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.

Toronto Labour Council’s new Plan of Engagement for Unions shares sample climate change resolutions

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council approved its 2020-2022 Strategic Plan in November of 2019, as announced in a press release in January, and in full here.  Continuing  the Labour Council’s longstanding leadership on climate justice,  Plan item #3 is “Tackle climate change”, which states that the Labour Council will:

  • Work to counter the efforts to sabotage climate action by polluters and conservative politicians, including their “carbon tax revolt” which is promoted by Conservative premiers and climate change deniers
  •  Establish a climate justice labour network
  •  Provide educational material to highlight the real cost of inaction by governments and businesses, and get young members engaged by using new, creative approaches
  •  Continue to work in coalition with key environmental organizations including youth and student-led groups
  •  Work with affiliates, local governments and school boards to adopt serious climate action policies
  •  Continue promoting the creation of Joint Labour-Management Environment Committees and ask affiliates to bargain for their establishment
  •  Help to popularize the key elements of a Green New Deal for All.

Our_Unions_and_Climate_Justice_iconPutting these goals into action, the Labour Council hosted its 2nd Climate Justice Network Roundtable on February 12.  It  also released a 3-page Plan of Engagement for Unions  which includes the a sample climate change resolution for affiliate unions, and a sample resolution to take to convention. The sample resolution for affiliates is also published ( page 17) in the Winter 2020 issue of the Labour Council’s magazine, Labour Action .

The sample resolution asks affiliate unions to join the fight for climate justice through the following actions:

  • Ask the employer to detail their plans to climate-proof the workplace;
  • Bargain contract language on climate, and a union role in sustainability;
  • Seek the establishment of Joint Workplace Environment Committees;
  • Establish training programs for members to be actively involved in greening the workplace;
  • Utilize an equity lens to ensure new job opportunities benefit all of our communities;
  • Engage in campaigns for climate justice – including Just Transition legislation for workers and communities impacted by changes to a low-carbon economy;
  • Support public services that deliver quality programs and good jobs while ensuring public control and operation.

Also in the Winter issue of Labour Action : a profile on page 16 of the many activities of the Labour Council’s  Labour Education Centre , which include a strong component of training programs for  climate change literacy.  In addition, the LEC has researched Just Transition experiences after closing of coal-fired electricity plants in Alberta, Australia and Ontario, and is publishing those results. Finally, LEC continues to support a Joint Labour Management Committee at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) that has made a number of recommendations to dramatically decrease the GHG emissions in the Board.

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council  shares climate justice resources at a dedicated website, including social media shareables, links to articles and documents such as the pioneering 2016 Greenprint , and all the documents mentioned above.

How to engage your union in the fight for a Green New Deal

The January 2020 issue of  the Labor Network for Sustainability newsletter refers to a recent article, “A Green New Deal can win even among Building Trades Unions”, which appeared in The Jacobin (Jan 30 2019). It is written by an IBEW tradesman who led a successful effort to pass a Green New Deal resolution at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention.  The author describes how he was inspired by a resolution from the Alameda California Central Labor Council, and how he moved his own resolution from that model to the one which passed in Texas. He outlines a process of internal discussion and education which created a broader resolution, and one which had to compromise by replacing the highly emotive term “Green New Deal” with “Federal Environmental Policy”.

The article concludes:

“What does the labor-focused segment of the climate justice movement need to do next? First, we must repeatedly engage labor, from the local level on up to the national/international level, in as many places as we can — both through defined democratic processes like the one I experienced, as well in the rank-and-file space of our locals. The goal is not to simply push resolutions through, but to educate and build a base of support in the process….In order for the Green New Deal to move forward, it must become a standard demand from organized labor. The task for us now is to replicate this kind of effort at each and every one of our locals .”

The article is one of the latest written by unionists to instruct and inspire direct action. To cite a few: “Calling All Union Members” , in The Trouble  (May 2019), which begins: “Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.”  An earlier U.S. article by Nato Green “Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change” appeared in In these Times (March 2019).

Labor Network for Sustainability maintains an ongoing compilation of GND resolutions by U.S. unions, and has written numerous articles.  The WCR has written  previously about union actions for a Green New Deal in both the U.S. and Canada,  here. 

Transit Equity and Free Transit: addressing social justice, climate justice and workplace justice

transit equity day people of colourTransit Equity Day in the United States was held on February 4 – a date chosen to honour Rosa Parks, whose refusal to yield her seat on a bus in 1955 was the catalyst in the U.S. struggle against the segregation of public transit.  Now in 2020, Transit Equity Day’s main goal is “to promote environmentally-sustainable and affordable transit accessible to all, regardless of income, national origin, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, or ability,” and in all communities, rural or urban.  In addition to social justice goals, it also promotes climate justice and workplace justice, calling for good, union jobs for transit workers and those who manufacture transit equipment, as well as a  just transition for workers and communities in the  transition to an electrified, non-polluting transit system.  Transit Equity Day is organized by the Labor Network for Sustainability, in cooperation with environmental and labour groups already working to promote public transit – including the Amalgamated Transit Union , Transport Workers of America, Connecticut Roundtable for Climate and Jobs , Metropolitan Washington District AFL-CIO, and Jobs to Move America .

Transit Equity Day also supports the growing free public transit movement – described, with global case studies, in Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators, a book published in Canada by Black Rose books in 2017.  Since then, advocates have focused mainly on the social justice arguments: for example in  “Free and Accessible Transit Now: Toward A Red-Green Vision for Toronto” (Canadian Dimension, May 10 2018) . This continues to be the focus in the July 2019 call for free transit by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2, representing Toronto Transit Commission workers,  and endorsed by CUPE Ontario. Also in a January 2020 blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union in Canada , which stated:

“….successful examples of fare free transit around the world demonstrate that this model of public transit service may not be radical or utopian. However, there are real concerns implementation of fare free transit.

ATU Canada advocates for fares to be affordable for all, and advocates for progress toward creating a fare-free transit. Incremental pricing actions (such as fare-freezes and reductions) are realistic in lieu of immediate fare-free transit subsidized by government. In our advocacy, we prioritize efforts to eliminate cost barriers to accessing jobs, education, health care, and other services, through the implementation of low-income passes. A gradual approach to fare reduction is sorely needed in many municipalities across Canada, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that transit is safe, reliable, and affordable for all.”

Free transit and climate change

The Richochet published two articles which marry concern for social justice with the well-established environmental benefits of transit over cars:  “Advocates say decommodified housing and free transit needed to fight climate emergency” (Oct.9)  describes activism in  Montreal, and “Free public transit is key to any Green New Deal worthy of the name” (Oct. 19)  which is an overview of the growing activism Canada-wide. “The case for free public transit in Toronto” in Now Magazine (Dec. 2019) only begins to discuss the fraught transit politics in Toronto. In December 2019, members of the Free Transit Edmonton movement published an Opinion piece: “Make transit free for the sake of our climate and community” in the Edmonton Journal.  For a recent U.S. summary, see “Should Public Transit Be Free? More Cities Say, Why Not?” in the New York Times (Jan. 14).

Labour working for a Green New Deal in Canada and the U.S.

Updated on January 20 to include Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). 

our times jan2020cover re green new dealIn the January 2020 issue of Our Times magazine, “Save this House: A Green New Deal for Canada, Now!”  provides an overview of Canadian labour’s initiatives around a Green New Deal. It highlights the on-the-ground activism of two unionists: Tiffany Balducci, (CUPE member, president of the Durham Region Labour Council and in that role, part of the Green Jobs Oshawa coalition seeking to re-purpose the shuttered General Motors plant  for socially beneficial manufacturing) and Patricia Chong, ( member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance and co-facilitator of  the “Green is Not White” environmental workshops which are co-sponsored by the ACW research project).

Asked to define and envision what the Green New Deal will look like, Chong states:

“If the climate crisis is defined as a problem where we need to move money from greenhouse-gas producing industries to non-GHG producing industry, then the answer is to move the money around. If the climate crisis is defined more broadly as a problem that also includes environmental racism, Indigenous genocide, and capitalism, then the solution is also going to be very different. ….When we talk about a Green economy, we do not want to replicate the inherent inequities we already have.”

The article also names the unions which support a Green New Deal for Canada:  “Unifor, Amalgamated Transit Union, British Columbia Teachers Federation, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and CUPE Ontario. The article concludes with a reference to the Private Member’s Motion on a Green New Deal for Canada, introduced in the new 43rd session of Parliament by Peter Julian, the NDP Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Burnaby British Columbia. His motion, introduced on December 5,  defines a Green New Deal as a 10-year national mobilization to: •  reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions •  create millions of secure jobs•  invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry •  promote justice and equity for Indigenous peoples and all “frontline and vulnerable communities.”   Specifically concerning GND jobs, it calls for :

……(vii) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition, (viii) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all Canadians, (ix) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, (x) strengthening and enforcing labour, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors, (xi) enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas, and to grow domestic manufacturing in Canada….  More details are at the Our Time website ; Julian was one of the candidates endorsed by Our Time in Canada’s 2019 federal election.

OurTime_logoThe youth-led organization  Our Time exists to campaign for a Green New Deal.  An overview of their approach appears in “The future is in our hands— not theirs” in the January/February issue of CCPA’s The Monitor (pages 22-  23). Written by two Manitoba organizers from the Our Time campaign , it includes  the youth-led actions of Canada’s Fridays for Future climate strikers, and focuses on the Our Time campaign in the West.  The authors conclude: “Our Time and the CCPA-Manitoba recognize the need to build stronger relationships with the Indigenous community and beyond. We know that any struggle for a Green New Deal must take direction from those who are most dispossessed by fossil capitalism and most exposed to climate change. We do not wish to reproduce in our organizing spaces the undemocratic relationships of exploitation that have gotten us to this point. We need to unlearn the oppressive practices we frequently deploy, often unconsciously, even when our hearts are in the right place.”

Green New Deal proposals in the U.S.:

brecher no workerIn late December 2019, Labor Network for Sustainability released its latest paper regarding the Green New Deal:  a briefing paper written by Jeremy Brecher , No Worker Left Behind:   Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal . From the introduction: “This paper aims to identify policies that could be actionable by GNDs at national and state levels.… It focuses only on: “GND policies specifically designed to protect workers and communities whose jobs and livelihoods may be adversely affected by deliberate managed decline of fossil fuel burning and other GND policies.”   The document does not endorse one plan over the other – the purpose is to identify and inform trade unionists so that they can make their own determinations.

No Worker Left Behind   includes relevant excerpts from the following U.S. plans:  • Colorado Just Transition law • Center for Biological Diversity Presidential Action Plan • Washington State Initiative 1631 • Senator Bernie Sanders “The Green New Deal – Sanders Details” • Governor Jay Inslee “Community Climate Justice Plan,” adopted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren after Inslee withdrew from the presidential race. • Vice-President Joe Biden “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” • BlueGreen Alliance “Solidarity for Climate Action” • Sunrise Movement “Candidate Scorecard Framework” • Peter Knowlton “Jobs for Climate Justice Demands” • Sens. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Edward Markey “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” • Political Economy Research Institute, “The Economics of Just Transition” • Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Labor Network for Sustainability, “Beyond a Band-Aid”.

A broader discussion of the Green New Deal appears in Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). Although the article focuses on the  U.S. Green New Deal in a historical and political context , Klein continues to cite her “favourite example” of the GND as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers initiative, Delivering Community Power , which she describes as “a bold plan to turn every post office in Canada into a hub for a just green transition.” She continues “….To make the case for a Green New Deal—which explicitly calls for this kind of democratic, decentralized leadership—every sector in the United States should be developing similar visionary plans for their workplaces right now.”

Klein also repeats themes from previous writing, including :

“A job guarantee, far from an opportunistic socialist addendum, is a critical part of achieving a rapid and just transition. It would immediately lower the intense pressure on workers to take the kinds of jobs that destabilize our planet, because all would be free to take the time needed to retrain and find work in one of the many sectors that will be dramatically expanding…This in turn will reduce the power of bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America, who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.”

Finally, her concluding call to action:

“The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets.”

Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” is adapted from Klein’s klein we own the future coverchapter  in We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Stylea new anthology edited by Kate Aronoff, Michael Kazin, and Peter Dreier and released by the New Press in January 2020.  Several other recent articles  have appeared in The Intercept are available on her own website here , and her book, On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal was published in September 2019.