Jim Stanford lauds Canadian unions for their climate activism

Well-known Canadian unionist Jim Stanford gave a shout-out to Canadian labour unions in Canada’s Secret Weapon in Fighting Climate Change: Great Trade Unions” , posted in the Progressive Economics Forum on May 3. Stanford is well-placed to make the observations and analysis, after a long career and wealth of experience at Unifor – for example, he correctly recalls the genesis of “Just Transition” here : “For example, it is significant that one of the first uses of the phrase ‘just transition’ was by a Canadian union activist, Brian Kohler: a member of the former CEP who coined the phrase in 1998 to refer to the needed combination of planned energy transition, alternative job-creation, and income supports and transition assistance.”

In this brief Great Trade Unions article, he specifically cites the work of Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, and supports his assessment of “greatness”  partly by citing the work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project – specifically, the Green Agreements database.  He states:  

“….Many other unions in Canada have used their voices, their bargaining clout, and their political influence to advance progressive climate and jobs policies in their workplaces and industries. This database, compiled by the York University-based ACW research project, catalogues many innovative contract provisions negotiated by Canadian unions to improve environmental practices at workplaces, educate union members and employers about climate policy, and implement concrete provisions and supports (like job security and notice, retraining, and adjustment assistance) as energy transitions occur. It confirms that Canadian unions are very much ahead of the curve on these issues: playing a vital role in both winning the broader political debate over climate change, but then demanding and winning concrete measures (not token statements) to ensure that the energy transition is fair and inclusive.”  

Stanford concludes with high praise for Canada’s unions  

“Of course, the approach of Canadian unions to climate issues has not been perfect or uniform: there have been tensions and debates, and at times some unions have supported further fossil fuel developments on the faint hope that the insecurity facing their members could be solved by approval of just one more mega-project. But in general the Canadian union movement has been a consistent and progressive force in climate debates. The idea of a Canadian union endorsing a pro-jobs climate plan (like Biden’s) wouldn’t be news at all here. And that has undoubtedly helped us move the policy needle forward in Canada.

I have worked with unions in several countries around climate, employment and transition planning issues. In my experience, Canada’s trade union movement sets a very high standard with its positive and pro-active approach to these issues. Our campaigns for both sustainability and workers’ rights are stronger, thanks to our union movement’s activism, vision, and courage.”

Stanford now focuses on both the Canadian and Australian scenes, and posts his thoughts at the Centre for Future Work, where he is Director.

Green bargaining in Europe: theory, legal structures, and case studies of 6 countries

Agreenment – A Green Mentality for Collective Bargaining is a European project to investigate the role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in promoting sustainable development and the transition to a low-carbon economy.  Labour and Environmental Sustainability : Comparative Report is their newly published overview, which is accompanied by separate, detailed reports for each of the six countries studied: France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK..  The Agreenment website has further resources and bibliographies.

Written mostly by lawyers, the Comparative Report reviews the theoretical concepts influencing labour unions’ positions on environmental issues – with a key section titled “Treadmill of Production and Just Transition: Two Contrasting Patterns?”.  The Comparative Report also reviews the legal structure of collective bargaining and the forms of social dialogue in each country, and for each country, discusses topics which might be included in collective bargaining – for example, linking pay to environmental performance; health and safety considerations; inclusion of environmental issues within labour-management bodies.  The conclusion:

“It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for
collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour
and environmental regulation……. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.”

The U.K. Study  states:  

 “Based on extensive review of policy documents and qualitative interviews with key informants, our research confirms that UK unions have attempted to seize upon the possibilities inherent in a voluntarist system of industrial relations, in so far as broadening the scope of what are deemed to be union issues or issues that could be negotiated or bargained with management. …. However, despite the fact that many workplace initiatives have been reported throughout the UK, relatively few comprehensive agreements on environmental sustainability have been concluded… .  The authors call for  “…. (1) the statutory recognition of environmental union representatives together with rights to facility time and pay (rights that unions have advocated for a long time), as well as (2) expansion of the statutory scope of bargaining to include issues of environmental nature. Finally, for Just Transition processes to be operationalized in practice, UK unions should have more input in policy development. For this to be possible, (3) social dialogue must be institutionalized in a more meaningful way at the regional and national level.”

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.

 

ILO Report projects 18 million net new jobs in a green economy, and highlights policy role for social actors, including unions

ILO 2018 Greening with JobsThe International Labor Organization released its annual World Employment and Social Outlook Report for 2018 on May 14, with the theme:  Greening with Jobs.   In an economy where global warming is limited to 2°C , the report projects job losses and job creation, both within and amongst sectors, to 2030.  A net increase of approximately 18 million jobs globally  will result from  adoption of sustainable practices, such as changes in the energy mix, the projected growth in the use of electric vehicles, and increases in energy efficiency in existing and future buildings.

This landmark report also includes analysis and  discussion of climate impacts on working conditions, job quality, and productivity, (including estimates of impacts of extreme weather conditions),  and the need for social dialogue and a legal and policy framework which  promotes just transition. Of particular interest is the discussion of the role of social dialogue, which includes examples of green provisions in international and national agreements – and on page 94, highlights green provisions in Canadian collective agreements, based on the database compiled by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project.

Other key findings from the press release :

Of the 163 economic sectors analysed, only 14 will suffer employment losses of more than 10,000 jobs worldwide –  hardest hit: petroleum extraction and petroleum refining (1 million or more jobs).

2.5 million jobs will be created in renewables-based electricity, offsetting some 400,000 jobs lost in fossil fuel-based electricity generation.

6 million jobs can be created by transitioning towards a ‘circular economy’ which includes activities like recycling, repair, rent and remanufacture.

A 5-page summary is available in English   and in French  . The full report, Greening with Jobs, is here   .

ETUC Guide to best practices for union impact on EU climate change and Just Transition policies

etuc logoAt a conference in Brussels on May 15, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) released  Involving trade unions in Climate action to build a Just transition,  a Guide which makes the arguments for why unions should care about climate change, and provides recommendations and best practice examples from unions in the European Union.  The ETUC press release summary is here, in which the ETUC General Secretary states: “The ETUC’s new guide is about the policies, initiatives and governance involved in a just transition. At the end of the day our key message is that there is no just transition without workers participation. Imposed solutions do not work, we need dialogue to make climate progress.” A YouTube summary from ETUC is here.

The 48-page guide is packed with information and examples where trade unions have made impacts on national policies.  It began with a questionnaire circulated to ETUC affiliates, and also includes insights from five workshops involving experts from EU  unions and “relevant institutions”, organized around five thematic areas: employment and working conditions; governance and trade union participation; education; training and skills; social protection; and internal capacity building for trade union organizations (how to mobilize and prepare unionists to engage in the transition).

The Guide offers analysis about the role of trade unions, and states that union involvement in climate change policy development is on the rise, though it varies widely across EU member countries. The main message is that a Just Transition requires workers’ participation and dialogue. Some of the specific thematic recommendations include:

Promote economic diversification in regions and industries most affected by the transition;

Negotiate agreements at sectoral and company level to map the future evolution of skills needs and the creation of sectoral skills councils, using the ETUC guide on “Restructuring and collective competences” (2013) ;

At sectoral and workplace levels, extend the scope of collective bargaining to green transition issues to discuss the impact on employment and wages of the decarbonisation process and the impacts on skills needs and health and safety at work;

Establish dialogue with all relevant stakeholders and regional authorities to identify and manage the social impacts of climate policies;

In line with the ILO guidelines on a just transition , promote the establishment of adequate social protection systems based on the principles of universality, equal treatment and continuity, providing healthcare, income security and social services;

Encourage internal union capacity and increase members’ participation by developing and strengthening a network of  green representatives at the workplace level,  and involve workers in concrete actions aiming to reduce the environmental footprint of their company.