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September 2019, Week 1

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 		 [ Workers, people of color, Native peoples, and the poor have
borne and will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis if we don’t
find the means to avert it. We must forge alliances that can fight for
climate justice, a sustainable, resilient future.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 HOW WORKERS CAN DEMAND CLIMATE JUSTICE  
[https://portside.org/2019-09-05/how-workers-can-demand-climate-justice]


 

 Todd E. Vachon, Gerry Hudson, Judith LeBlanc & Saket Soni 
 September 2, 2019
The American Prospect
[https://prospect.org/article/how-workers-can-demand-climate-justice] 

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 _ Workers, people of color, Native peoples, and the poor have borne
and will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis if we don’t find
the means to avert it. We must forge alliances that can fight for
climate justice, a sustainable, resilient future. _ 

 A crew digs out and replaces lead service lines in Flint, Michigan,
2018. Lead in public water supplies is a tremendous health hazard to
residents in frontline communities from Newark to Flint to the Navajo
Reservation and beyond., Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP //
The American Prospect 

 

As Greenland experiences a record melt, Europe recovers from
record-breaking heat, California braces for another fire season, and
Puerto Rico still struggles to rebuild nearly two years after
Hurricane Maria, it is becoming ever clearer how profoundly the
climate crisis is changing everything, and how imperative it is that
we act _now _if we hope to avert an existential disaster.

The latest report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue
at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7
degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2040. This will
submerge coastlines, intensify droughts and wildfires, increase the
frequency and strength of extreme storms, and worsen food shortages
and poverty. The report also states that these dire consequences will
come to pass well within the lifetime of most readers of this article.

We no longer have time to continue the “jobs versus environment”
debate that has distracted us from acting with the boldness this
moment requires. Saving our deteriorating environment _is the
job_ of our time. The Green New Deal resolution introduced to
Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed
Markey has spurred a wave of activism. And while it is important to
channel that energy into electing a president and Senate that will
treat the crisis as a crisis, it’s equally important that we fight
climate change locally, from below.

Workers, people of color, Native peoples, and the poor have borne and
will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis if we don’t find the
means to avert it. We must forge alliances that can fight for climate
justice and a sustainable and resilient future. That will require
working together across movements and organizations toward a common
purpose.

Fortunately, we have a tool at hand that can help us build those
alliances and organize those fights locally. It is called Bargaining
for the Common Good.

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) is an innovative way of building
community-labor alignments, bringing unions and allies together, that
go beyond the limits to traditional collective bargaining and jointly
shape bargaining campaigns that advance the mutual interests of
workers and communities alike. It developed over the last decade out
of the struggles of teachers in St. Paul, Chicago, and Seattle; out of
the fights of public employees in San Diego and Los Angeles; and in
other settings where unions partnered with their community allies to
advance a common agenda through direct-action protests—including
strikes—and campaigns that targeted the power structures of their
communities.

The strike by members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) in
January 2019 provides a great example of what BCG looks like in
action. The union tackled issues that were central to the
working-class communities the school district serves. The teachers won
commitments from the district to reduce class sizes, increase
investment in the schools, hire school nurses and full-time
librarians, reduce standardized testing and random searches of
students, provide more green spaces for students, and launch a
dedicated hotline for immigrant families who need legal assistance.

These “common good” bargaining demands were crafted in
collaboration with parents, students, and allied community
organizations like the Alliance of Californians for Community
Empowerment (ACCE) and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy
(LAANE), many months before the union contract expired. The union
carried these demands into the streets as it took its members on
strike against the austerity agenda of some members of the district
board and district Superintendent Austin Beutner (a former investment
banker with no prior experience in education). By striking over this
list of community-generated demands and with the support of a dense
network of allies, the teachers moved bargaining away from the
union-versus-taxpayer framework typically used to characterize such
public-worker contract disputes and into one in which the UTLA was the
spearhead of a community effort to reshape L.A.’s broader
priorities.

As the UTLA example reveals, BCG campaigns seek to increase investment
in underserved communities and confront structural inequalities—not
simply to agree on a union contract. To date, BCG campaigns have been
launched around issues of education, racial justice, public services,
immigration, finance, housing, and privatization. But they are in many
ways perhaps best suited to taking on the overarching existential
issue that intersects with and often exacerbates all of these other
issues: human-caused climate change.

In a recent article
[https://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/21791/green-new-deal-climate-change-labor-common-good-bargaining-permissive],
Nato Green of SEIU Local 1021 called for unions to bargain over
climate change. Green argued that the introduction of the Green New
Deal resolution by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey opened the possibilities
of constructing a common good framework through which to confront the
climate catastrophe. We agree.

There are three areas in which BCG campaigns can help us link to
existing climate justice work on the local level and move action
agendas that are not dependent on Washington:

	* _Climate change mitigation_—reducing greenhouse gas emissions,
with a just transition for workers, in order to slow global warming;
 	* _Environmental equity_—pursuing an equitable distribution of
environmental benefits and burdens in order to eradicate the legacy of
environmental racism; and
 	* _Just recoveries_—putting the interests of communities and
workers before private profits in the wake of climate disasters, such
as extreme storms and wildfires, and economic disasters, such as mine
and plant closures.

BCG campaigns in these three areas can effectively link local efforts
to national campaigns and begin to make the Green New Deal happen
locally, from the ground up, while we also continue to fight for the
change that is needed at the federal level.

Demanding Climate Change Mitigation

In the last decade, as the movement to shift away from fossil fuel
consumption has gathered momentum, many unions; networks like the
Labor Network for Sustainability, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy,
and the BlueGreen Alliance; and local coalitions like the Connecticut
Roundtable on Climate and Jobs have pushed for climate mitigation
efforts. They’ve demanded cuts in carbon and other greenhouse gas
emissions, though at the level of the federal government, these
efforts have largely been blocked by the fossil fuel corporations,
Wall Street, and other powerful actors.

At the same time, however, states such as California, and cities like
New York, have taken steps to address the problem, including
establishing emissions reductions targets that are in line with
climate science. There is ample reason to move aggressively at the
state and local level in conjunction with national efforts to
establish a Green New Deal. In local settings, BCG campaigns can
challenge the purveyors of climate catastrophe head-on. In partnership
with local environmental organizations and climate change activists,
unions can develop demands and organize contract campaigns that seek
reductions in emissions by their employers, which include large public
and private institutions, such as universities, hospitals, and
schools. Unions can demand the formation of joint labor-management
committees on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction. Such
committees can be tasked with assessing the employer’s emissions
profiles and developing climate action plans to reduce GHG emissions,
including enforceable targets. When fossil fuel facilities are closed,
climate and community groups can play a role in converting those jobs
into jobs that repair the damage to their communities. Instead of
relying on politicians who may be too fearful to establish enforceable
targets, workers can persuade, or if need be, force their employers to
do so.

Unions and allies can also demand divestment of pensions and
endowments from fossil fuel companies and move those funds instead
into socially responsible investments. Other demands might include the
expansion of public-transportation options, the free provision of mass
transit to students or employees, and monetary or other incentives for
workers who walk, bike, or use public transportation to commute to and
from work. Provisions can be made for some workers to telecommute
part-time to reduce unnecessary emissions on days when work can be
completed remotely.

The demands of particular unions will likely be shaped by the sector
in which they operate and their geographical location. For example,
transportation workers might demand the electrification of bus fleets.
Teachers and public employees can demand that public buildings be made
energy-efficient and have publicly owned rooftop solar installed.
Private-sector workers can demand electric-vehicle charging stations
be installed in employee parking lots and garages and that 401(k)
retirement plans include fossil-free investment options—or that all
the company’s plans be fossil-free.

Unions in Canada, parts of Europe, South Africa, and Australia have
already begun to make climate mitigation demands at the bargaining
table. A BCG approach in the United States would start with unions and
local community groups working together to develop and articulate a
set of demands that serve the interests of workers and the communities
where they live and work. In this way, workers can become a positive
force in the struggle to reduce GHG emissions.

DEMANDING ENVIRONMENTAL EQUITY

As we have witnessed in the aftermath of Katrina, Sandy, Maria, and
other extreme storms, working-class communities are the primary
victims of climate catastrophe. Among the most severely impacted are
those who are already most harmed by our economic and political
systems: women and people of color. The government has also been less
responsive when disasters hit these communities, as we have seen in
Puerto Rico, New Orleans, and elsewhere—not surprisingly,
considering the well-documented history of environmental racism and
disinvestment in low-income communities. BCG can help expose and
target the racial bias of climate injustice.

A recent study [https://www.pnas.org/content/116/13/6001] in
the _Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences_, which explored
“pollution inequity”—the difference between the environmental
health damage caused by a racial-ethnic group and the damage that
group experiences—found that air pollution exposure in the United
States is disproportionately caused by consumption of goods and
services by the non-Hispanic white majority, but disproportionately
inhaled by black and Hispanic minorities. On average, non-Hispanic
whites experience a “pollution advantage” of about 17 percent less
air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption, while
blacks and Hispanics on average bear a “pollution burden” of 56
percent and 63 percent excess exposure, respectively, relative to the
exposure caused by their consumption. The story is similar in Indian
Country, where climate profiteers continue their efforts to despoil
tribal lands with such oil pipeline projects as the Dakota Access and
the Keystone XL. The majority of Superfund sites caused by fossil fuel
extraction are located on tribal and public lands. Indigenous peoples
are the only communities who have collectively owned lands that they
govern without support for remediation. Those who’ve lived
downstream from the capitalist machine have suffered the ill effects
of polluted land, water, and air since the earliest days of industry.

Unions and community partners can make environmental justice issues a
centerpiece of their bargaining campaigns to secure an equitable
distribution of environmental _burdens_. Lead in public water
supplies is a tremendous health hazard to residents in frontline
communities from Newark to Flint to the Navajo Reservation and beyond.
In these communities, workers and community activists can together
demand the repair or replacement of poisoned water pipelines not just
in the workplace, but in the entire community. They can demand the
cleanup of the groundwater and aquifers that feed those pipelines.
Unions and community members near bus depots and other
public-transportation hubs can demand the electrification of vehicles
in order to reduce asthma-causing particulate matter pollution as well
as GHG emissions. Demands over shift start and end times and
parking-lot locations can be used to reduce traffic congestion and the
resultant dangerous air quality so common in communities adjacent to
industrial areas and highways.

Following the lead of the United Steelworkers and some local
labor-environmental coalitions like the New Jersey Work Environment
Council, unions in manufacturing, mining, and chemical plants can
demand the right to know the names and health impacts of all chemicals
used within the plant and demand that the same information be shared
with the local community. Joint labor-management-community committees
can be established to monitor and reduce pollution levels. When a less
toxic chemical can be used in production processes, it should be
mandated, regardless of cost differences.

Unions and community partners can also demand an equitable
distribution of environmental _benefits_. For example, workers can
demand more green spaces in urban communities or the construction of
bike paths or walking trails. To ensure the economic benefits of the
traditionally pollution-heavy energy and manufacturing sectors are
shared equitably after they are made greener, unions and community
partners can demand that a percentage of the new hires be from the
local community where the facilities are located. Toward this goal, a
union apprenticeship program can be established to create a jobs
pipeline for local residents where fossil fuel industries have closed.
In Indian Country, BCG should endeavor to build broad solidarity with
tribal communities to ensure the rightful role of the federal
government in regulation and remediation of environmental issues.

DEMANDING JUST RECOVERIES

Each year, climate disasters and industrial disasters, such as
pipeline leaks, upend millions of lives, and cost billions of dollars
in damage. And in 2018 alone, there were 14 separate “billion-dollar
disasters” that cost communities one billion dollars or more in
damage. This year, experts are already forecasting a more-than-active
hurricane season. Meanwhile, California communities brace for fires,
and Midwest communities for floods—all part of the “new normal.”

Hurricane Katrina taught us that disasters are not experienced
equally—due in part to the way our nation’s relief efforts are
designed. Disaster relief and recovery dollars, including FEMA aid,
are tied to race, homeownership, and education. Wealthy and
disproportionately white men make money during recoveries; poor black
and brown people lose money. Under the cover of disaster, wealth is
redistributed upwards.

Indeed, climate catastrophes provide opportunities to create even more
inequality. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, the federal
government suspended the Davis-Bacon Act and affirmative action in
contracting, while New Orleans decertified the teachers union—all
under the cover of disaster recovery.

But workers and communities have opportunities as well. After Katrina,
and since, movements for just recovery and equitable rebuilding have
emerged. After Superstorm Sandy hit New York, the New York State
Nurses Association contributed labor and resources to helping
neighbors. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the teachers unions
did the same. The impulse to provide aid and alleviate immediate
suffering can be translated into long-term engagement that can lead to
more-egalitarian structural change.

Communities seeking to rewrite the rules of disaster response to
achieve greater resilience and equity can begin by drafting a
“disaster recovery bill of rights” to inform and help move
“contracts for recovery” for workers and local communities. These
contracts for recovery could be drafted collaboratively by local
unions in the public or private sector in partnership with community
organizations and pushed for adoption in contract bargaining campaigns
and at the municipal, county, or state level of government. They could
include a set of protections for workers and community members, such
as the right to living wages for cleanup workers and the right to
return home for residents without eviction or job loss. They could
establish local water or land use codes by local entities. They could
also help to ensure a just transition for workers who face job loss
and communities that are economically devastated by plant or factory
closures. Fighting for these new rules for recovery locally through
BCG campaigns could coincide with and reinforce ongoing union
legislative efforts to expand the social safety net, including more
public money in unemployment insurance and food stamps, new social
supports such as universal health care coverage, and a public jobs
program, as well as protections of tribal sovereignty—much-needed
before a disaster, and all the more necessary after. These new
rules—or disaster recovery rights—could also reinvent housing,
transportation, education, environmental impact monitoring, and health
care systems to serve working-class and tribal communities.

BUILDING CLIMATE SOLIDARITY

Although there has been a decline in density, unions still bargain in
several key sectors of the economy. By broadening labor’s standing
demands for worker health and safety to include climate justice
concerns, BCG campaigns can open an important new front for
challenging the financial institutions and corporate actors that are
driving the dual crisis of climate and inequality.

Bringing environmental and racial justice, tribal communities, and
community partners into the union bargaining process can help labor
build worker power, revitalize the U.S. labor movement, and address
broader societal problems that have not been resolved through legal or
governmental processes. It will also allow for deep education and
engagement with union members. By organizing locally and nationally in
unions—across all sectors and industries—and using the collective
bargaining process as a powerful tool, we can transform the discourse
and ultimately the policy of the labor movement and generate support
for important efforts such as the Green New Deal. Most important, we
can flip the narrative and make workers and communities not the
victims of climate catastrophe, but the protagonists in the struggle
for a just, democratic, and truly sustainable world.

_[Todd E. Vachon is a fellow with the Center for Innovation in Worker
Organization and on the faculty at the School of Management and Labor
Relations at Rutgers University; Gerry Hudson is secretary-treasurer
of the Service Employees International Union; Judith LeBlanc is
director of the Native Organizers Alliance; and Saket Soni is the
executive director of Resilience Force and the National Guestworker
Alliance.]_

_Thanks to the authors for sending this to Portside._

_Used with the permission. © The American Prospect
[https://prospect.org/], 2019. All rights reserved._

_Support the American Prospect
Click here [https://prospect.org/donate] to support the Prospect's
brand of independent impact journalism. _

_Read the original article at the American Prospect
[https://prospect.org/article/how-workers-can-demand-climate-justice]._

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