Climate change poses an existential threat to humanity. The science is unquestionable: 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientific literature affirms that human activity is causing global warming. The UN Intergovernmental Policy on Climate Change (IPCC) described their most recent report dated August 8, 2021 as a “code red for humanity.” They further reported changes to the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system. Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented across thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some changes such as continued sea level rise are irreversible.
Since UE’s last convention, we have seen monumental wildfires in the U.S. west, arctic Siberia, Greece, and Turkey. Temperate Portland, Oregon, hit an otherworldly 118°F, while Canada hit its all-time high. 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year followed by 2019 as the 3rd hottest ever. July of 2021 has been recorded as the world’s hottest month. We have also seen record-breaking typhoons, flash floods, hurricanes and cyclones. Global temperatures will continue to rise unless we massively reduce our use of fossil fuels.
The labor movement has a leading role to play in ensuring that this transition is just, humane, and based on solidarity and valuing people over profit.
In the 1930s and 1940s, faced with the economic devastation of the Great Depression and the existential threat of Nazism and fascism, working people played a leadership role in the political and economic movement known as the “New Deal.” The New Deal helped our country recover from the Great Depression, facilitated the establishment of the industrial unions (including UE) that brought a decent standard of life to tens of millions of working-class people, and positioned our economy to be able to transition to defeating Nazism and fascism in World War II.
The Green New Deal proposed by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others offers our best hope to meet the challenge of climate change while creating millions of good union jobs.
Like the transformation of our manufacturing infrastructure and economy that took place during World War II, a just and successful transition to a sustainable industrial and manufacturing base will require massive infusion of federal and state resources, coordination between government, industry and labor, and democratic participation of workers through widespread unionization. Millions of workers could be employed strengthening our infrastructure, rebuilding our rail and transit systems, converting to renewable energy sources, protecting against the effects of rising temperatures, and in many other areas.
A just transition also requires a real commitment to guaranteed income, benefits, and direct assistance for workers and communities. Workers who lose fossil-fuel jobs should retain their pay and compensation as they transition into new types of work, and should be provided with education and retraining opportunities well before they get laid off, and guaranteed jobs when their facilities close. Communities that have been devastated by pollution or damaged by the effects of rising global temperatures, which are disproportionately low income communities of color, should receive massive investments which ensure good union jobs and a healthy future.
Over the course of 2021, UE Locals 506, 610, and 618 have been working on a concrete example of just transition through their Green Locomotive Project. The three locals’ members are employed by Wabtec, which dominates the freight locomotive market within the U.S., and has the capability to build new, low-emission locomotives, as well as new experimental hybrid locomotives equipped with onboard batteries. However, demand for new locomotives is currently low, which has led to less work. Nearly two thirds of locomotives operated by major North American railroads are more than 20 years old — and are dirty locomotives that, without outside pressure, railroads will continue to operate for decades to come.
Given the movement for a Green New Deal, the leadership of the three locals sensed an opening for a new program, forcing railroads to replace or upgrade older locomotives with subsidized-purchases of new cleaner or zero-emission models — a policy change which would result in hundreds of new jobs in Erie and Wilmerding, as well as considerable reduction of pollution, particularly in rail yards often clustered in urban areas near communities of color. The Green Locomotive Project built relationships with environmental activists and other trade unions, worked with federal politicians to draft legislation, and while the outcome is still in flux, has come closer to making a major breakthrough in Washington than UE has managed for decades.
It is also time to renew the demand raised by our union in the 1970s in response to the energy crisis: bring the energy industry under democratic control through public and social ownership. Public and cooperative utilities have a long history in this country and the conversion to renewables provides us with an opportunity to provide power for the many — not the few.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 77th UE CONVENTION:
- Endorses the Green New Deal legislation introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey;
- Demands Congress implement the policy prescriptions of the Green Locomotive Project;
- Commends the Sunrise Movement on their bold campaign of organizing young people to take direct action to force our elected representatives to address the pressing issue of climate change;
- Encourages UE members to find creative ways to participate in activities that educate, organize and mobilize our members and the community at large to support the Green New deal, and do so without violating collective bargaining agreements if applicable;
- Encourages the union at all levels to educate members about:
- Climate change and creative solutions that reduce carbon output while creating good union jobs;
- Environmental justice struggles, including the struggle of UE members in West Virginia and eastern North Carolina threatened by pipeline projects in their areas;
- Urges all UE members to become involved in environmental justice organizations and struggles;
- Calls on environmental organizations to incorporate just transition into their platforms;
- Demands Congress hold fossil fuel corporations accountable for the damage they created, including but not limited to criminal liability and punitive fines;
- Demands that all environmental policies, including those targeting climate change, incorporate a just transition for workers and communities affected;
- Supports UE’s participation in worker-oriented efforts to address climate change such as Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), Labor Network for Sustainability, the Blue-Green Alliance, and the Just Transition Alliance;
- Reaffirms the solution UE proposed to the energy crisis in the 1970s: public ownership of the energy industry and increased investment in rail transportation;
- Supports the continuing efforts of the UE to build alliances with environmental and community organizations and in developing organizing strategies for renewable energy workers;
- Calls for a moratorium on the construction of any additional nuclear fission power plants.