As a result of human economic activity, the planet is facing a climate crisis. Brave and final solutions are needed to prevent the worst effects of this crisis. However, as societies face unprecedented income and wealth inequalities, often drawn along the lines of race and gender, workers’ rights have become contentious, as the role of trade unions during the transformation to electrification calls into question the existing power structure of fossil capitalism.
From its inception until today, unions have undergone significant changes. However, they remain the most legitimate means of social organization to defend workers’ rights during the evolution towards clean energy industries.
Fair transition and the role of trade unions
What is a “fair crossing”?
If we want to have a fair path to a sustainable future, it will require a fair transition consisting of a set of policies that ensure a sustainable economic future for all workers, especially those in industries that may be affected by efforts to limit GHG or introduce new technologies. on fossil fuels. This requires the involvement of trade unions so that reasonable working conditions are ubiquitous in the renewable energy sector and its supply chain.
Long-term solutions to a fair transition policy require strong political coalitions with explicit agendas. Such coalitions must include workers from all sectors and with different existential interests.
A fair transition must:
- be comprehensive, flexible and integrated to help workers, their families and their communities
- be accompanied by a lasting industrial policy
- include strong social support programs
- develop creative work-oriented work adaptation programs
- guarantee equal opportunities
- addressing structural gender inequalities so that women of all ages have access to jobs and sectors from which they are traditionally excluded, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
- offer workers to sit at a clean energy negotiating table so that their voices are heard
U.S. unions are moving toward the United Front in their mission to combat climate change
Trade unions that promote electrification tend to do so within the framework of social and environmental obligations, space and action. Together, these elements make for a proactive rather than reactive approach to climate change mitigation. More specifically, union success can be determined by the density of the associated workforce, the percentage of workers in the market and compliance with union representation, and the bargaining power of workers by their sector.
Trade unions, especially in some specific sectors, are able to influence workers, companies and, consequently, governments and represent an important variable of different interests that need to be balanced in order to produce a successful transition to a clean energy economy. Indeed, sectors that are fundamental to the economy and society, such as electricity or fuel, have greater bargaining power than some other sectors. The political and economic climate in the country, local legislation regarding trade unions and market competitiveness play an important role in the ability of trade unions to exercise power.
As a social movement, unions are not static: they are constantly creating new forms of organization and action. By about 2019, U.S. unions had expressed differing views on the climate crisis, ranging from continued support for the fossil fuel industry through mixed loyalty to promoting climate policies that are moving away from fossil fuel adherence. Attitudes about unions are more complex and contradictory than the dichotomy of opposition and support that many experts prefer, according to a report titled “Adapting Canadian Work and Climate Change Response: Canada in an International Perspective. ”
Describing the place of trade unions in the world political economy, called positioning, as “not to be underestimated”, the report states that sector dynamics, industrial relations and the place of trade unions in the wider political economy are important internal and external factors that create or limit environmental alliances.
What is the position of various American trade unions in the last few years towards resolving the climate crisis?
- Mostly inaudible: International Association of Drivers (but very interested in protecting American airlines and manufacturers); National Union of Post Operators; United Union of Food and Commercial Workers; National Letter Carrier Association (but support for greening the fleet); International Spearmen’s Association; Firefighters; Police unions.
- Mainly silent on the environment / climate and support for fossil fuel infrastructure: Elevator workers; Insulators (support energy efficiency); Plasterers; Roofers; Operational engineers; Painters; Carpenters.
- Accept the need for climate policy and support for fossil fuels: Union of Communal Workers of America; Plumbers and pipe fitters; Ironworks; Boilermakers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers; Professional and technical engineers (nuclear energy support); LIUNA; Sheet metal workers; Teamsters.
- Climate policy with adaptation / support for some fossil fuels: Steel; Industrial Division of Communication Workers of America; Masons; Car owners; Transport Workers’ Union; Amalgamed transit union.
- Climate policy with mitigation of fossil fuels: National Nurses United; International Union of Civil Servants; American Postal Workers’ Unions; American Federation of Civil Servants; American Federation of County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Teachers; Communications Workers of America; National Electrical Contractors Association; IBEW 595; International Longshore and Warehouse Union; National Education Association; United Electrical Workers; New York State Nurses Association; Railroad Workers United.
The transition to acceptable widespread electrification was rapid around the world, and the transition in many American unions was also rapid.
For example, by 2020, BYD North America had delivered 4 K7M Columbia battery electric buses to the Missouri Transit Agency, Go COMO. The media stories embed the fact that the buses were manufactured in the US in Lancaster, California, by members of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union (SMART), Local 105 at BYD’s factory.
This month, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) joined the United Automotive Workers (UAW) in urging school districts to electrify the national school bus fleet. The effort aims to begin a gradual evolution towards carbon-free emissions, the AFT press release said. Currently, about half a million yellow school buses in the U.S. produce more than 5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Pollutants from their exhaust pipes contribute to asthma and other respiratory conditions among students and drivers – especially in communities that are already contaminated due to environmental injustice. The AFT states that when electric bus manufacturers agree to a majority application process with the UAW, it sends an important message to the public as well as automotive and other workers that the transition to a green economy can create quality, union manufacturing jobs. .
It also provides a clear argument for why investing public money to support the transition to electricity makes sense for U.S. citizens. Combating the climate crisis will address the impact of pollutants on color communities; protect students, drivers and community health; and, create and increase quality union production jobs that support families and communities.
Investing in electric school buses will help our students breathe easier. Building a bus union will allow communities to thrive. We have to do both.
Watch live ⤵️ https://t.co/6xKheqErO2
– AFT (@AFTunion) May 31, 2022
Appreciate the originality of CleanTechnice? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica member, support, technician or ambassador – or patron at Patreon.