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.
Greenberg said the Moving Forward Network brings together organizations representing two million people who live in or near rail yards, which she called “some of the most toxic facilities in the freight rail system.” She detailed the negative health benefits from railroads’ pollution, and declared that “There is no reason why our communities must suffer,” given that the technology exists to eliminate diesel emissions in rail yards.
As an example of the power of workers and communities working together, Greenberg cited the Senate hearing in July where UE General President Carl Rosen testified, along with a representative of the network. “The fact that UE and the Moving Forward Network were saying very similar things and supporting each other” made an “usually unflappable” representative of the railroad industry nervous, she said.
Carden described the abysmal working and living conditions of logistics industry workers in Illinois. “Logistics companies and railroads are some of the most profitable companies in the world,” he said, “and they are getting away with murder.” With their profits, they could easily afford to pay their workers well and invest in solutions to the pollution created by their industry, but they “will not simply do so out of the goodness of their hearts — they need to be forced to do so.”
Also on Thursday morning, delegates considered the resolution “A Green New Deal for People and the Planet.” Scott Slawson, Local 506, rose in agreement. “There is no reason we cannot be adopting battery technology in rail yards now,” he said. Local 506 members build locomotives, including the battery-powered FLX Drive.
Slawson also discussed the importance of a just transition for workers whose livelihood is based on the coal and fossil fuel industries. He cited a recent report which found that building green locomotives in Erie could create up to ten thousand jobs across the country. “It’s about making sure that we’re bringing everybody with us and leaving nobody behind” as we transition to a green economy, he said.
Larry Hopkins, Local 1177, also rose “in full support of this resolution,” as a rail crew driver and someone who lives near the rail yards. “Our communities are being affected by these rail yards with their combustion and toxic fumes,” he said. “We need to continue our efforts and fighting with the government to get the necessary changes that we need to make” and to get a Green New Deal “to come to pass.”
Cedric Whelchel, Local 1177, said that pollution from diesel locomotives “has affected my breathing. I sit in a rail yard for four maybe five hours at a time breathing the fumes.” He charged that rail corporation corporations “don’t seem to understand” that emissions from their dirty locomotives have “a long-lasting effect on mothers who are pregnant [and] our children that play in that community, and they don’t seem to care.”
John Miles, Local 506, recalled how at the 2019 UE convention he had spoken with caution about the Green New Deal, “but we have figured out how to make the just transition happen” and he is now in full support.
Dawn Meyer, Local 808, warned about the dangers that oil pipelines pose to the food supply. “They want to poison our food source with oil,” she charged.