Under escalating pressure from activists, Nike, the utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and others have publicly resigned from the US Chamber of Commerce over its opposition to climate protection policies. It’s time for labor unions to follow suit by cutting all ties with groups opposing climate legislation like the Chamber-funded Energy Citizen’s Alliance.
The AFL-CIO’s newly elected president Richard Trumka recently told an audience at the "Jobs, Justice, and Climate" conference: "The AFL-CIO and all the unions in North America are strongly on board the global campaign to reduce carbon emissions and stabilize climate change. Working together with environmental organizations we hope to reverse practices that put our very survival at risk."
So why have some labor unions thrown their support behind the Energy Citizens Alliance, a nationwide front-group lobbying against climate mitigation legislation and funded by the likes of the Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute?
According to Energy Citizen’s website, the group’s objective is to force "Congress to reject climate change policies that could raise energy costs and eliminate American jobs." They opposed the Waxman-Markey climate bill and are now furiously lobbying against the Senate version, claiming it will have "negative effects for families, small businesses, farmers and truckers–but the fact remains that all Americans that drive or fly will feel the impact."
Besides the Chamber and API, the alliance’s membership includes Laborers’ Local 341, Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Alaska, and the Pipefitters’ United Association Local 375. The rest of the membership reads like a "who’s who" of the most anti-union and anti-environmental lobbies in the country, including: the National Association of Manufactures, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the American Conservative Union.
Even worse, at least one AFL-CIO state president has become a spokesman for the alliance. At a recent Energy Citizens rally in Alaska, organized to demand that "Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski to reject costly climate change policies", Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, warned the crowd that one-third of Alaska’s workers owe their jobs to the oil industry, and that climate legislation "will cost jobs in the long term." Energy Citizens is sponsoring 20 similar rallies around the country to aid efforts to defeat any and all climate legislation.
The AFL-CIO and their affiliates have come a long way on climate change. They opposed Kyoto Protocol in 1990’s, despite the fact that unions from Europe, Canada and elsewhere supported it. Fortunately that started to change at the end of 2006 when the AFL-CIO formed a new Energy Task Force and began to engage with the issue in new ways. Its 2007 report, Jobs and Energy for the 21st Century, acknowledged that "human use of fossil fuels is undisputedly contributing to global warming, causing rising sea levels, changes in climate patterns and threats to coastal regions."
More recently labor and environmental coalitions such as the Blue Green Alliance and the Apollo Alliance have dedicated significant resources to fighting for green jobs and climate mitigation policies. The AFL-CIO sent member delegations to Bali and other international climate change convening. And the AFL-CIO supported the Waxman-Markey climate bill.
That’s why labor affiliates joining forces with the Chamber of Commerce to support astro-turf groups like Energy Citizens is so disturbing. According to a recent editorial by the NYT, "no organization in this country has done more to undermine" climate legislation than the Chamber of Commerce. This is the same organization that recently called for a "Scopes monkey trial" questioning the science behind the EPA’s preliminary finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.
At every turn, labor is advocating for the creation of millions of "green jobs." The AFL-CIO recently opened a new Center for Green Jobs at the National Labor College and unions fought hard to secure federal funds for green job creation in the House and Senate climate bills. At last month’s AFL-CIO convention, even Energy Citizen ally Vince Beltrami publicly endorsed Resolution 10 entitled "Creating and Retaining Sustainable Good Green Jobs." So why are these same union officials trying to see that those jobs are never created?
What’s even more frustrating is that the Energy Citizen’s Alliance membership is composed of the very corporate lobbies that have led the charge against labor’s number one legislative priority: The Employee Free Choice Act. How can labor ask environmental groups to support their legislative priorities when some unions are working against the single most important environmental issue of our time
If PG&E and Nike can cut ties with the Chamber, isn’t it time for labor to do the same?