Unions supporting Pension Plan Divestment with practical guides

In Spring 2018,  the Labor Network for Sustainability and DivestInvest Network  jointly released a new guide: Should your union’s pension fund divest from fossil fuels? A guide for trade unionists  .  The guide begins with an introduction to union pension plans in the U.S., including how they are governed, and the legal and administrative safeguards designed to protect members’ money.  It also recounts the role of union pension fund divestment in the South African struggle against Apartheid, describes the current global campaign for divestment from fossil fuels, and how and why unions are participating in that movement. The final section of the guide provides practical guidelines for union divestment campaigns.

Inspiration and a practical example of such a campaign can be found in the article “How New York City Won Divestment from Fossil Fuels”.  The article, originally posted in Portside, is written by by Nancy Romer, a member of the Environmental Justice Working Group of the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York and an activist in the divestment campaign which led to the January 2018 decision by New York City to divest $5 billion of its pension funds (and to sue ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips).

The Guide and Nancy Romer’s article are available at a new Divest/Invest Hub on the LNS website, with plans for more campaign case studies and sample resolutions to be added.   Guides with similar aims have been  produced in the U.K.:  for public sector unions:  Local Government Pension Funds – Divest From Carbon Campaign: A UNISON Guide  (January 2018) ; in  2017, Friends of the Earth-U.K. published  Briefing: Local government pensions: Fossil fuel divestment  and Friends of the Earth- Scotland published  Divest Reinvest: Scottish Council Pensions for a Future worth living in .  The Public and Commercial Services Union published  Divest to Reinvest in 2016.

L7 leaders alert to backsliding on Just Transition at the G7 meetings; Unionists share  Just Transition experiences in Vancouver

clc-logoIn Ottawa on April 4 and 5, the Canadian Labour Congress, along with the International Trade Union Confederation and the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), hosted the L7 meetings of international labour leaders, as part of Canada’s presidency of the G7 this year.  According to the CLC press release, the L7 considered a full range of topics, including extension of bargaining rights, full employment, gender equity, and progressive trade – but also “ welcomed the creation of a new G7 Employment Task Force – a key outcome of the G7 Employment Ministers meeting in Montréal from March 26th to 28th.” The G7 Leaders’ official statement re Employment Outcomes and the Task force is here;  one of the “deliverables”  is to  “Share best practices and identify policy approaches to assist individuals in making the transition and adapting to changes in the labour market.”  In the L7 Evaluation of the Outcomes of the G7 Innovation and Employment Ministerial Meeting  released after the meetings, the unionists point out : “While discussing transitions, the text does not refer to “just transitions” in contrast to the outcomes of the Italian G7 presidency. The main proposals for transitions by the G7 focus on reviewing social protection and training systems. The support for “apprenticeship and training opportunities and adult upskilling programs” is welcome but is not enough and does not address financing and governance challenges.”  The CLC press release states:  “For trade unions, the Task Force should aim for “Just Transition” principles that ensure that workers are not paying the cost of the adjustment to decarbonisation, digitalisation and the shifts in production and services technologies.”

Just Transition Vancouver event 2018

Photo  by Tracy Sherlock, from the National Observer, April 6

On April 5 and 6th  in Vancouver,  labour leaders from around the world presented and discussed their experiences at the Metro Vancouver Just Transition Roundtable, hosted by the B.C. Federation of Labour,  the Canadian Labour Congress, Green Jobs B.C., the City of Vancouver, Vancouver and District Labour Council, and others.  Amongst the speakers:   B.C. Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger, who  argued that “the two defining problems of our time are climate change and inequality”, and they need to be addressed together, and urgently.  Samantha Smith, Director of the Just Transition Centre of the International Trade Union Confederation, provided European examples in her Keynote Address, and a spokesman from the United Federation of Danish Workers 3F, the largest trade union in Denmark, spoke of the clean economy investment of members’ pension funds.  Other union speakers were from New Zealand and Norway.   From Vancouver,  City Councillor Andrea Reimer discussed their Renewable City Strategy and the Greenest City Action Plan. The Councillor reported that  Vancouver has 25,000 green jobs (5% of all jobs), and that surprisingly, these are not  in the transportation and waste recovery sectors, but in local food production, clean buildings and local technology companies. For a summary of the event, read  “BC FED President Irene Lanzinger calls climate change and inequality ‘defining problems of our time’”  in the National Observer (April 6). 

UNISON launches a campaign for pension fund divestment with a Guide for Local Unions

uk MONEYOn January 10, 2018,  the U.K. union UNISON launched a campaign to encourage members of local government pension schemes to push for changes in the investment of their funds – specifically, to “explore alternative investment opportunities, allowing schemes to sell their shares and bonds in fossil fuels and to go carbon-free.”  A key tool in this campaign: Local Government Pension Funds – Divest From Carbon Campaign: A UNISON Guide, which states:  “Across the UK there are nearly 50 divestment campaigns targeting local government pension funds ….. In September this year, it was revealed that a total of £16 billion is invested in the fossil fuel industry by Local Government Pension funds.”  The new Guide explains how the U.K. pension system works for local government employees, and provides case studies of existing divestment campaigns.  In addition, it provides “Campaign Resources”, including a model campaign letter, a glossary of pension and investment terms,  and it reproduces the Pensions and Climate Motion passed at the 2017 UNISON Delegates conference.  The Guide was written by UNISON, in collaboration with ShareAction – a registered U.K. charity that promotes responsible investment practices by pension providers and fund managers.

Greener Jobs AllianceInformation about the divestment campaign, as well as information about the National Auditor’s Report re the U.K. Green Investment Bank,  is included in the January-February issue of the newsletter of the  Greener Jobs Alliance , a U.K.  partnership of “trade unions, student organisations, campaigning groups and a policy think tank.” The Greener Jobs Alliance is part of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, which is organizing an event on March 10 in London: Jobs & Climate: Planning for a Future that Doesn’t Cost the Earth

Site C Hydro Dam will go ahead after historic decision by B.C.’s NDP Premier

site-c-project-location-mapBringing an end to years of controversy, in what NDP Premier Horgan called a “very, very divisive issue”, the British Columbia government announced on December 11 that it will proceed with construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam , on the grounds that it is too late to turn back.  In a press release  which blames “megaproject mismanagement by the previous government”, the government justifies its decision by saying that  cancellation would result in  “ an immediate and unavoidable $4-billion bill – with nothing in return – resulting in rate hikes or reduced funds for schools, hospitals and important infrastructure.”  The press release continues with a list of sweeteners for the opponents of the project, announcing that improved project management to keep costs to $10.7 billion; new community benefits programs to keep jobs in local communities and  increase the number of apprentices and First Nations workers hired; a new BC Food Security Fund to help farmers whose land will be negatively affected; and the promise of a new alternative energy strategy for B.C. .

The National Observer provides a brief overview of reaction in “As costs escalate, Horgan says it’s too late to stop Site C mega-project” . CBC News covers the debate and the decision in several articles, including “ John Horgan disappoints both Site C opponents and supporters in northeast B.C.”   and “B.C. government to go ahead with Site C hydroelectric dam project ” which examines the huge political fallout and  states that the Green Party , which holds the balance of power in B.C.’s legislature,  will not  force an election over the issue, despite their opposition to the decision.

Reaction on labour issues :  For mainstream union reaction to the decision, see “Site C: What Happens Next?”  in The Tyee (Dec. 11)  .  The complex labour politics of Site C is summarized in “ Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” , which appeared earlier in The Tyee,  (Nov. 24) , and takes a deep dive into the ties between the NDP government and  the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the  Site C project.  Following the decision, the  Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) stated their “relief” for the go-ahead decision, with the reservation that “Arbitrarily setting apprentice and other workforce ratios will limit contractor flexibility and inevitably drive up costs and slow the construction schedule.”   Similar sentiments appear in the press release from the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) , which represents the majority of Site C workers  under the Open Shop system in place since 2015.

site-c-protest-camp

Photo by Yvonne Tupper, from CBC News

Re the First Nations opposition: “‘A reconciliation fail’: B.C. First Nations promise court action over NDP’s approval of Site C”   at CBC News (Dec. 12), quotes First Nations leaders, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nations, who have already announced that they will apply for a court injunction to halt construction of the project and begin a civil action for Treaty infringement.

A sampling of reaction of environmentalists appears in “Site C a betrayal of First Nations, Ratepayers and Future Generations” (Dec. 11) and in multiple articles at DeSmog Canada https://www.desmog.ca/  . A glimpse of the environmental campaign appears at the Stop Site C website , and the  Wilderness Committee, a member of that campaign, reacts here .

Union conference focus: fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

LNS convergence meetingLabour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.