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.

Just Transition and Green New Deal as policy and bargaining issues for Unifor

unifor logoAccording to their website, “Unifor is Canada’s largest oil, gas and chemical sector union, representing over 11,800 members in nearly every province, from offshore platforms off Newfoundland’s outer banks to Suncor in Alberta’s oil sands; from energy crown corporations in Saskatchewan to private refineries in every region of Canada.”

The union’s 3rd Constitutional Convention was held in Quebec City in August , gathering delegates to debate Resolutions , including Resolution #5, submitted by the autoworkers of  Local 222 in the Oshawa area regarding a Worker’s Green New Deal…“defined as “a massive government jobs program and investment in clean energy, green technology and electrification.” A Workers’ Green New Deal must include just transition protection for workers whose jobs are affected and fair labour standards. BECAUSE: • This program meets the needs of and has the potential to unite the labour movement, environmentalists and all those who have been the victims of inequality, discrimination, racism and now, climate change. ….”

and Resolution #21 regarding Just Transition, submitted by the energy workers of Local 707A from Fort McMurray, Alberta:  “…..UNIFOR NATIONAL WILL: 1. Launch and promote a nationally-coordinated awareness and action campaign that will include: a. Awareness materials to the attention of Unifor members explaining the idea of just transition and how it can apply to workers in Canada today to build a more sustainable, fair future for working people with workers at the table when planning for a Just Transition to a regenerative economy. b. A call to all levels of governments to: i. support strategic investments in infrastructure, ii. A recognition of climate change needs and a commitment to meeting international greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, iii. A national strategy on Just Transition for workers c. Unifor’s inaugural Just Transition Conference scheduled for September, 2019 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 2. Encourage all local unions to take part in the campaign in solidarity with Unifor’s energy workers in all provinces…”

Just as the resolutions regarding Green New Deal and Just Transition call for advocacy and action campaigns, the 50-page Collective Bargaining Program approved at the Convention deals with these issues not as bargaining priorities, but as policy challenges: “…we demand that governments: • Bolster our public health care and education systems; • Secure industries and workplaces most vulnerable to ongoing trade disputes; • Establish more rigorous income assistance and just transition supports for workers adjusting to labour market changes (including those that are climate-related) (italics added by WCR); • Invest in public and social infrastructure, including long-overdue universal public Pharmacare and Child Care programs; • Develop a coordinated national, sustainable industrial development strategy.”

The National Unifor Just Transition Conference   is scheduled for September 22 -24 in Saskatoon, and is described in this July letter  from the  National Health, Safety and Environment Director .  “The Conference plenaries, workshops and discussions will focus on the importance of climate policies aimed at reducing emissions along with those aimed at building resilience and adaptive capacity. These large table discussions that will take place at the conference will set the tone for Unifor’s position on carbon footprint reduction and job security as the entire country moves forward to address the need for climate change initiatives.”  Unifor’s previous lobby document,  The International Climate Crisis and Just Transition, from 2018, is here.

A June press release,  “Unifor energy workers ratify historic national agreement” announced a new pattern-setting four-year collective agreement with Suncor Energy, and highlights gains in wages, severance, and a new framework for addressing domestic violence. The Suncor agreement will set the pattern for all energy sector employers in Canada – the text is not  publicly available as of early September 2019.

Unifor’s Energy Council met in June, as summarized here , to discuss the new pattern bargaining and the union’s new promotional campaign for the sector, anchored around a YouTube video  produced by Unifor.

Green collective agreement language achieved by Canadian Union of Public Employees

CUPE LOGO   “Bargaining language for a green agreement” , posted to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  Table Talk newsletter on July 25,  is a brief article highlighting some of the innovative bargaining done by CUPE locals on the issues of environmental stewardship, transit passes, bicycle reimbursement, sustainable work practices and green procurement. The Table Talk article reproduces the actual language of the agreements; for links to the full agreements, and almost 200 others by many unions, go to the Green Collective Agreements database maintained by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project (ACW).

Canadian Postal Workers Union bargaining for greener operations, postal banking

POSTES CANADA -Fourgonnettes ˆ marchepied entirement ŽlectriquesThe Canadian Union of Postal Workers  (CUPW) and  Canada Post are currently negotiating a new collective agreement, with “Canada Post hellbent on labour dispute as talks continue, union president says”   in the  Toronto Star (July 12). If no deal is reached by September 9, a strike or lockout is possible by September 26.  An important goal has been to consolidate two agreements into one, and to achieve equity between the Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) unit and the Urban unit on job security, guaranteed hours of work, and wages, following an arbitration award in CUPW’s favour on June 1 .   Also highly important  in this round of negotiations, however, are  CUPW demands related to climate change and the environment.

cover-DeliveringCommunityPowerCUPW’s interest in environmental issues is not new.  In February 2016, CUPW  launched  The Delivering Community Power Initiative which re-imagines the postal service by leveraging its huge retail network to provide: Charging stations for electric vehicles at post offices; postal banking, especially to rural and indigenous communities; community hubs for digital access and social innovation. In addition, the postal vehicle fleet could be converted to renewable fuels; provide consolidated last-mile delivery service that would ease congestion and pollution in urban centres; and vulnerable people in their own homes could be served  with a check-in service by door-to-door mail carriers.  The 2012-2016 collective agreement between CUPW and Canada Post  included an Appendix T: Service Expansion and Innovation and Change Committee,   which secured the right “to establish and monitor pilot projects which will test the viability of the proposals” to expand services – and from CUPW’s perspective, these could  lay the groundwork for its Community Power initiatives.

In the current negotiations, CUPW’s Negotiating Update  (August 2) states: “We recognize that both Canada Post and CUPW have responsibilities to work together to reduce our environmental impact. We have put forward a bold vision: Delivering Community Power. Our vision will expand services for everyone and generate more revenue while also creating new jobs. It’s interconnected: our environment demand supports the Delivering Community Power campaign, and the campaign’s massive public support will help us in bargaining. “  An updated statement of  the Community Power document was released in August: Delivering Community Power: Postal Service and the Low carbon economy and in June CUPW  published It’s time for a postal bank for everyone: How a bank in the post office could help you  to present the advantages of postal banking and describe examples from other countries.

The specific environment–related demands, as outlined in Negotiating Program Bulletin are :

C.3: Improve Services and Standards to the Public: Expand retail services, delivery hours, banking, and internet and other services. Contract-in all work that CUPW members can perform with no contracting out of work. Maximize work in local communities.

C.22: Green Canada Post Operations and Reduce Emissions with New Services: Require CPC to take measures to reduce its environmental footprint, initiate new environmental services and negotiate joint environmental sustainability committees.

Follow CUPW updates to the current negotiations here  .

CUPW’s long history with environmental concerns is outlined by Geoff Bickerton, Meg Gingrich and Sarah Ryan in Chapter 9: “Climate change and work and employment in the Canadian Postal and Courier Sector”, in the book Climate@Work   (2013) .   In 2016, Carla Lipsig Mumme of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project (ACW) made a presentation  to the federal government’s Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, titled Canada Post and Environmental Leadership , which made proposals for a Green Plan for Canada Post, drawing on many of the CUPW themes.   Canada Post Corporation’s latest Sustainability Report (2016)   reports on existing environmental performance re fleet performance, GHG emissions, landfill waste diversion, paper consumption, and building operations and real estate.