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.

Just Transition policies lacking in federal and provincial climate policies in Canada

In February, the Adapting Work and Workplaces (ACW) project released three  preliminary working papers in a series  called Evaluating government plans and actions to reduce GHG emissions in Canada . The first report,  Federal progress through June 2016 (July 2016)  and the second,  Provincial and territorial progress through October 2016 (November 2016)    provide specific summaries of climate policies in their respective jurisdictions since November 2015, and in general, they conclude that  “Despite missteps, oversights and political backtracking, Canada’s climate policy has evolved to be relatively comprehensive and broadly supported”.  Significantly, the papers point out that “a large ambition gap remains between governments’ GHG targets and their actual emission reduction policies. …. the emissions-intensive production of oil and gas resources has largely escaped stringent, targeted GHG mitigation measures. Indeed, through direct and indirect subsidies, Canadian governments continue to promote oil and gas expansion despite its incompatibility with those same governments’ climate objectives.”

Just Transition policies is the focus of the third preliminary working paper in the ACW series. It  springs from the idea that just transition policy is a crucial and urgent, but under-developed, aspect of Canadian governments’ climate plans.  It characterizes “just transition” as a concept developed by the labour movement. “It is a social justice framework for facilitating the low-carbon transition in a way that minimizes negative employment impacts and ensures equitable outcomes for worker.” In defining “just transition”, the paper differentiates it from “climate justice”, stating, “A just transition is one of the goals of climate justice advocates, but the two concepts are distinct. Climate justice goes beyond workers, for example, to demand the poor are not disproportionately hurt by policies such as carbon pricing.”

The report reviews the latest climate plans published by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, discovering and describing:  1. Policies that provide income supports to laid-off workers; 2. Policies that provide skills training and re-training for the low-carbon economy, and 3. Policies that directly create new jobs, especially in the communities and regions adversely affected by climate policies.  The conclusion:  all Canadian jurisdictions “get a failing grade” on all three subjects. The paper calls for improved income support programs, since policy seems to favour training and retraining over income support in the existing federal unemployment insurance program, as well as in provincial climate policies which allow for reinvestment of carbon revenue, such as Alberta and Ontario. Workforce development policies seem to receive the most attention – while still lacking in most provinces. Finally, job creation policy is judged to be “hands-off”, with governments assuming that new investment in clean energy industries will be sufficient.

All three preliminary reports were authored by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood,  in association with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  A final, consolidated report is anticipated by Spring 2017.

 

 

What can Europe learn from Canadian experience with Just Transition?

A January 12th article by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, argues that Europe is falling behind in ambition and results for its green economy, and identifies new leaders as Canada, and certain States in the United States.  In The Just green Transition: Canada’s proactive approach , the author compares Canada’s carbon tax policies with the European  Emissions Trading Scheme, but focusses mainly on the discussion about  Just Transition.  He observes:  “The rhetoric about green jobs seems to be of a more honest and realistic nature in Canada than in Europe” and “even if trade unions are in a generally weaker position in that country [i.e. Canada]  or in the US than in Europe, their engagement in climate policy is more pronounced. Unions in North America are very active in mobilising for low carbon economy objectives with campaigns and workplace greening policies, and they even have collective bargaining clauses on greening.”  As evidence of union engagement, the article notes the ongoing work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project , including the database of green collective bargaining clauses.

A recent example of  union initiative appears in  Green Jobs for Tomorrow: Submission by the  Canadian Labour Congress to the Working Group on Clean Technology,  Innovation and Jobs,  one of four Federal-Provincial working groups mandated by the Vancouver Declaration in 2015 to investigate national climate change policy issues. In its submission, the CLC makes 10 recommendations for climate change policy, and states: : “We believe the lynchpin of meaningful sustained climate action is retraining, re-employment and relocation for affected workers.”  The CLC  lays out the elements of a Just Transition policy, including:  increased investment to create green jobs, improved access to Employment Insurance training programs, and increased Employment Insurance benefits for displaced workers, as well as  improved labour market information systems. To support these goals, the CLC calls for the government to create a National Workplace Training Fund, and, using the model of the industry  Sector Councils abolished by the Harper government in 2012, a national Labour Market Partners Council to facilitate ongoing dialogue and collaboration between key stakeholders: governments, unions, employers, and educators.

A Workers Plan to Transition to Renewable Energy Jobs, based on workers’ views

A Workers Climate Plan, submitted to the federal government its climate change consultations in September, was more publicly launched on November 1  at a solar panel installation training facility in Edmonton, Alberta.  The report by Iron and Earth  is much more than a publicity stunt: it offers serious policy suggestions, and also “gives voice to the workers” by reporting the results of a survey of opinions of Alberta’s energy sector workers.

The Plan is based on  four months of consultation with workers and stakeholder groups in the West, and on the analysis of the more than one thousand responses to an opinion survey conducted online from June to August 2016. These survey responses challenge the stereotype of the oil sands worker: for example, 59% of energy sector workers are actually willing to take some kind of pay cut to transition to renewable energy; 63 % of respondents  said they could shift to renewable projects “directly with some training” and another 16 % said they could shift without any need for retraining; 69% of energy sector workers agree or strongly agree that Canada should make a 100% transition to renewable energy by 2050; 71% believe climate change is the biggest threat facing the global community.

On the policy side, the Workers’ Climate Plan  focuses on the need for upskilling for the energy sector workforce; more manufacturing capacity for renewable energy in Canada; support for contractors and unions that want to transition to renewables; and the integration of renewable technologies into existing energy projects.  As well, the Plan states: “as  we advocate for a just transition of workers into the renewable energy sector, we must also uphold our obligations to First Nations by aligning our campaigns at Iron & Earth with the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

The Plan says this about the role of unions:”At Iron & Earth we think it is vital that existing energy sector unions are positioned within Canada’s developing renewable energy sector, and take a leading role in the design and implementation of Canada’s transition to renewable energy. The views of unions and associations such as IBEW, IBB, UA, Unifor, USWA, CLC, CUPE, and CAW, among others, on a wide range of issues, including sector regulations, training and employment legislation, will be key in developing a viable strategy to position existing energy sector workers in renewable energy.”

Iron and Earth  was founded in 2015 as a platform for oil sands workers to engage in renewable energy development issues, especially retraining.  From their website: “Our intention is not to shut down the oilsands, but to see they are managed more sustainably while developing our renewable energy resources more ambitiously. ” The  membership includes  workers from a variety of industrial trades, including boilermakers, electricians, pipe fitters, ironworkers, and labourers, and has spread beyond Alberta to include an East Coast chapter in Newfoundland.

Oil workers in Newfoundland training for wind and solar energy jobs

Iron and Earth, the worker-led group which helps oil and gas industry workers transition to clean energy jobs, announced  a Memorandum of Understanding with Beothuk wind-farm-311837_1280Energy   in mid-July 2016.  Beothuk, headquartered in St. John’s, Newfoundland, is proposing to build six offshore wind farms in Atlantic Canada with a combined capacity of  4000+ MW of energy, and estimates that it will create 10 jobs for each MW produced. The MOU is not available online, but is reported to encourage apprenticeships and retraining in wind energy.

On August 8, the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of Iron and Earth began to crowdfund  for a demonstration greenhouse project: to build a greenhouse incorporating solar and one other site-specific technology (micro-hydro, wind or geothermal) to power, heat and light a greenhouse year-round.  Concurrently, the project will demonstrate a solution to food security issues by powering LED grow lights even in the winter months, and will offer a solar energy course to  increase the region’s renewable energy skill set. Iron and Earth states that Newfoundland has no training programs for renewable energy, and a goal of this project is to retrain oil and gas workers. Bullfrog Power, the leading Canadian green energy provider, has pledged to  match any donations made to the  Greenhouse crowdfunder until the goal is reached; click here for details or to donate.