Resistance and Resilience: Climate & Environmental Justice Framework

June 10, 2024
Posted in Uncategorized

Appendix to SEIU Convention 2024 Resolution #102a

Across the globe, working people, our families, and communities are increasingly and most acutely affected by the serious environmental, economic, and health threats of climate change. For decades, scientific consensus has warned us that unless we do something to stop the acceleration of impacts on our environment, we will reach a point of no return. Wealthy corporations and extremist politicians have rigged the rules of our economy and deregulated environmental protections to pad big businesses’ bottom line at the expense of our families and communities. 

SEIU members are on the front lines of the climate crisis. We are first responders, health care workers, public service workers and property service workers. As one of the largest organizations of working people, the majority of whom are people of color, and as part of the communities hardest hit by environmental abuse and climate change, we know firsthand that fighting for Environmental Justice and combating the climate crisis is necessary to winning our vision for a just society. 

This Union Fights for Climate and Environmental Justice 

At the SEIU convention in 2016, our union determined that we must address the increasing threat of climate change along with the pollution that impacts the health of our families and our communities. We determined that our work would be led by a committee of local union leaders who share common concerns about the growing threats. We said that to be effective, our work would focus on three areas: 

internal member education and mobilization including the establishment of local union environmental justice committees, support for bold federal, state and local legislative efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating good union jobs and finally, workplace initiatives to both increase the workforce skills of our members and advance sustainability in our workplaces through member mobilization and labor/management engagement. 

Our members have supported federal, state and local initiatives that create investment into clean energy, pollution reduction and union jobs. Most recently, SEIU members mobilized to support what eventually became the federal Inflation Reduction Act which will invest hundreds of billions of dollars into clean energy and climate resilience. 

If we are to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a reduction in fossil fuel extraction must go hand in hand with massive investment strategies. SEIU members stand shoulder to shoulder with the millions of unionized workers in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada demanding that all workers in the energy sectors and industries and communities that rely on fossil fuel deserve, if their jobs cease to exist, to be able to transition into good union jobs in other sectors, with security for their families. 

In 2020, our committee adopted the following policy positions to address fossil fuel extraction and the need to protect workers caught in the transition to clean energy: 

  • Extraction of fossil fuels 
    • A moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure permits and leases on public lands.
    • Respect for tribal sovereignty in determining the use of their tribal lands. 
    • An end to all forms of public subsidies for fossil fuel corporations. 
  • Solidarity with all in the labor movement 
    • For more than a century, fossil fuel communities have been instrumental in powering the national economy, and have made heavy sacrifices to provide electricity for the nation. Fossil fuel-dependent areas have built their economies around those energy sources, not only for the employment of their citizens, but for the revenue that supports their schools, infrastructure, and small businesses. The shift in North America’s energy use is resulting in job loss and displacement and is leaving local economies struggling. Workers who have built and are dependent upon the fossil fuel industry must have: 
      • Access to good union jobs, training and advancement if their current jobs cease to exist; 
      • Guaranteed pensions and a bridge of wage support and healthcare until impacted workers find comparable employment or reach retirement; and 
      • Financial support for local community public services during a transition period. 

Beyond our committee’s efforts to advance massive clean energy investments paired with rapidly slowing fossil fuel extraction, the following work to win climate and environmental justice continues. 

  • We will continue to address climate and environmental justice through workplace initiatives that expand the scope of existing jobs to include innovative ways to affect energy, carbon emissions and sustainability. We will also push for investments to fund training programs at the federal and local level. 
  • We will expand the scope of how we leverage our power through bargaining, organizing and politics to leverage opportunities beyond wages and benefits to include demands that address structural causes of climate change and its impacts by identifying the environmental issues that resonate with members, partners and allies that impact our communities and climate. 
  • In Canada, we will educate our members about the increasing threats of climate change and its disproportionate impact on lower income communities and those of color. We know that solutions exist. As we gain a greater understanding of the threats, we will also address the solutions needed to mitigate climate change. We see our role within the larger progressive climate movement as advocates for a transition from fossil fuel that leads with the needs of those workers, their families and communities which will be most impacted as we transition to a cleaner economy and advocates policies that ensure that new jobs within the clean economy are union jobs. 
  • We will work hand in hand with a broad movement of Puerto Ricans to educate and mobilize popular support to pressure the local government to invest in measures that help fight and overcome the climate crisis before paying Wall Street. 
  • We will support and encourage members and workers fighting to win unions in their activism and leadership to take on the devastating impacts of climate change and inequality in our communities and will provide education and training materials to assist this effort. SEID recognizes these efforts may look different in different geographies and further recognizes the leadership of our allies in this struggle. SEID will balance our responsibility to lead with our responsibility to back the leadership of our partners. 
  • We will deepen and grow our commitment to linking climate and environmental justice to worker justice, racial justice and the broader movement. We will continue to help build a wider movement that unites climate justice movement leaders with activists in the racial justice, immigrant justice, healthcare justice, gender equality, and economic justice fights into a more powerful force for change that challenges the stranglehold the oil and gas corporations have over our economy and our ability to realize sustainable environmental solutions for the health and well-being of our families and communities. 
  • We will coordinate and integrate advocacy for emission reduction strategies on the Federal, state and local levels that link to workers’ demands and the growth of unions with our locals and state councils across the country, to ensure that our fight for environmental justice aligns with organizing and political projects aimed at asserting the central importance of union rights and the voices of working class communities. 
  • We will lead by example by conducting a study of our International Union’s carbon footprint and by assessing the steps necessary to become 100% carbon neutral, for consideration by our International Union Officers and Executive Board. 
  • We support initiatives in their insistence on eliminating structural racism, including environmental racism, and its commitment to repairing the historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities. 

For all workers and their families to be able to live and work in dignity and in safe and healthy communities, we need to find ways to check corporate forces whose business models and practices wreak havoc on our communities. Standing to fight climate change is part of our fight to stand against the forces of discrimination and hate, and structural racism which are a part of the reason our communities are disproportionately affected by both the climate crisis and the crisis of economic inequality.