UE organizer Ryan Calbreath spoke about the Green Locomotive Project at the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA)’s bi-annual convention at the end of November. Calbreath was part of a panel on messaging to the labor and environmental movements about climate change, hosted by ILCA Vice President Howard Kling, the Retired Director of the University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service.
Green Locomotive Project
After months of pressure from grassroots advocates and UE members, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially gave states some power to regulate locomotive emissions in early November. This ruling clears the way for California’s In-Use Locomotive Regulation to be implemented, but the fight for jobs in the green economy and clean air in rail yard communities is far from over.
On the final day of the convention, delegates heard remarks from Molly Greenberg of the Moving Forward Network and Tommy Carden of Warehouse Workers for Justice.
On Saturday, July 29, Green Locomotive Project volunteers in California brought the fight for green locomotives and green jobs to the entrance of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) rail yard. The activists distributed leaflets explaining the struggle of striking UE Local 506 and 618 members in Erie. The 1400 members of the two locals have been on strike since June 22 demanding a fair contract and that Wabtec invest in making green locomotives in their plant.
On Saturday, striking members of UE Locals 506 and 618 got support from a “convoy” of supporters from Pittsburgh who drove to Erie to join the picket line at the Wabtec locomotive plant. On the same day, in California, volunteers with the Green Locomotive Project distributed literature at the Barstow Rail Yard, where Wabtec operates a receiving facility, and on Friday, members of UE Local 150 distributed leaflets at the Wabtec plant in Maxton, North Carolina.
UE General President Carl Rosen was one of three witnesses invited to testify to a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, July 26 about opportunities to clean up pollution in rail yards, reduce carbon emissions, and create jobs by instituting stricter regulations on railroad emissions.
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) union has long been pushing for a transition to cleaner locomotives, in keeping with the spirit of a Green New Deal. UE general president Carl Rosen says the transition to clean locomotives fits with UE’s commitment to environmental justice and fighting climate change, and it could mean new union jobs including at the Wabtec Corp. locomotive factory in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Building more [Tier 4] locomotives in Erie “would be a benefit to the company, to the community we live in and obviously a benefit to the economy as well,” Slawson said. “Wabtec preaches that they’re all about making the transition into greener jobs and greener technologies, but they just kind of flat out ignored us at the bargaining table with those demands. They preach that they want to become a green company, but they don’t want to partner with the union who’s driving toward the same outcome.”
For about two hours on Thursday, July 6, a busload of strikers from Wabtec’s Erie locomotive plant, joined by hundreds of supporters, chanted, sang and rallied outside Wabtec’s corporate headquarters. Fourteen hundred members of UE Locals 506 and 618 have been on strike since Thursday, June 22, when they voted down Wabtec’s last, best and final offer by a wide margin.
“I want to thank you all so much for waging the fight,” Congresswoman Lee told the crowd. “We know that companies like Wabtec are never going to move unless we the people move them. We are sending a message to Wabtec and every other company & corporation in western PA that Pittsburgh is a union town. We're going to let them know how strong our movement really is — this is how we're going to win the green jobs of the future.”