A Workers Climate Plan, submitted to the federal government its climate change consultations in September, was more publicly launched on November 1 at a solar panel installation training facility in Edmonton, Alberta. The report by Iron and Earth is much more than a publicity stunt: it offers serious policy suggestions, and also “gives voice to the workers” by reporting the results of a survey of opinions of Alberta’s energy sector workers.
The Plan is based on four months of consultation with workers and stakeholder groups in the West, and on the analysis of the more than one thousand responses to an opinion survey conducted online from June to August 2016. These survey responses challenge the stereotype of the oil sands worker: for example, 59% of energy sector workers are actually willing to take some kind of pay cut to transition to renewable energy; 63 % of respondents said they could shift to renewable projects “directly with some training” and another 16 % said they could shift without any need for retraining; 69% of energy sector workers agree or strongly agree that Canada should make a 100% transition to renewable energy by 2050; 71% believe climate change is the biggest threat facing the global community.
On the policy side, the Workers’ Climate Plan focuses on the need for upskilling for the energy sector workforce; more manufacturing capacity for renewable energy in Canada; support for contractors and unions that want to transition to renewables; and the integration of renewable technologies into existing energy projects. As well, the Plan states: “as we advocate for a just transition of workers into the renewable energy sector, we must also uphold our obligations to First Nations by aligning our campaigns at Iron & Earth with the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
The Plan says this about the role of unions:”At Iron & Earth we think it is vital that existing energy sector unions are positioned within Canada’s developing renewable energy sector, and take a leading role in the design and implementation of Canada’s transition to renewable energy. The views of unions and associations such as IBEW, IBB, UA, Unifor, USWA, CLC, CUPE, and CAW, among others, on a wide range of issues, including sector regulations, training and employment legislation, will be key in developing a viable strategy to position existing energy sector workers in renewable energy.”
Iron and Earth was founded in 2015 as a platform for oil sands workers to engage in renewable energy development issues, especially retraining. From their website: “Our intention is not to shut down the oilsands, but to see they are managed more sustainably while developing our renewable energy resources more ambitiously. ” The membership includes workers from a variety of industrial trades, including boilermakers, electricians, pipe fitters, ironworkers, and labourers, and has spread beyond Alberta to include an East Coast chapter in Newfoundland.