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.

BlueGreen Alliance releases historic climate action platform

bluegreen allianceOn June 24, the Blue Green Alliance in the U.S. released a platform document titled Solidarity for Climate Action.  According to the press release, Leo Gerard, retiring International President of the United Steelworkers, stated:  “This historic moment in labor and environmental cooperation is the culmination of more than a decade of work…. The platform we are unveiling today is a roadmap to address both the climate crisis and growing income inequality in a way that leaves no workers or communities behind.”   The press release includes endorsement statements from: The Sierra Club,  National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utility Workers Union of America, Service Employees International Union, Union of Concerned Scientists,  Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the League of  Conservation Voters.   Others whose logos appear on the document include: Communications Workers of America, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, American Federation of Teachers, and the United Association of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing & PipeFitting Industry.

In a blog, the National Resources Defense Council calls the platform a “defining moment in the fight against climate change” and states: “Solidarity for Climate Action marks a significant milestone in the relationship between the labor and environmental movements regarding climate action. We’ve had our disagreements, to be sure, but there is more agreement then most might realize, particularly around the need for climate action and income equality, which is one of the reasons this platform was created. It is an expression of hope that our movements will begin a renewed cooperation from a foundation of broad agreement. ” The Center for American Progress also endorsed the platform.

Here are the issue areas, as stated in the 8-page Solidarity for Climate Action document:

Climate Stability: “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society… This global effort to address climate change and inequality must happen at the speed and scale demanded by scientific reality and the urgent needs of our communities.”

High-Quality Jobs: “We must strive to create and retain millions of high-quality jobs while putting forward bold solutions to climate change. Unions are a primary vehicle to confront the economic insecurity most Americans face.”

Community Resilience: “We must dramatically increase the capacity of the public sector, the health care system, and community-based nonprofit sectors to prepare for and respond to the demands our changing climate places on first responders, healthcare workers, social workers, and others who deal with climate-induced disasters…..”

Repair America:  “We cannot address climate change with derelict infrastructure. …. Infrastructure must be designed in ways that reduce emissions and that reflect projected conditions over its lifespan, including the ability to withstand the increased frequency and severity of climate-driven natural disasters.”

Rebuild American Manufacturing: “A comprehensive national commitment to sustainably manufacture the next generation of energy, transportation, and other technologies in the United States will fully capture the benefits to workers and communities.”

Clean Air, Clean Water, Safe and Healthy Workplaces and Communities: “Tackling climate change goes hand in hand with ensuring that all workers and communities have access to clean air and water. We must also guarantee that our workplaces and communities are safe, clean, and free of hazardous chemicals and toxic pollution. This must include stepping up workplace protections and improving our industrial infrastructure through improved process safety and investments in inherently safer technologies.”

Equity for Marginalized Communities: “Generations of economic and racial inequality have disproportionately exposed low-income workers, communities of color, and others to low wages, toxic pollution, and climate threats. We must inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.”

The platform offers multiple, specific recommended policies for each of these areas of concern.

 

 

An agenda for U.S. progressive unions: Resist, reclaim, restructure for climate justice and energy democracy

Towards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump  is  a new discussion paper by Sean Sweeney and John Treat,  acknowledging the work of the progressive unions affiliated with the Labor Network for Solidarity and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and  proposing  an “ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.”   To set the stage, the authors acknowledge and describe  the divisions within the U.S. labour movement, especially those around the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.  They applaud Bernie Sanders for  breaking new ground in the 2016 Presidential elections by making climate change a central part of the progressive political agenda – notably his call  for a just transition for fossil fuel workers and for a national ban on fracking.  They label “Green Jobs” as  “a Tired Phrase, an Unconvincing Promise”, and find glaring problems with the existing blue-green alliance approach, stating that the accomplishments are not unimportant, “ but the “green jobs” narrative has failed to engage numerous constituencies of potential allies in the struggle for better health, workplace and environmental protections for all, and for broader social, economic and ecological justice.”

In its place, the authors look internationally for inspiration, and propose “an ambitious, pro-active, independent, labor-led program of action” , built on actions  which “resist, reclaim, restructure”, with Just Transition, Solidarity,  and Internationalism as important  principles.  Some specific examples: “Resist : energy-related land seizures, despoliation, and violation of indigenous rights and territories; Resist shale oil and gas drilling and associated infrastructure (pipelines, export platforms, etc.), especially on federal and tribal lands.”  Reclaim: “ Fight to reverse state-level “electricity market restructuring” and to reform Investor Owned Utilities;  Review the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) in order to determine whether it should be repealed in order to restore States’ power to make their own energy choices; Re-invent regulatory bodies for the power industry, establish mechanisms for meaningful public involvement and democratic decision-making; Investigate and pursue new ways to use union pension funds in order to maximize their impact for a “public goods” approach to energy provision and climate change mitigation; Reinvent public infrastructure, beginning with the postal service in order to drive local renewable energy generation and to provide financial services for working class people who need them.”   Restructure: “Demand energy sector reform to allow for a just transition to renewables under public and community control; Demand establishment of dedicated, priority revenue streams for public renewables and a “just transition fund,” to be funded via a Financial Transaction Tax; Reject costly Power Purchase Agreements; Demand adequately funded, modern and available public transit systems, including the development of public fleets of electric vehicles for urban mobility.”

labor for our revolutionTowards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump was released on June 1  by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and submitted for discussion to Labor for Our Revolution , a network of unions  and labor activists engaged in campaigns to support workers’ rights and contribute to building a broader movement for social and economic justice. LFOR endorses the work of  Our Revolution , the network which grew out of the Bernie Sanders campaign in the U.S.. Our Revolution  states it  has three intertwined goals: “to revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders and elevate the political consciousness. “

The Women’s March was a huge success. Next up – Sustained Resistance

toronto women's march jan 2017.jpgUnionists were among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who joined in the Sister Marches for the Women’s March in Washington on January 21, 2017 .  The Canadian Labour Congress statement of “Why we March” is here  .  Unifor’s President Jerry Dias  endorsed the March and called for a “united mobilization effort” against the Trump agenda.  The March was an undeniable success,  and the Washington organizers, quoted in a Globe and Mail report,  recognized:   “This is more than a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement – to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity. ”

Jeremy Brecher of Labor Network for Sustainability tackles this issue for U.S.  labour unions in “How Labor and Climate united can trump Trump” . After cataloguing some of the worst threats under a Trump administration , he calls  for “an alliance of unions and allies willing to fight the whole Trump agenda”  and states: “Such a “big tent” needs to include unions that are not part of the AFL-CIO, such as SEIU, Teamsters, and National Education Association. Some unions may choose not to join because they are unwilling to take a forthright stand against the Trump agenda; it would be both absurd and catastrophic for that to prevent the rest of the labor movement and its allies from taking on a fight that is about the very right of unions to exist.”

The United Resistance, led by the  NAACP, Greenpeace USA, and the Service Employees International Union, is chief among these new alliances, pledging to “stand together”  on the issues of civil rights, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, social equality, action on climate change, public health and safety, public dissent, and access to information. Their inspirational video is here , as well as a list of the alliance members. The AFL-CIO is not listed as a member of the United Resistance, though their recent blogs oppose Trump’s nominees, and they promoted the Women’s March.   For more about the United Resistance, see  “More than 50 Organizations Launch United Resistance Campaign as Trump’s Cabinet Hearings Begin”  in Common Dreams (Jan.10).

In a second article , SOCIAL SELF-DEFENSE: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism ,  Jeremy Brecher borrows a term from the Solidarity movement in Poland 40 years ago, and takes a larger, more global focus.  He writes that “Social Self Defense includes the protection of the human rights of all people; protection of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; and global cooperation to provide a secure future for people.”  “Social Self-Defense is not an organization – it is a set of practices to be engaged in by myriad organizations, hopefully in close coordination with each other.”  Although the article highlights a number of examples, such as the growing Sanctuary movement in the U.S.,  and case studies of alliances, including  Vermont Labor Council Initiates Social Self-Defense ,  the overriding impact is to emphasize the scale of the task: “These actions appear to be on the way to being the greatest outpouring of civil resistance in American history.”

Workers Acting in Climate-Friendly Ways: A Study of Union members, Synthesis of Academic Literature, and a Case Study of Pilots

A post in  Portside on May 23  summarizes the research of Jeremy Brecher (of Labor Network for Sustainability) and Todd Vachon, which uses data from 2  national surveys in the U.S. to conclude that: “Union members, far from being only concerned with their immediate self-interest at the expense of a broader common interest in environmental protection, are often more concerned about the environment and more willing to act on that concern than either the public at large or non-union workers”.   A fuller report,   “Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Two National Surveys” was published as an article in Labor Studies Journal  in April (access restricted).  The article also provides examples from the historical record of labour and environmental issues, with the goal of contributing to the development of labour-community and blue-green coalitions to work for social change.

Another study  appeared in Nature Climate Change in June, regarding the determinants of translating climate change beliefs into actions .  “Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change”  analyzed  27 variables,  drawn from  25 polls and 171 academic studies from 56 nations  (including 7 from Canada).  The authors, from the University of Queensland in Australia, concluded that  variables such as education, sex, subjective knowledge, and experience of extreme weather events were not as important in predicting behaviours as the variables of  values, ideologies, worldviews and political orientation. Surprisingly, the study also concludes “ belief in climate change has a solid relationship with the extent to which people aspire to behave in climate-friendly ways, but a small-to-moderate relationship with the extent to which people `walk the talk’.”

Finally, a practical example:  As reported in the Washington Post  on June 22, and by the Company in a detailed case study , Virgin Atlantic Airways conducted a large-scale experiment  to try to influence its pilots to use less fuel and reduce GhG emissions.  This was a controlled study, overseen by economists from the University of Chicago and London School of Economics, in which  different  behavioural interventions were used, including providing monthly feedback, setting targets, and setting targets plus making corporate charitable donations when targets were met. All pilots reduced their fuel consumption, and  those that received targeted goals, or that received these goals plus charitable donations made, performed the best of all.  The academic report of the study appears in A New Approach to an Age-Old Problem: Solving Externalities by Incenting Workers Directly , a working paper of the National Bureau of Economics (NBER), published in June.