SEIU cleaners stage the first union-authorized climate strike in the U.S.

Strike logo yellowTo launch his new column,  Strike: Jeremy Brecher’s Corner at the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) website, Jeremy Brecher  began with the theme “The Future of Climate Strikes”.  On February 29 , he posted “First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike?” (re-published in Common Dreams as  “Did we just witness the first union-authorized climate strike in the United States?”). The article describes a one day strike on February 27 by members of Service Employees International Union Local 26 , employed by over a dozen different subcontractors to clean corporate buildings in Minneapolis.  He states that it is, “as far as I have been able to discover, the very first—union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands. ”

Brecher gives voice to many of the low-wage and immigrant workers who are the backbone of the strike, and traces their climate activism back to 2009, when Local 26 won contract language:  to establish an Ad Hoc Committee of union and company representatives at each company, to “review the use of green chemicals”, to provide training to employees on the “use, mixing and storage” of cleaning chemicals, and that “The employer “shall make every effort to use only green, sustainable cleaning products where possible.”  The SEIU Local 26 collective agreement for 2016-2019 is here , with climate-related clause 18.13 on pages 39-40.  Other examples of clauses related to toxic chemicals in Canadian collective agreements are available from the ACW Green Agreements database here ; clauses regarding green procurement are here , and the full searchable database of 240 clauses  is here .

seiu strikeAlthough the main focus of  First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike?  is on the climate-related demands, the strike is also important for its success in coalition-building and community support. Brecher characterizes it as exemplary of the growing trend toward “Bargaining for the Common Good, ” as outlined in a September 2019 article in The American Prospect , “How Workers Can Demand Climate Justice”  .  An article by Steve Payne reported on the broader community justice issues in the strike in “Twin Cities Janitors and Guards Feature Climate and Housing in Their Strike Demands” in Labor Notes (Feb. 20) .

UPDATE: 

Since Brecher’s article, 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.

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.

Strong community advocacy brings landmark climate legislation to New York State

New YorK RenewsOn June 18, the New York State Assembly passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act   – what the New York Times calls  “one of the world’s most ambitious carbon plans” (June 18) . Originally tabled in 2016 as the Climate and Community Protection Act , the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  The final legislation was a compromise – stripped of measures on prevailing wages, apprenticeship programs, preferences for women- and minority-owned businesses, and investment for disadvantaged communities. The NY Renews coalition, comprised of  unions, community and environmental groups issued a statement  which reads, in part: “Ultimately, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a partial victory for New Yorkers. The fight for true climate justice demands transformative change, and we will bring that fight until our communities win…We stand strong knowing that as recently as last week, the Governor dismissed any funding for frontline communities, and in his Climate Leadership Act, refused to set a timeline for economy-wide emission reductions. This new legislation does both, and that is a direct result of years of tireless organizing by the members of the NY Renews coalition.”

New York Is About to Pass One of the Most Ambitious Climate Bills in the Land” in The Nation (June 19)  describes the political battles and compromises involved, and states “the real heroes of the fight for the CCPA are the hundreds of protesters who stormed the state Capitol on a recent Tuesday in June, and the dozens who staged a “die-in” outside the governor’s office to illustrate the consequences of failing to pass climate legislation.”  An article by David Roberts in Vox (June 20) also summarizes the nitty gritty of the bill and its evolution.

Planning under the new legislation will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council, composed of the heads of various New York state agencies, along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly. The Council will convene advisory panels on, for example, transportation, land use and local government, and will also convene working groups on Just Transition and Climate Justice.

Climate apartheid and chaos – U.N. official warns that only the rich will escape poverty, disease and displacement

mumbai floods 2019It appears that Greta Thunberg is not the only person willing to speak truth to power. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights for the United Nations, officially tabled a report at the U.N. on June 28.  Although the title, Climate Change and Poverty, sounds like another bureaucratic exercise, his language is urgent and blunt.

The full report is available from this link at the U.N. press release.   Some excerpts :

 

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. …It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work….

We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer… The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex…

…Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and pull vast numbers into poverty. Addressing climate change will require a fundamental shift in the global economy, decoupling improvements in economic well-being from fossil fuel emissions. It is imperative this is done in a way that provides necessary support, protects workers, and creates decent work.

Governments, and too many in the human rights community, have failed to seriously address climate change for decades. Somber speeches by government officials have not led to meaningful action and too many countries continue taking short-sighted steps in the wrong direction…..Although climate change has been on the human rights agenda for well over a decade, it remains a marginal concern for most actors. Yet it represents an emergency without precedent and requires bold and creative thinking from the human rights community, and a radically more robust, detailed, and coordinated approach.

… incremental managerialism and proceduralism ..are entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat. Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster.”

Summaries from the media appear in: “To Prevent ‘Climate Apartheid Scenario’ Where Rich Escape and Poor Suffer, UN Report Issues Urgent Call for Global Economic Justice” in Common Dreams (June 25) and  “‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive” in The Guardian .

The potential of worker ownership to finance Just Transition – and other inspiring Canadian examples

briarpatch special issueSaskatchewan’s Briarpatch magazine has published a Special Issue on Just Transition. It is a treasure trove of inspiring on-the-ground perspectives and information from Canadians working for an economic  Just Transition. 

All the articles are worth reading, but here are some highlights:

How will we pay for a Just Transition”   expresses doubt that we can rely on the usual government policies to finance meaningful transition – for example, it reviews the One Million Climate Jobs campaign of the Green Economy Network and the inadequate response by the Trudeau government.  Instead, the article provides examples of more innovative models of worker ownership and cooperation which support redistribution of wealth and financial capital. First,  The Working World, which launched in 2015 in Buenos Aires to finance employee ownership of non-extractive businesses, and now administers a “financial commons” Peer Network .  The Working World has inspired other projects, such as the Just Transition Loan Fund and Incubator and the Reinvest in Our Power projects , being launched by the U.S. Climate Justice Alliance . The article discusses the role of philanthropy, specifically the U.S. Chorus Foundation, which states that it “works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.” In Canada, a much smaller similar philanthropic initiative is the Resource Movement,  a project of Tides Canada, which gathers “ young people with wealth and class privilege working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power.” 

Other articles: