Updated: U.S. Labour views on climate strikes and the Green New Deal

Speakers, listed here, addressed the issues of Just Transition, the Green New Deal, public ownership of energy production, and an appropriate role for labour in climate activism at the New York Labor History Association Annual Spring Conference on May 11, under the banner  “Taking the Lead: Labor and Global Warming: Our History, Activism and Challenge”.  “New Calls for a General Strike in the Face of Coming Climate Catastrophe” appeared in the Labor Press (May 13) (re-posted to Portside on May 22) , summarizing some of the discussion, especially the statement by Bruce Hamilton, VP of the  Amalgamated Transit Union, that a general strike “should never be taken off the table”.  The article notes that “A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does not exist inside organized labor.”  On May 30, Portside published  a lengthly compilation of “Reader Responses”  , both pro and con, about using a general strike as a tactic.  (Note that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for  “a day of global action on climate change” on June 26 as part of their  Climate Proof our Work campaign   , and the Fridays for Future student strike movement has called for a worldwide general strike by adults and youth for September 20).

Union differences  around the Green New Deal have been noted before in the WCR:  in “Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal” (May 14) , and “AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal” (Mar 14). On May 22, “The Green New Deal is fracturing a critical base for Democrats: unions” appeared in Vox, providing  a broad overview of national and state-level examples.

Service Employees International Union endorses GND: On June 6, the Service Employees International Union issued a press release announcing that the International Executive Board had passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal , which states in part: “the Green New Deal supports the right of all workers to have unions, no matter where they work; makes unions central to accomplishing the ambitious goal of an environmentally responsible and economically just society; and commits to providing universal healthcare and a good, union job with family-sustaining wages
and benefits for everyone who wants one.”   The Resolution affirms the goals of the GND, commits to political action, and to cooperation with other advocacy partners in environmental,  immigrant, health care,  and economic justice movements.

On the issue of transitions, it states:

4. “SEIU stands in solidarity with all in the labor movement who share our desire to create family-sustaining union jobs and a healthy and safe environment. Workers who have built and are dependent upon the fossil fuel industry must have:

  • a. Access to good union jobs, training and advancement if their current jobs cease to exist;
  • b. Guaranteed pensions and a bridge of wage support and healthcare until impacted workers find comparable employment or reach retirement;
  • c. Financial support for local community public services during a transition period

Green New Deal and Labour in California:  There is support for the Green New Deal  in polling the green new dealCalifornia – as evidenced by “Packed Bay Area Convergence on Climate Plans for Green New Deal” and other articles  in the Green New Deal compilation by the Labor Network for SustainabilityYet “Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California”  appeared in Politico, focusing on the opposition to the Los Angeles Green New Deal announced on April 29, chiefly by California’s building trades unions.  Those unions fear job loss and the costs members may face from higher gas taxes, as well as congestion pricing for tolls on freeways during rush hour. They have differed with environmentalists in the past over environmental justice and pollution regulation at the State level .  In “The Green New Deal- Be-labored?” in Resilience (May 11) and originally in Civil Notion, author Joel Stronberg describes the California divide in even greater detail and quotes a professor from Loyola Law School, who assesses that “the Green New Deal…divides the Democrats on a fault line, which is more of the elites against the working class Democrats who are concerned about losing their jobs.”  Stronberg also states that the Association of Flight Attendants is a second union which has endorsed the Green New Deal, and cites a recent survey by Data for Progress between March 30 and April 7, 2019 which measured union members’ (not leadership) attitudes. According to Stronberg, it shows 52 percent of current union members approve of the Green New Deal, 22 percent were opposed,  21 percent didn’t know about it, and five percent were neutral.

Canadian unions:  In Canada, unions have not yet been as vocal about the Green New Deal – although “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal: The Canadian Connection” in The Tyee (June 3) describes the close ties between the U.S. GND and Canadians Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein of The Leap.    Some unions have endorsed the uniquely-Canadian Pact for a Green New Deal – and the United Steelworkers  have endorsed the New Democratic Party’s newly announced climate change platform  – Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs .

Are the media getting the message? Mainstream media begin to cover the climate emergency – updated

Re-written on May 28 to include an article appearing in The Tyee: “Dear Journalists of Canada: Start Reporting Climate Change as an Emergency” .


The traditional media have been criticized for their indifference to the climate change issue – recently, in the Columbia Journalism Review, “The media are complacent while the world burns”, and in The Tyee,  “Dear Journalists of Canada: Start Reporting Climate Change as an Emergency”. 

Both article refer to a  Media Matters report that only 22 of the 50 largest newspapers in the U.S. even bothered to cover the landmark IPCC Report in October 2018. The article in The Tyee is presented as an open letter to media owners and journalists, and reports the author’s own search of  Canadian Newsstream — a database which covers 569 different English language news sources – mostly newspapers, as well as national evening news broadcasts by CBC and CTV television.  Giving examples, he identifies problems of lack of climate change coverage, failure to provide local context about international stories, and failure to seek accountability in story coverage. Finally, he calls upon Canadian journalists “to do these five things: properly placecovercontextualize, and localize the biggest story of our time, and hold public and private institutions to account for their actions and inactions on climate change.”

Improvements are on the way:    The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.  has been called  “one of the best-respected and most widely used international sources of information on the crises of the climate and the natural world” by Climate Home News.  In April 2019, The Guardian became the first newspaper to publish global carbon dioxide levels on its daily weather pages, and on May 17, it announced that it has updated its internal Style Guide to better reflect the reality and depth of the climate emergency. Now, instead of using the term  “climate change” in its reports,  the preferred terms will be “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown”. Other changes:  “global heating” rather than “global warming” and “climate science denier” rather than “climate sceptic”. In its explanation, Editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner is quoted as saying:  “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

In a follow-up report by The Guardian,  the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is cited as the furthest along amongst traditional news outlets (including the New York Times and Washington Post)  in adopting The Guardian’s  language:  “Senior CBC management told staff they were able to use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” when covering the wide-ranging impacts of temperature rises around the world.”  On CBC Radio, the host of Metro Morning interviewed a spokesperson from The Guardian on this issue here (9:34 minutes audio). Although the CBC guidance is permissive rather than prescriptive, it hardly seems possible to avoid the term “climate emergency”, when  the parliaments of both the federal and the Ontario government formally debated declaring a “climate emergency” in May, and municipalities across the country have already done so (over 300 municipalities in Quebec alone).

Most recently, the Toronto Star began a new newsletter series in May, Undeniable: Canada’s Changing Climate . So far, topics have included: “Toronto’s Ninja Storm” (re the 2018 flooding) (May 21); “Life and Death Under the Dome”  (when 66 Montrealers died in a heat wave)  (May 23) ;  and “Open for Business” (May 27) (re mining in Ontario’s North) . Much more to come from The Star, which has previously collaborated with the  National Observer, Global News, the Michener Awards Foundation, the Corporate Mapping Project and four journalism schools on a special investigative series, The Price of Oil, regarding the impacts of the oil and gas industry on Canadian communities.

Finally, the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation announced a new international initiative in late April,  the Covering Climate Now project, which  aims to improve the media’s coverage of “the most  urgent story of our time” . The project  “will provide substantial resource guides for journalists, tutorials, source lists, and web briefings; we’ll gather the best of climate coverage in an online blog, and provide commentary on how other reporters can replicate it; and we will increase our own reporting on how news outlets are covering the climate crisis, highlighting what is working and calling out what isn’t.”  The first big goal: to organize a  week of concentrated climate coverage beginning September 16,  in the lead-up to the UN climate Summit in New York City on September 23. They’ll have lots to cover, now that 350.org is also organizing a one-day global strike for September 20.

 

298,000 workers in Canada’s clean energy sector in 2017 according to new Navius report

missing the bigger pictureReleased on May 23, Missing the Bigger Picture: Tracking the Energy Revolution 2019  summarizes research commissioned by Clean Energy Canada and conducted by Navius Research.  The report emphasizes the healthy growth of Canada’s clean energy sector – which employed 298,000 people in 2017, representing 2% of Canadian employment.  Between 2010 and 2017, the number of clean energy jobs grew by 2.2% a year, economic value grew by  4.8% per year (compared to 3.6% for the economy as a whole), and investment in the sector went up by 70%.  The 15-page report calls the clean energy sector “the mountain in our midst”, emphasizing that it includes many industries, all provinces, and defining it broadly as “companies and jobs that help to reduce carbon pollution— whether by creating clean energy, helping move it, reducing energy consumption, or making low-carbon technologies.”  The findings report includes “sector spotlights” for:  electric vehicles, batteries and energy storage, wind power, and building control and HVAC systems.

The accompanying, 118-page report by Navius Consulting explains the methodology and presents the details of employment, economic value, and investment.  Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: An assessment of clean energy investment, value added and jobs  ranks “Clean transport” as the largest employer, with 171,000 jobs in 2017 – 111,000 of those in transit. Jobs in renewable and alternative energy supply grew from 54,000 to 60,000 between 2010 and 2017.   The report also states that the clean buildings sector employed only 19,000 people in 2017, mostly  in green architecture and construction services.

Eco Canada Energy-Efficiency coverDefinitions are clearly important to this issue. The Navius technical report provides details about its definitions and methodology, including the use of the gTech energy economy model.  This will no doubt be required reading in order to compare these findings with those of  Energy Efficiency Employment in Canada, the April report from Eco Canada, which estimated that Canada’s energy efficiency goods and services sector directly employed an estimated 436,000 permanent workers in 2018 (summarized by WCR here ).

 

 

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice vow to persist despite defeat of their resolution and snub by Jeff Bezos

In the end, approximately 7,700 Amazon employees publicly signed their names to an employee-shareholder resolution calling for stronger climate change action by the company, as well as worker protection in situations related to extreme weather disasters. The entire Board opposed the resolution (and all other shareholder resolutions presented at the meeting), despite the strong employee support and the endorsement by two of the largest proxy advisory firms in the U.S., which cited the financial and reputational risks from being heavily dependent on cheap fossil fuels.  “Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos challenged on climate change. Here’s how shareholders voted on it and other issues” in the Seattle Times  is full, business-like news account of the meeting, including that Amazon intends to release its carbon footprint later in 2019, and that it intends to meet the net zero carbon emissions goals of  the Shipment Zero initiative largely through direct emission cuts, not through buying carbon offsets. However, according to “Jeff Bezos Wouldn’t Even Come On Stage to Listen to His Employees Who Want Amazon to Address Climate Change” in Gizmodo, Bezos and other executives dodged most climate-related questions in the Q&A at the end of the meeting.

Amazon employees 2The group leading the climate resolution, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, issued their own press release about the meeting, which states: “Because the Board still does not understand the severity of the climate crisis, we will file this resolution again next year. And we will announce other actions in the coming months. We – Amazon’s employees – have the talent and experience to remake entire industries with incredible speed. This is work we want to do.”  Follow further developments at the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice Twitter feed .

Tellingly, Jeff Bezos declined the direct invitation of one of the leaders to join her on stage as she introduced the resolution,  a fact which has been widely reported, not only by Gizmodo , but also in “World’s Richest Man Jeff Bezos Hides Backstage as Amazon Workers Demand ‘Bold, Rapid’ Climate Action” in Common Dreams and even in “Jeff Bezos blew off Amazon employees’ proposal at the shareholder’s meeting and they were miffed: ‘This is not the kind of leadership we need‘” in Business Insider.  

Other, briefer reports of the meeting appeared in The Guardian ,  Los Angeles Times   and in Vox .

The clean economy workforce in the U.S. and proposals to make it more inclusive

brookingsclean-energy-jobs_wages Figure2-finalAdvancing inclusion through clean energy jobs  is a report  released  by the Brookings Institution in April 2019,  with a goal to determine “ the degree to which the clean energy economy provides labor market opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups, with a particular focus on equity”.  It examines a range of occupations, not just the traditionally-identified “green jobs”,  identifying approximately 320 unique occupations in three major industrial sectors: clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management.  The report includes detailed discussion of its methodology and data sources, and emphasizes the size of the clean energy economy and its potential to make an impact on the equity of the U.S. labour market.

Some highlights about the “nature” and “ quality” of clean energy economy jobs:

  • Workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable wages when compared to all workers nationally. Mean hourly wages exceed national averages by 8 to 19 percent.
  • Roughly 50 percent of workers in the clean energy economy have a high school diploma yet earn higher wages than similarly-educated peers in other industries – for example, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.
  • Some occupations within the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors require greater scientific knowledge and technical skills than the average American job.
  • The clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally. Fewer than 20 percent of workers in the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors are women, while black workers fill less than ten percent of these sector’s jobs.

In the accompanying press release , first author Mark Muro states: “Clean energy occupations are varied, accessible to workers without a bachelor’s degree, and good paying, but they are not yet as inclusive as they should be. To deliver on the sectors’ full promise for economic inclusion, more work needs to be done in front-line communities to ensure under-represented communities and women are more widely included.”  The report concludes with  proposals directed at state and local policy makers, education and training sector leaders, and community organizations.  Broadly, the policy proposals include: “modernizing and emphasizing energy science curricula, improving the alignment of education and training offerings, and reaching underrepresented workers and students.”