Harvard scholars propose labour law reforms including the right to bargain over our shared environment

clean slate coverClean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy  is a far-reaching analysis and set of recommendations for labour law reform, released in January 2020 by the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program.  Its purpose is to offer “an intervention that promises to help stop the vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of economic and political inequality. By proposing a fundamental redesign of labor law, we aspire to enable working people to create the collective economic and political power necessary to build an equitable economy and politics.” The report – the result of discussions with 70  academics, union leaders, workers, activists and others over a period of two years – offers detailed and specific recommendations for changes to labour laws in the U.S., starting with the fundamental premise that “Labor law reform must start with inclusion to ensure that all workers can build power and to address systemic racial and gender oppression.” In its long list of recommendations comes basic freedoms such as the right to organize and protection from strikebreaking, as well as more innovative proposals for sectoral bargaining, worker representation on company boards, support for digital organizing and cyber-picketing – and of most interest to those working for environmental  progress –  this recommendation:

“Workers deserve a voice in the issues that are important to them and their communities….To ensure that workers can bargain over the corporate decisions that impact their lives, Clean Slate recommends that the new labor law: • Expand the range of collective bargaining subjects to include any subjects that are important to workers and over which employers have control, including decisions about the basic direction of the firm and employers’ impact on communities and our shared environment.” 

More detail comes on page 69, where the report states:

“Accordingly, and taking inspiration from the Bargaining for the Common Good movement, Clean Slate recommends that when an employer has influence beyond the workplace over subject matters that have major impacts on workers’ communities, such as pollution and housing, the bargaining obligation ought to extend beyond the terms and conditions of employment and encompass these “community impact” subjects. Moreover, when bargaining over community impact subjects, the workers’ organization involved in collective bargaining should have the right to bring community organizations—those with members and expertise in the relevant area—to the bargaining table. … for example, the worker organization would be entitled to bring community environmental justice groups to bargain over pollution controls and abatement and to bring housing groups and tenants unions to bargain over affordable housing development.”

Clean Slate for Worker Power is a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, led by Professor Benjamin Sachs and  Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program.  The 15-page Executive Summary is here ; the 132-page full report is here  .  The report is summarized by noted labour journalist and author Steven Greenhouse in  “Overhaul US labor laws to boost workers’ power, new report urges”  in The Guardian (Jan. 23), and also in “‘Clean slate for worker power’ promotes a fair and inclusive U.S. economy” from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth  (Jan. 29), which includes links to a range of academic articles related to the Clean Slate proposals. The authors are interviewed about the Clean Slate framework in a Harvard press release here.

U.K. energy workforce will need 400,000 workers to reach net-zero emissions by 2050

building the net zero workforceThe U.K. has a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. A new report,  Building the Net Zero Workforce , forecasts the likely employment and skills impacts of that goal for the energy industry, assuming that it will require a 50% increase in low carbon electricity generation; installation of low carbon heating systems in approximately 2.8 million homes; installation of  60,000 charging points to power 11 million electric vehicles (EVs); and development of  carbon capture usage and storage technology as well as hydrogen networks  – all by 2030. 

To accomplish all this, the report projects that the energy industry will need to recruit for 400,000 jobs between 2020 and 2050 – 260,000 in new roles, and 140,000 to replace those who will be leaving in what is an anticipated retirement crunch. The report forecasts both time dimensions and regional needs, concluding that jobs will be available in all regions of  the U.K. and for a diverse range of skills, “from scientists and engineers, to communications professionals and data specialists.”  More specifically,  “The roles included in this analysis are those involved in the operation, generation, transmission, distribution and retail of energy in the UK, as well as those in the supply chain related to building, upgrading, maintaining or operating infrastructure required to reach net zero.”

The report emphasizes the role of young people and a need to encourage women in STEM professions.  In general, there is a need for training and re-training for the emerging technologies such as AI. The report notes, without details, that : “ By investing in retention and retraining, and working collaboratively with government and unions, the sector can help ensure a fair energy transition, one in which workers of all ages and backgrounds and from every community in the UK can play their part.”

The report was written by an independent research company, Development Economics, under a commission by National Grid, a U.K. organization which owns and operates electricity transmission in parts of the U.K., and invests £7.5 million per year in training.

Sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for climate change research

A new and innovative study measures the problem of underfunded social science research into climate change.  “Misallocation of climate research funding“addresses an important issue, since the social sciences seek to understand human and societal attitudes, norms, incentives, and policies – without which understanding, scientific facts seem insufficient to motivate change.  The authors analyzed a new dataset of research grants awarded in 37 countries, including Canada, from 1950 to 2021- a database which represents a cumulative budget of $1.3 trillion U.S.  Included in the category of social sciences research grants were those relevant to the world of work: economics, sociology, business and management, psychology, and law.

The researchers report that:

“Between 1990 and 2018, the natural and technical sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for research on issues related to climate change. Only 0.12% of all research funding was spent on the social science of climate mitigation.”  Even the countries identified as spending the most on social science climate research in absolute terms—the UK, the USA, and Germany—spent between 500% and 1200% more on climate research in the natural and technical sciences than on social sciences.

The authors discuss the challenges and potential solutions to promote and improve social science research, including:

  • Funding for climate mitigation needs to match the magnitude of the threat and the narrow window of opportunity for dealing with it.
  • There is a need for better global coordination and oversight of funding for climate research….most obviously, this could reduce redundancy and serve as a mechanism for research teams to identify synergies and possible collaborators.
  • More rigorous social science research is needed…the authors state “Brandt et al. noted that methods were often chosen based on familiarity or specialization of the researchers involved, rather than their suitability for a given research question.”
  • Better alignment with emissions sources and trends… “Some of the funding for climate change-related social science research follows the thematic logic of natural science funding, which does not necessarily fit the social sciences.”
  • Climate change is a global challenge, and therefore, the authors advocate the  use of  “the problem, challenge, or mission-based approach”. They use the example of one such project,  the Global Challenges Research Fund in the United Kingdom, which asked “How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?”. They urge putting research into the context of challenging, “big picture”questions,  to promote “focused but interdisciplinary social science work.”

Misallocation of climate research funding” is available online now as an Open Access article, and  will appear in print in the April 2020 issue of Energy Research and Social Science. It describes the details of the database analysis  and lists the funding agencies from 37 countries, which included all major member states of the OECD,  as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. The relatively few agencies listed from Canada are overwhelmingly science and health –related, with the notable exceptions of the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research (ACCFCR), and by far the largest, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), acw-logo-transparent-copy which funds the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW ) research project.

Clean Energy B.C. : reports reflect little progress in jobs and training; new Climate Solutions Council appointed

cleanbc logoAt the showcase Global 2020 conference in Vancouver on February 10, the government of British Columbia released the  2019 CleanBC Climate Change Accountability Report, titled Building a Cleaner, Stronger  B.C.. The report  is a comprehensive summary of the policies under the Clean BC plan, especially focused on energy efficiency in the built environment, waste management,  and electrification of transportation. Amongst the statistical indicators reported: The carbon intensity of B.C’s economy has gone down 19% over the last 10 years while jobs  in the environmental and clean tech sectors have doubled. The report provides detailed emission forecasts and breakdowns by sector. Ironically, given the current Canada-wide protests in solidarity with the Coastal GasLink dispute with the Wet’suwet’en people,  Section 7 highlights co-operative relations with Indigenous People.  Section 4 reports on the oil and gas industry.

Jobs and job training under Clean BC: 

The 2019 Accountability Report  briefly mentions the “CleanBC Job Readiness Plan”, for which consultations were held for one month, in November 2019 (discussions archived here) . It states: “Our job readiness plan will respond to feedback from stakeholders, assessments of labour market conditions and economic trends in a low-carbon economy—providing a framework for sector-specific actions and guiding investments in skills training. Consultations will continue into 2020.” The named sectors of interest are: clean buildings and construction, energy efficiency, transportation, waste management, sustainable tourism, sustainability education, and urban planning.

Indicators to measure “affordability, rural development, the clean economy and clean jobs, reconciliation and gender equality ” are promised for future reports.  Until then, there there are no statistical measures of the impact of the CleanBC policies on jobs, incomes, or workers.  In Appendix A, which summarizes current initiatives and their GHG emissions reduction impact, the category of “Economic Transition” does not measure jobs or income. Another sector- specific chart in Appendix A includes the category:  “Helping people get the skills they need”, but it does not quantify how that would impact GHG emissions reduction, and  consists of two entries: • “Develop programs like Energy Step Code training and certification, and Certified Retrofit Professional accreditation • Expand job training for electric and other zero-emission vehicles.”  Elsewhere in the text, two programs are briefly highlighted:  the new EV Maintenance Training Program at B.C. Institute of Technology, and the Sustainable energy engineering program at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.  On page 64, the report highlights skills training programs for small business, citing the BC Tech Co-op Grant, ( up to $10,800 for hiring new coop students in clean tech).

Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council releases a final report and recommendations to end its mandate; New Climate Solutions Council appointed

The February 10 government press release also announced the appointment of a new Climate Solutions Council to act as an independent advisor, and to track progress on Clean BC Phase 2.  The new Council replaces the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, which completed its 2-year mandate at the end of 2019 with the publication of a final report and recommendations, here . While attention now shifts to the new Council, the detailed recommendations of the original Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council merit consideration – although they reflect a primary concern with business, and particularly natural resources (worth noting here: the Council was co-chaired by the Senior VP, Sustainability & External Affairs of Teck Resources – the same company whose controversial Frontier oil sands mine project in Alberta is awaiting a  federal cabinet decision in February 2020.)   The voice of labour comes through most clearly in the Recommendations regarding the proposed Implementation Plan (p. 7), which calls  for “ Stronger focus on just transition planning, including the Labour Readiness Plan: Government needs a stronger plan for labour readiness and adjustment. This would take the form of more funding and details regarding the assessment, timeline, output and desired outcomes, and the Ministry or Ministries responsible.” The Council also notes that “enduring support will necessitate ongoing engagement with Indigenous and nonIndigenous communities, industry, civil society, youth and young adults, organized labour, and utilities.”

The new Climate Solutions Council  is Co-chaired by Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, and Colleen Giroux-Schmidt, vice-president of Corporate Relations, Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.  Along with environmentalists, First Nations, and academics such as Marc Jaccard and Nancy Olewiler, the new Climate Solutions Council includes Labour representation by David Black, (President of MoveUP), and  Danielle (DJ) Pohl , (President of the Fraser Valley Labour Council).  Industry representatives include Tom Syer, (Head of Government Affairs , Teck Resources),  Skye McConnell, (Manager of Policy and Advocacy, Shell Canada), and Kurt Niquidet, (Vice-President of the Council of Forest Industries).  All members are listed and profiled here  .

Toronto Labour Council’s new Plan of Engagement for Unions shares sample climate change resolutions

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council approved its 2020-2022 Strategic Plan in November of 2019, as announced in a press release in January, and in full here.  Continuing  the Labour Council’s longstanding leadership on climate justice,  Plan item #3 is “Tackle climate change”, which states that the Labour Council will:

  • Work to counter the efforts to sabotage climate action by polluters and conservative politicians, including their “carbon tax revolt” which is promoted by Conservative premiers and climate change deniers
  •  Establish a climate justice labour network
  •  Provide educational material to highlight the real cost of inaction by governments and businesses, and get young members engaged by using new, creative approaches
  •  Continue to work in coalition with key environmental organizations including youth and student-led groups
  •  Work with affiliates, local governments and school boards to adopt serious climate action policies
  •  Continue promoting the creation of Joint Labour-Management Environment Committees and ask affiliates to bargain for their establishment
  •  Help to popularize the key elements of a Green New Deal for All.

Our_Unions_and_Climate_Justice_iconPutting these goals into action, the Labour Council hosted its 2nd Climate Justice Network Roundtable on February 12.  It  also released a 3-page Plan of Engagement for Unions  which includes the a sample climate change resolution for affiliate unions, and a sample resolution to take to convention. The sample resolution for affiliates is also published ( page 17) in the Winter 2020 issue of the Labour Council’s magazine, Labour Action .

The sample resolution asks affiliate unions to join the fight for climate justice through the following actions:

  • Ask the employer to detail their plans to climate-proof the workplace;
  • Bargain contract language on climate, and a union role in sustainability;
  • Seek the establishment of Joint Workplace Environment Committees;
  • Establish training programs for members to be actively involved in greening the workplace;
  • Utilize an equity lens to ensure new job opportunities benefit all of our communities;
  • Engage in campaigns for climate justice – including Just Transition legislation for workers and communities impacted by changes to a low-carbon economy;
  • Support public services that deliver quality programs and good jobs while ensuring public control and operation.

Also in the Winter issue of Labour Action : a profile on page 16 of the many activities of the Labour Council’s  Labour Education Centre , which include a strong component of training programs for  climate change literacy.  In addition, the LEC has researched Just Transition experiences after closing of coal-fired electricity plants in Alberta, Australia and Ontario, and is publishing those results. Finally, LEC continues to support a Joint Labour Management Committee at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) that has made a number of recommendations to dramatically decrease the GHG emissions in the Board.

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council  shares climate justice resources at a dedicated website, including social media shareables, links to articles and documents such as the pioneering 2016 Greenprint , and all the documents mentioned above.