning the resolution went to the AFL-CIO floor and passed unanimously, no discussion required.

Let that sink in for a minute: building trades workers unanimously supported a GND-style resolution in the state of Texas.

Of course, the fact that I wasn’t able to get the resolution through with clear language linking it to the GND shows that the gap between climate leftists and labor still hasn’t been completely closed. ...

In the past, environmental activists typically targeted the industry in a way that didn’t account for the material interests of workers. They worked to shut down coal-fired plants and pipelines without any labor protections, leaving workers unemployed and understandably upset. If a proper class analysis is applied, we can understand that workers’ most immediate needs — the ability to provide a decent life for themselves and their loved ones — must be addressed before they can concern themselves with averting climate disaster.

We don’t need to explain to workers on the Gulf Coast why we need to decarbonize. We don’t need to convince them that the climate crisis is real when they’re still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and they’ve experienced their fifth “500-year flood” in five years. We don’t need to explain to them that the fossil fuel industry is on its way out when they’re experiencing the job loss firsthand. We don’t need to tell them that we’re losing green tech manufacturing jobs to even more exploited labor overseas. US labor is well-acquainted with how we’ve failed to react to rapid economic change, and we won’t stand by again if and when leadership rolls over and capitulates to capital. When workers understand that the GND won’t take away their livelihood, but instead secure an even better one, they support it.

https://jacobinmag.com/2019/12/a-green-new-deal-can-win-even-among-build...

jerrym

The following article discusses the tensions that have existed between environmentalists and union members who felt that their jobs were threatened by climate activists, including by Alberta's building of the Keystone pipeline, but it also illustrates how an important victory in New York state where a union "working group produced a groundbreaking report co-authored by Skinner, titled “Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State.” The report — comprehensive, smart, with buy-in from all key unions — should serve as a blueprint for what ought to happen right now state by state and nationally. The unions quickly transitioned from the report to action, using union power to secure a huge victory: New York will get half its total energy needs met by renewable offshore wind power by 2035. The agreement they won, worth $50 billion so far, will be done with a union jobs guarantee known as a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA. And the coalition is just getting started."

According to Vincent Alvarez, the president of the New York City Labor Council, the official body of the largest regional organization of the AFL-CIO in the country, “We took a look at the frustrating discourse and inaction on climate issues that was taking place in Washington, D.C., and decided that we wanted to get something done on the ground that tackled the climate and inequality crises. We wanted to build a program that could start actually making measurable improvements in building a more resilient climate, addressing the dual crisis of climate change and inequality.”

Alvarez explains that rather than focusing on the 10 percent of the issues that are divisive — such as the Keystone pipeline and fracking, the issues that have garnered the most media attention in the climate fight thus far — it makes more sense to start with the 90 percent of the issues that environmentalists and unions can easily agree on, including infrastructure, public transportation, energy production. Before we can address the 10 percent that divides us — of course we must — environmentalists need to demonstrate, with real actions, that they can help win high-quality union jobs in these three sectors. In the absence of concrete evidence that we can actually produce “shovel-ready” alternatives to pipelines, the fossil fuel lobby will drive division.

Lara Skinner, the executive director of the Worker Institute, who has been driving the New York State union climate jobs initiative, says that establishing a union-only working group on climate was central to making progress. Skinner, like many unionists who care deeply about climate change, spent several years wracking her brains trying to bring environmentalists and unionists together. The fight to block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the late Obama years made headlines but blew up a lot of good organizing work, leading to tensions and fissures in a budding blue-green movement. ...

A few months after the height of Keystone dissent, Hurricane Sandy hit. According to Skinner, Sandy “drove home to union members in New York City how serious the issue was. And Irene had hit upstate New York, and everyone was realizing how unprepared we were for what’s coming.” The storms created an opening for a new conversation that Skinner and her team realized had to be a union-only discussion about climate change. ...

In 2014, a group of New York unions whose members were hit hard up and down state by Sandy decided to start a process to educate themselves about the climate crisis. They formed a working group that included unions key to the solutions: in the energy, transport, and infrastructure sectors, as well as the public service unions. They committed to meet once per quarter and to start by educating themselves by bringing in climate scientists to better understand the threats.

As part of their self-education, the unions took a delegation from New York to Denmark last summer, hosted by Danish unions. According to Alvarez, “It was really important to get beyond the discussion and witness first-hand and meet with unionized Danish workers in the manufacturing plants, to see how the transition to wind power was experienced by and embraced by the Danish union workers.”

In just three years, the working group produced a groundbreaking report co-authored by Skinner, titled “Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State.” The report — comprehensive, smart, with buy-in from all key unions — should serve as a blueprint for what ought to happen right now state by state and nationally. The unions quickly transitioned from the report to action, using union power to secure a huge victory: New York will get half its total energy needs met by renewable offshore wind power by 2035.

The agreement they won, worth $50 billion so far, will be done with a union jobs guarantee known as a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA. And the coalition is just getting started. There’s no other state, let alone a big one, that has a concrete plan to reduce by half its reliance on fossil fuels that fast. It happened because, as Skinner says, “Unions educated themselves and got really clear on what we need to seriously get to scale on green jobs.” Green jobs plans must be driven by the people who will do the work. ...

The deal happened in New York precisely because the unions had the power to shift public subsidies — that’s taxes — into a deal that enabled them to meet both scientific standards for emissions reduction and the good unionized wage and benefit standards that union members expect and are willing to fight for. Both are key to shifting the economy at the pace and scale needed.

How will we pay for it? Christian Parenti has recently pointed out that corporations are currently sitting on $4.8 trillion in cash — a subset of $22.1 trillion they hoard. That money could be used to quickly shift the economy to a robust unionized green economy, one that can reproduce a dignified quality of life for workers of the future and end the destructive jobs-versus-environment debate.

But to access that money, it takes real power and know-how — the kind of power that unions in New York still have, along with a few other major states. To rebuild union power elsewhere, the environmental movement will have to stand up and fight alongside them — really fight, not just talk about green jobs. That means actively throwing their support behind workers’ right to strike and actively backing workers.

https://jacobinmag.com/2019/03/green-new-deal-union-organizing-jobs

 

jerrym

Below are a few excerpts from a long scholarly article on the links between unionism and climate change, for anyone who might be interested. The article provides much more detail than my short excerpts. 

Extended interviews were conducted with senior policy makers in national and international trade unions. On the basis of their responses, four discourses of trade union engagement with climate change are discussed: ‘technological fix’, ‘social transformation’, ‘mutual interests’ and ‘social movement’ discourses, which were theorised in the context of the different international histories and models of trade unionism.  ...

Trade Unions are typically represented as standing in the way of climate change measures. However, while trade unions might have been slow in placing climate change issues on their agenda, environmental movements have been slow to recognise the legitimacy of workers’ interests in defending their jobs. This may be one of the reasons why there has been little cooperation between environmental movements and trade unions, although this is gradually changing . 

Considering the amount of literature and the high level reports (Pollin et. al. 2009, Neale 2010) suggesting a win-win situation for politics, industry, and the environment in a “green economy”, the inevitable question is why have industries and governments been so reluctant to engage in a green transformation. Macro-level analyses cannot answer such a question because they do not take social actors, their interests and motivations into consideration. There is a gap between macro-economic analysis and workers’ perceptions of the relationship between jobs and the environment. Predicting the employment potential of a green economy means little when companies argue that environmental regulations will force them to make workers redundant. ...

We have outlined four discourses in which the conflicting relationship between jobs and environment is conceptualised by unionists. The first, the ’technological fix’ discourse argues that improved technology will both safeguard jobs and protect the environment. The problem with this approach is that it does not address the societal context in which technological innovations are embedded. The social effects of technological development, like reduced employment, are naturalised.

The second, the ‘social transformation’ discourse proposes a comprehensive policy in which environmental protection and societal change are interconnected. Workers’ fears of losing their jobs are understood in broader terms, acknowledging that people develop their identities through work and therefore transforming production must take into account socially constructed images of work and professions, including social power relations.

The third discourse might be termed the ‘mutual interests’ discourse. Its focus is on the legitimacy of workers’ immediate interests, and it aims to resolve the contradiction between jobs and environment by entering into a horizontal dialogue with workers about how their immediate interests can be re-defined and reconciled rather than abandoned. It replaces an abstract morality with a focus on interests, cooperation and solidarity.

The fourth discourse can be coined the ‘social movement’ discourse. It includes workers’ immediate interests but places them within a broader notion of ‘general interests’. Unions are defined as actors in the production process, whose role is not only to defend jobs but also to question the given forms of production and develop alternatives. It conceptualises unions as representing not only the interests of workers at work, but in society at large. Consequently, as Maria argued, a union defining itself in this way, needs to go beyond defending solely the rights of its members and includes the interest of all those who want a just society. This is what defines “social movement” unionism (Webster et al., 2008). Social movement unionism will claim, as Julio did, the right to decide how production is organised and how decisions in society are taken. One example of this was CCOO who saw its role as taking part in changing societal conditions – a view that is not generally taken by other unions in Europe.  ...

There was one moment during our interviews though, where the term nature was used explicitly by a unionist in South Africa: “So, you know, it’s all the concepts about what’s happening in the metabolic rift and between nature and humans. The National Treasurer of NUMSA, has written some articles about Environment being a union issue.” This sentence opens up a new perspective, namely the relationship between humans and nature. The notion of the ‘metabolic rift’ refers to Liebig’s concept used by Marx (see Foster 2000:147 ff). They argued that the separation of town and country, together with the implementation of monocultures, destroyed the exchange between human nature and nature. In its wake followed what we might call social reductionism in the labour movement, where nature disappears or is reduced simply to a means for meeting human needs, and an ecological reductionism in environmental movements, where humans become a mere threat to nature. As discussed above, it is through labour, i.e., through the transformation of nature, that humans develop their own nature, i.e., their specific capabilities. To recognise this would connect the need to take care for nature in its own right with workers’ interests, namely with their identities developed through their work. It might also provide an opportunity through which unionists and thus their members could conceptualise themselves as partners of nature, not as its exploiters. In this sense they could find “common interests” between human nature and nature in creating forms of production that care for the well-being of both. To conceptualise nature as a partner in human development instead of seeing it as a victim, would enable a decisive shift in the existing climate change policies in which the ecology remains subordinated to the economy. 

http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/7307/2/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20GEC_Jobs-Environ...

 

Pondering

Great stuff except for this...

The transition away from oil and gas is inevitable. If we are to have a livable planet, there is no choice but to ensure that the Indigenous voices leading the movement for climate justice are amplified by the union movement. The role of unions in building towards a just transition must fit the scale of the crisis. Labour has an incredible opportunity to use the platform of a Green New Deal to demand publicly owned services, organizing against regressive anti-worker taxation, and calling for large-scale job creation through the creation of one million climate jobs. The climate emergency is a labour issue, and it is the responsibility of labour to take action. 

https://portside.org/2019-10-03/canadian-unions-and-green-new-deal

Stop trying to blend movements. If the issue is climate change the voices we need to amplify are those of scientists and economists.

jerrym

Pondering wrote:

Great stuff except for this...

The transition away from oil and gas is inevitable. If we are to have a livable planet, there is no choice but to ensure that the Indigenous voices leading the movement for climate justice are amplified by the union movement. The role of unions in building towards a just transition must fit the scale of the crisis. Labour has an incredible opportunity to use the platform of a Green New Deal to demand publicly owned services, organizing against regressive anti-worker taxation, and calling for large-scale job creation through the creation of one million climate jobs. The climate emergency is a labour issue, and it is the responsibility of labour to take action. 

https://portside.org/2019-10-03/canadian-unions-and-green-new-deal

Stop trying to blend movements. If the issue is climate change the voices we need to amplify are those of scientists and economists.

Along with epaulo13 I have almost certainly written more about science-based environmentalism than any other poster here because I believe that dealing with the problem has to come from dealing with it scientifically. I am not trying to blend movements. However, because unions represent a significant portion of society and have a wide range of views on issues,  but are increasingly realizing the advantage for workers of shifting towards a green economy, as I tried to show above, I felt this needed to be discussed in a separate thread.

As for amplifying economists views about global warming as you suggest, that needs to be done with great care, as many of them today are tied to supporting the economic system that has put the world on the brink of a global warming catastrophe. While some economists have championed a shift away from fossil fuels, many not only see the problem from the currently dominant fossil fuel economic perspective, but even strongly oppose the idea that humans should value the  environment on which all life and economies depend more than economics systems by themselves.