by Jon Sokolow
On July 26, an impressive group of Democratic members of the Virginia General Assembly wrote a letter to Governor Northam opposing the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. The legislators called on Northam to direct Virginian’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to stop deferring to a blanket federal standard known as “Nationwide Permit 12,” because it bypasses state water quality guidelines.
Instead, the legislators urged Northam to direct DEQ to do a stream-by-stream analysis, which is exactly what Northam called for in February 2017 when he was a candidate for Governor, and to halt all construction of the pipelines pending a real regulatory review.
As if to prove the legislators’ point, just one day later the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a key permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The following week, on August 3, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered a complete halt to all construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, citing the Fourth Circuit’s decision. Three days later, on August 6, the Fourth Circuit revoked two federal permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and noted that, without those two permits, “ACP, should it continue to proceed with construction, would violate FERC’s certificate of public convenience and necessity.”
As a result, both pipelines have been stopped dead in their tracks, at least temporarily.
Enter LIUNA, the laborers union, which on July 24 sent its own preemptive attack letter to all Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly. LIUNA’s letter was a vicious and false attack on Democrats, environmentalists and anyone else who opposes the pipelines. It was signed by Dennis Martire, a LIUNA Vice President who reportedly earns more than $300,000 per year, plus expenses, many times more than the workers he purports to “represent.”
Martire’s talking points mirrored an April letter from Charlie Jackson, who is a lobbyist for Dominion Energy but, as we have described here, poses as a LIUNA “union” lobbyist when it suits him. Jackson pockets are lined with corporate cash, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, American Electric Power and ExxonMobil. Just look at his website.
According to Martire, elected officials who dare to oppose the pipelines “have forgotten that workers deserve dignity.” Their alleged crime? A “palpable disregard for construction careers” that shows they are “out of touch with the working people.”
Martire’s letter included an absurd attack on Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax), who spearheaded the legislators’ letter and who has a lifetime 100% pro-labor voting record from the Virginia AFL-CIO, as do many Democratic members of the Virginia Legislature.
Martire likewise savaged the Virginia Sierra Club, which had absolutely nothing to do with the legislators’ letter. According to Martire, the Sierra Club pursues a “line of attack” that “isn’t fair, honest or accurate,” acts “in bad faith” and provides “false information” on the pipelines. Sierra Club’s alleged crime? It also has called for DEQ to do a stream-by-stream analysis of the potential impact of these pipelines using Virginia’s water quality standards.
Contrary to Martire’s claim, the Sierra Club has a long history of supporting unions – its own national staff is unionized under the Progressive Workers Union and it participates in many pro-union fights, including the Fight for 15 and supporting Walmart workers. Sierra Club also works closely with the 700,000 member strong Communication Workers of America and the 190,000 member Amalgamated Transit Union on a variety of issues of joint concern both nationally and in Virginia. And Sierra Club and other environmental organizations joined with some of the largest unions in the United States, including the United Steel Workers, to form the Blue Green Alliance, whose mission is summarized as follows:
“Too often, Americans are asked to choose between jobs and the environment. But as we face increasingly severe impacts of environmental challenges like climate change and adapt to an interconnected global economy, we can no longer choose one or the other. We believe we can and must choose both.”
LIUNA famously quit the Blue Green Alliance in 2012 over the alliance’s opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. In the process, LIUNA violated one of labor’s most sacred and important principles – don’t attack other unions – by criticizing AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, with LIUNA saying it was “repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers” who want to “destroy the lives of working men and women.”
This put LIUNA at odds not only with other unions, but with the Democratic Party platform, which says “we support President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”
LIUNA is trying to scare Democratic elected officials with the false charge that they are threatening good union jobs. But the claim of jobs for Virginia workers is completely overblown. On the ground, people have seen few if any license plates from Virginia for either the Mountain Valley or Atlantic Coast Pipelines. Instead, they have seen license plates from many other states, as far away as Texas.
The Project Labor Agreement signed for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline reportedly says only that the unions will try to hire half of the workers from West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Earlier this year, LIUNA stated that the ACP will only create 1,000 total jobs for pipeline workers in all three states, which likely works out to an unenforceable goal of less than 200 actual pipeline jobs for workers in Virginia. The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is being built by a Wisconsin company with a terrifying history of documented incompetence (55 landslides in a 55 mile pipeline project) when it comes to pipeline projects. And it is not clear that there is a project labor agreement in place for the MVP.
The bottom line is this: no one, not LIUNA, nor MVP, nor Dominion have stated publicly exactly how many Virginians are being directly employed to work on these pipelines! And they never will.
Let’s be blunt: LIUNA’s highly compensated executives and lobbyists have no credibility when it comes to telling Democrats what is and what is not a “progressive” position to take on labor or the environment. LIUNA, after all, has been a cheerleader for Donald Trump, heralding his election and praising him for his “sound energy policy,” including off shore drilling.
And LIUNA, of course, created a firestorm for removing now Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax from campaign literature they circulated right before the 2017 election, generating justifiable accusations of racism.
The Democratic Party platform says nothing about investing to create more jobs in fossil fuel infrastructure. To the contrary, the platform says Democrats will “incentivize wind, solar, and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants” and stresses the need for “creating good-paying clean energy jobs.”
The Democratic platform also states that Democrats “will protect communities from the impact of climate change and help them to mitigate its effects by investing in green and resilient infrastructure” that “will create secure, good-paying middle-class jobs today and will substantially increase demand for American-made steel and other products manufactured in the United States,” creating “many more jobs in the years to come.”
This much is clear: LIUNA does not speak for “labor” just because it is a union any more than Ben Carson speaks for the Civil Rights Movement, just because he is African American.
The pipelines that so many oppose would be a climate disaster for Virginia, spewing methane (a highly potent greenhouse gas) and other toxic substances into our water and air. Indeed, early construction activities have already created lasting damage, leading officials in West Virginia and Virginia to issue numerous violation notices. And workers in Virginia breath the same air and drink the same water as everyone else.
LIUNA’s attacks are based on the lie that we have to choose between a healthy planet and union jobs. To the contrary, we can and must have both a healthy, clean environment – for ourselves and future generations – and a strong, vibrant and enduring labor movement. Labor has always been, and will always be, the backbone of the progressive movement in the United States and around the world.
That is exactly why labor must be on the front lines fighting for environmental justice. When LIUNA threatens progressive leaders and organizations to push a new $10 billion investment in fracked methane infrastructure, it actually is doing long term damage to labor. Labor will not grow and prosper by preserving construction jobs in an obsolete industry, jobs that will be gone as soon as these projects are done, which is projected for 2019. After that, the MVP will create only 34 permanent jobs and a similar number are likely for the ACP.
We are witnessing the birth of an entire new energy economy and LIUNA is stuck in the past, advocating for jobs in an industry that soon no longer will exist and which is damaging not only to our planet but to the workers themselves.
The opportunities for the labor movement to rebuild itself in the emerging green economy are huge. For example:
- “From 2010 to 2015, the utility-scale solar industry created 10,200 full-time jobs in California, paying workers $39 per hour.”
- In 2016 “the Departments of Energy and Interior released a strategic planto develop a national offshore wind industry” that “calls for 20 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from wind power by 2030 – enough to spur 160,000 wind-related jobs.”
- Just one wind turbine pilot project on Block Island, Rhode Island created 300 jobs for unionized electrical and ironworkers.
- The potential for growth is shown in Europe, which is far ahead of the United States in wind production, employing 75,000 workers in 2010.
- Unions like the California AFL-CIO have made major efforts to promote and unionize solar projects.
- The sheet metal workers union organized a 500 member local for electric bus workers in California.
Ignoring today’s opportunities to rejuvenate the labor movement with unionized green energy projects would be a blunder of historic proportions. It would be as if labor had decided 120 years ago to fight for “good paying union jobs” in the horse and buggy industry instead of organizing auto workers, steel workers, rubber workers, machinists and others into industrial unions. If labor had made that choice, we would not have the modern labor movement.
Labor in Virginia and around the United States has an historic opportunity- right here, right now – to rebuild the labor movement and allow it to flourish for generations to come by pushing for investments in green energy and committing vast resources to organizing the emerging green industry into strong, resilient and politically powerful unions – right here in Virginia .
Fracked gas pipelines will one day join the horse and buggy as museum exhibits of an industry long gone. If LIUNA really wants to represent its members – and preserve jobs and the planet for their children’s children – then it should stop shilling for the fossil fuel industry and join other unions and the progressive movement overall in the fight for an enduring and healthy labor movement and a healthy planet. Their members deserve no less.
And there is no Planet B.