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October 20, 2018

Unions fight Climate Change

Reuel S. Amdur

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Unions can be a powerful force in the fight against climate change. That was the message that Carla Lipsig-Mummé brought to an event in Ottawa sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on October 3. She is Professor, Work and Labour Studies, at York University.

Because 80% of greenhouse gas (GHG) is produced in the processes of work, it is imperative, she argued, to address the problem there.  With the increasing speed of climate change, the need is ever more urgent.

Transportation accounts for half of all workplace GHG’s.  Much of this is generated in the process of factories outsourcing work to smaller, usually non-union, companies.

In addressing the problem, social scientists could not proceed on their own.  They needed participation by people with practical knowledge.  Unions, with that direct workplace knowledge, have been valuable sources of information.  Additionally, they have been active in addressing the problem. 

Contract bargaining has in some cases resulted in the insertion of green clauses.  They may give unions say in the work processes.  Unions have also been active in recycling endeavors, even in many cases without green supporting clauses in their contracts.

As a result of contractual and non-contractual endeavors by unions, they have been able to encourage green procurement and have bargained successfully for a voice in deciding on materials used in production.  They have promoted skills training, which has also aided in reducing GHG’s.  Alone and in cooperation with employers they have engaged in public education.  UNIFOR has been able to obtain the establishment of joint labor-management teams addressing the need for changes to reduce GHG’s.

Some union pension funds have divested from dirty industries, such as oil producers, to invest in others that are green. 

Canadian researchers have been able, with the cooperation of unions, to establish a data base of green activities by unions.  Now the British are doing the same.

Lipsig-Mummé concluded by saying that, “more than almost any other group,” unions can tackle climate change, “more effectively than business and government.”

She did not mention the unfortunate fact that the union movement is declining in strength.

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