Toxic Relationship 

How refineries affect climate change and racial and economic injustice

Page 2 of 3

Union leaders don't buy that argument.

"As long as there's a market for the product somewhere, American workers should produce it," Garey said. For members of his union, cuts in refinery production mean "losing the best job they ever had." In addition, many workers in construction trades depend on refineries for jobs. And, Garey said, "this is a community-wide issue."

Refineries contribute a big share of the taxes communities rely on. And there's what economists call a "multiplier" effect: every high-paying job creates seven to 10 other jobs providing the goods and services that refinery workers can afford to buy.

Start Planning Now

According to the Decommissioning California Refineries report, those very economic facts are the reason why it's important to start immediately creating ambitious programs for supporting workers and communities in the switch to a clean-energy economy.

Doing that "will take state, local, and county action as well as a national plan," said Soto of CBE. And, he added, the plan must be based on "justice for workers and the people who have paid the heaviest price of having polluters in their communities."

Carol Zabin, who heads the Green Economy Program at the UC Labor Center, agreed. It will be necessary to "use a lot of levers of government, from direct public investment to business incentives to training and education infrastructure," she said.

Ramping up efforts to create good jobs in a clean-energy economy is a goal environmentalists and labor advocates agree on.

"The big problem is that there are not enough other good jobs for people without a college education," Zabin said.

Hunter, of the Building Trades Council, said his unions have been pushing for public programs that create good jobs while reducing demand for petroleum: building solar and wind energy, massive expansion and electrification of public transit, high-speed rail, housing near transit.

Zabin agreed with Karras that each community needs to "figure out in an intimate local setting" how to shift from economic dependence on refineries. "We have to plan locally with state and federal support," Karras said.

"This is a process that requires community-wide participation," Soto added. Workers, refinery community residents, and environmental organizations should be involved in the planning, Garey said. They all "need each other as allies – we need the biggest 'we' we can get."

Supervisor Gioia said Contra Costa County should "start now having study sessions and community forums to lay out pathways for this thing that we have to do to save the planet." He agreed that workers and residents should be part of the planning process and reported that Contra Costa has already adopted "a policy to have a more inclusive planning process—the community has to have a voice."

"We need strategies to make California the manufacturing center of the new economy," Gioia added. He pointed to a new factory in Los Angeles County—with good, union jobs—making the electric buses needed for the county's clean-transportation plan.

But not all investments in clean energy produce good, family-supporting jobs, Zabin said. "We need labor standards on all industries affected by climate policy." There are none, she pointed out, in California's program for building electric-vehicle charging stations. And most energy-efficiency projects "have gone low-road."

When the Air Resources Board was creating standards for energy-efficiency work, she said, the State Building Trades Council pushed for them to include labor standards. Zabin herself submitted two reports calling for the same thing. For environmental programs to build a coalition with labor, she said, "we should put conditions on the $1.5 billion a year we spend on energy efficiency." But CARB rejected these proposals. "It's a question of political will," Zabin said. Government could also create good jobs in other areas, she added, such as rebuilding infrastructure—a green New Deal.

Committing Significant Revenue

But economic development programs are not enough to meet the needs of refinery workers, Garey said. "We need to commit significant revenue, enough to support their income for an appropriate time." He pointed to a program spelled out in an initiative that narrowly lost in his state of Washington, calling for "income insurance" for up to five years for workers who lost their jobs because of the switch from fossil fuel, as well as health insurance, a path to retirement and support for job retraining.

Building a stronger "social safety net" is necessary, not only for displaced petroleum workers, but for everyone, Karras argues: "The average gig-worker job doesn't pay enough for rent or mortgage, health care, college."

Especially in refinery communities like Contra Costa, Gioia said, "we need to look at more robust training programs in our community colleges—opportunities for a new generation to enter trades in a new industry." At the same time, he added, it might be necessary to "subsidize early retirement for workers late in their career."

The nonprofit think tank Oil Change International calls for a similar inclusive planning process on the state level, a "Statewide Just Transition Task Force—as has been done in Scotland and in Canada, for example—to facilitate the process of social dialogue and planning between employers, workers, unions, frontline communities and organizations, and local and state agencies."

Tags:

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Feature

Author Archives

  • It's Down to the Wire for PG&E

    Bankruptcy settlement pleases few, but faces crucial June 30 deadline
    • May 20, 2020
  • The Oil Well Next Door

    Officials in Contra Costa County are poised to approve oil- and gas-drilling just over the hill from a residential neighborhood
    • May 13, 2020
  • More»

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

The Beer Issue 2020

The Decade in Review

The events and trends that shaped the Teens.

Best of the East Bay

2020

© 2020 Telegraph Media    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation