Is employee choice an environmental concern?
I was taken aback with "Workers' rights are key to clean energy" [May-June Yodeler]. As we perch on the abyss of catastrophic climate change and wholesale destruction of habitats worldwide, how can the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA - a movement to increase union jobs) be an initiative of the Sierra Club?
The article, sadly, says nothing of the Employee Free Choice Act - just that somehow it's connected to green jobs, which it is not. It's a bill that, among other things, would remove the right of employees to vote in privacy in a union election. Unions do want to grow and get more membership, and by having the ability to have employees sign open cards over time, it would negate private voting, greatly enhance the ability of union supporters to pressure co-workers to vote pro-union, and hence, make it easier for unions to organize. As much as I oppose this "Free" choice act, I understand why the Teamsters and other unions see it as their lifeblood to survival, but I fail to see any reason for an environmental group to support union growth.
The article states that the Sierra Club has said, "companies that treat their workers right are much more likely to treat our environment right". Really? So, treating employees right is having a union? And unionized companies are progressive? Just look around San Francisco - the home of the most environmentally progressive companies, and they are NOT unionized.
Let's think of the major unionized companies in the U.S. - the auto industry, airlines and UPS. None of these companies in any way are friends to the environment. The unionized U.S. auto industry brought us the over-sized car, most appallingly the Hummer. UPS duplicates postal services with not an ounce of green gas elimination. The non-unionized car industries in the U.S. brought us the hybrid vehicle, while the U.S. unionized auto industry killed the electric car.
It is beyond me how the Sierra Club could be supportive of the unions whose sole aim is to grow union jobs.
Sierra Club response.
Under current law, workers must jump through hoops to unionize. Even when a majority have signed union cards, they must go through an additional election (this is a burden, not a "right"), where employers typically engage in expensive and intimidating campaigns to discourage them. EFCA will allow workers to be recognized as a bargaining unit once a majority sign cards. EFCA will also help workers secure contracts and will toughen penalties against employers who violate workers' rights.
The Sierra Club supports EFCA because the people doing the actual work are the front line of defense against dangerous and polluting business practices, and unionized workers are more likely to speak up about accidents and hazards in the workplace because of the job security provided by unions. Across the country, union workers have worked to hold corporations accountable for pollution that threatens both workers and the environment. For example, the United Steelworkers sued to force California to protect its residents from the chemical PFOA, used in the manufacture of Teflon. PFOA has been linked to birth defects and increased cancer rates. Steelworker members in New Jersey were also instrumental in preventing a chemical treatment plant from dumping chemicals used for processing the highly toxic nerve gas VX into the Delaware River. Locally the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers has for decades been a leader in the campaign to cut toxic hazards from the Chevron refinery in Richmond. The Teamsters have joined up with the Sierra Club and the West Oakland community to cut diesel emissions at the Port of Oakland.
In addition to protecting communities from pollution and other hazards, unions provide better and more sustainable jobs. Union workers make, on average, 30% more than non-union workers. 80% of unionized workers receive health care, compared to only 49% of the non-unionized work force. Focusing on the economic health of the middle class, instead of on corporate profits, is clearly the way to create a more just and sustainable economy. Allowing workers the basic right to form a union and to play a greater role in the workplace will be essential to the success of a green and healthy economy. EFCA will enable workers to work for decent pay, be treated with dignity, and take care of their families. The Sierra Club is proud to stand with our friends and allies in the labor movement as we fight together for a sustainable, green, and fair future.