Why U.S. unions supported the Washington March for Climate, Jobs and Justice

LNS at 2017 Washington Climate MarchThe May 5th Newsletter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy provides an early assessment of  “Why U.S. unions marched for the climate” . The article lists some of the many unions who marched in Washington D.C. on April 29 in the March for Climate, Jobs and Justice, highlighting the unique perspective of the National Nurses Union and 1199 SEIU, who see the public health effects of climate change in their daily work.  TUED also mentions  a meeting convened by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis and hosted by the American Postal Workers Union, “bringing together roughly 30 labor, community and social movement activists and organizers, to reflect on possibilities for building on the Canadian Leap Manifesto framework to advance the struggle for energy democracy and just transition in the U.S. context.”

Finally, the TUED article credits the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) with much of the work in building participation in the March.  The latest LNS newsletter reports that over a dozen unions and more than 3000 members marched in Washington,  including 100 members from AFSCME’s local DC37 in New York. The newsletter also describes marches on the West Coast, where climate change was included in the May 1 messages. The LNS Facebook page has more details and photos. 

joint press release  (April 26)  includes brief statements from each of the members of the labour steering committee for the march:  Service Employees International Union  ( SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) (including the local from the EPA),  and BlueGreen Alliance.

New green jobs policy adopted at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention

clc-logoThe 28th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress was held in Toronto from May 8 to 12, 2017  under the theme “Together for a Fair Future”.  The agenda was packed – including  equity issues, younger workers, putting an end to precarious work, and the fight to implement a $15 minimum wage. Executive officers were elected, and Hassan Yussuff was acclaimed as President for a second mandate – all serving  from 2017 to 2020. On May 10th, the Convention addressed the issue of climate change, and heard from a Green Jobs Panel, consisting of  Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, Sheila Watt-Cloutier from Inuit Circumpolar Council, Matt Wayland of the IBEW, and Patrick Rondeau of the FTQ, with Rick Smith of the Broadbent Institute moderating.  Although no documents have been posted to the CLC website yet, a Unifor press release states:  ” … As one of the greatest challenges facing workers in Canada the Convention adopted a plan, outlined in the Green Jobs for a Fair Future policy, to guide the country through a necessary just transition to a green economy.  Unifor’s delegation voted overwhelmingly to support the position paper and delegates pledged to take action for just transition…The policy paper calls on the CLC to lobby and work towards green jobs in home and building retrofits, expand public transit, ensure responsible resource development, and at the core, just transition for workers whose lives are already dramatically changed by climate change.”

Union calls for a legal responsibility on employers to address a crisis in U.K. air pollution

BWTUC logoThe Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council (BWTUC) is the Southwest London arm of the Trades Union Congress and a founding supporter of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The BWTUC has undertaken a campaign against toxic air, and argues that employers are the root cause of diesel emissions –  from their transport fleets as well as the individual  journeys to and from work made by workers.  As part of its campaign against what it calls the “number one public health issue”, BWTUC will help local unions to carry out monitoring of pollution levels where they work, and is also producing online training modules which will be available at the Greener Jobs Alliance website after a May 27 launch.  Finally, it is advocating for a Clean Air Act, as stated in the  Greener Jobs Alliance Top 10 Election Demands  : #10: “ Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.”

The U.K. government has addressed the issue of roadside air pollution in Improving air quality in the UK: tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities: Draft UK Air Quality Plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide  (May 2017).  Unlike the BWTUC, the government clearly sees pollution as an individual, not employer, responsibility.  “The UK Government is clear that any action to improve air quality must not be done at the expense of local businesses and residents. Therefore local authorities must work closely with local people to create an approach which works for them. Everyone has a role to play in helping to address NOx by considering how they can reduce emissions through their day-to-day activities, for example by choosing cleaner vehicles.”  The government does propose incentives for low carbon fuel vehicle fleets, and for clean busses for commuting, but the plan is controversial and inadequate – see “UK’s new air pollution plan dismissed as ‘weak’ and ‘woefully inadequate‘” and  “Air pollution plan: sacrificing the nation’s health to save an election campaign“, both of which appeared in The Guardian on May 5.

double decker busAccording  to a BWTUC press release , the people of Battersea/Wandsworth have a lot at stake: “In 2016 Putney High St had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted road in the whole of Europe.  By law hourly levels of Nitrogen Dioxide must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times in one year. In fact, the hourly limit was exceeded over 1,200 times in 2016. In January 2017 the standard was breached 11 times in one day.” …. “In April, the Wandsworth Guardian quoted a report that showed 29 schools in the borough located in areas exceeding the safe legal limit.”

How the B.C. Insulators Union fights climate change and promotes green awareness in the construction industry

The Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project has released two  papers relating to the built environment, and more specifically, the accomplishments of one labour union in British Columbia to  promote major climate change improvements in the construction industry.  Evaluating the Impact of the BC Insulators’ Union Campaign to Promote Improved Mechanical Insulation Standards in BC’s Construction Industry   (April 2016) described the campaign by  BC Insulators union Local 118 to encourage municipalities in B.C. to require higher insulation standards in their building requirements and procurement contract tenders.  To do this, the union “funded independent, technical research papers, commissioned best practice manuals with detailed guidelines on installing MI and initiated an extensive and carefully organized public education campaign to pressure industry and government to raise standards. It approached municipalities, building contractors, government officials, property developers, industry professionals and trade organizations to alert them to the importance of reducing the energy footprint of buildings. It pressured governments to raise MI standards in procurement of new and refurbished buildings and implement tougher requirements in their building codes. And it introduced climate change literacy into the curriculum of the apprenticeship system it oversees.”

insulalater2-365x365The climate literacy curriculum is the subject of a new report released in April 2017: Promoting Climate Literacy in British Columbia’s Apprenticeship System: Evaluating One Union’s Efforts to Overcome Attitudinal Barriers to Low Carbon Construction   describes  the ‘Green Awareness’ course the union provides as part of the apprenticeship training for  all mechanical insulation trades workers in British Columbia. The two-module course was introduced in 2011 and is taught over the course of the first two years of the four-year program.  After conducting a review of the ‘Green Awareness’ course content, the research team performed qualitative interviews with a cohort of 2nd and 4th year apprentices to determine how effective the training had been.   These findings indicate the need for further refinements in the content and delivery of the ‘Green Awareness’ course material. The authors conclude that incorporating climate change-related course content into the training process is an important step in fostering climate literacy within the industry and should be encouraged in other trades. They caution, however, that its degree of impact will be limited unless more sweeping changes are made to the organization and culture of the construction industry itself.

Both papers were authored by John Calvert and Corinne Tallon.  The evaluation of the climate literacy program was presented at the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC), Sheffield, United Kingdom, April 4 – 6, 2017.

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Canada’s Budget 2017: A closer look at what matters for a green economy

infrastructure from Budget 2017Canada’s federal budget statement, titled Skills, Innovation and Middle Class Jobs, was released on March 22, with a stated  commitment to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, and support for already-announced climate initiatives .  Some specific allocations: $11.4 million over four years for a national coal phase-out, beginning in 2018; $17.2 million over five years for a national clean fuels standard, starting in 2017;  $5 billion to green infrastructure and an additional $5 billion for public transit infrastructure over 11 years.  Disappointingly, the Budget extends the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for another year, thus failing to end fossil fuel subsidies.

Reflecting their own particular interests, most unions issued immediate reactions:  see the Canadian Labour Congress ; Canadian Union of Public Employees ; United SteelworkersUnifor . In the Toronto Star, Paul Wells called the Budget “a list of decisions to be made later”, and most commentators remarked on the many deferred deadlines.  A March 22 blog by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood of the CCPA provides a thorough summary of the provisions relating to climate change policy,  noting that the phrase “climate change” is used 50 times, but  “when it comes to putting Canada on a pathway to deep decarbonization, Budget 2017 comes up short. Significant investments in key areas, such as public transit and clean technology, should not be dismissed out of hand, but the funds are heavily backloaded and too small given the scale and urgency of the climate challenge.”  Mertins-Kirkwood also notes that there are no direct measures to support Just Transition programs, although provisions to improve skills training , workforce development, and small changes to the Employment Insurance program may indirectly contribute to that goal.

Two thoughtful  analyses of the Budget have since been released: on March 24, the Canadian Labour Congress released its Detailed Analysis of Budget 2017, providing an overall assessment, but including a substantial consideration of provisions relating to a green economy.  CLC Highlights: “The Canada Infrastructure Bank will be resourced with $2.8 billion over five years; legislation creating the Bank is anticipated in spring 2017. In the weeks and months following the budget, the Government of Canada will work on a framework to apply a green lens and an employment-based community benefit lens to infrastructure projects, which may become part of the bilateral infrastructure agreements.”  Regarding “Transition to a Green Economy”:  “In Budget 2017, investments in 2017-18 and 2018-19 under the $2 billion Low-Carbon Economy Fund …are scaled back and re-allocated for future years. Budget 2017 offers $2 billion for a Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, administered through Infrastructure Canada. The budget allocates $220 million to reduce the reliance of rural and remote communities on diesel fuel, and to support the use of more sustainable, renewable power solutions. An array of investments are made in order to support the development of the clean tech industry in Canada. In 2016, Canada joined other G-20 countries in re-committing to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies by 2025. The budget contains two modest proposals to scale back fossil fuel subsidies, but no specific concrete commitments are made to comply with the 2025 deadline.  Budget 2017 provides funds to accelerate the coal phase-out in Alberta, but it is unclear whether there will be funding to deal with the impacts on workers and communities. There is no explicit mention in Budget 2017 of just transition measures, or the government’s proposed just transition task force.”

On  March 27, the Pembina Institute released  Budget 2017: Ready, set implement  which offers its reaction and further suggestions on three issues.  Acknowledging the scale of investment and the importance of consultation, particularly with First Nations, Pembina declares, ” in our view, it’s not unreasonable that the $2 billion Low Carbon Economy Fund has been altered to extend over five years.”   Regarding “Next steps on the National Carbon Price”, Pembina applauds the details provided re the  national carbon price backstop — “set to begin at $10 per tonne of carbon pollution in 2018, and to escalate by $10 per year until 2022.”  Pembina also highlights the announcement of a federal government consultation paper with technical details of the national carbon price, promised in 2017. It urges that the national carbon benchmark price be linked to inflation, be subject to a review in 2020, and that the government design a fair and transparent framework for that review well in advance.

Finally, in “Accelerating decarbonization of goods movement”, Pembina notes the Budget’s commitments to new clean fuel standards and heavy-duty truck retrofit regulations, as well as the allocation of $2 billion over 11 years in a new National Trade Corridors Fund to address congestion and inefficiencies in rail and highway corridors, especially  around the Greater Toronto Area . They re-state their proposal for  North America’s first low-carbon highway between Windsor and Quebec City, based on  building out an “alternative fuelling infrastructure — like electric vehicle fast-charging, compressed natural gas or hydrogen stations — for personal and commercial transportation along the route.”