A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Anti-environment labor stereotype proves false

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, August 4, 5 or 6

Stereotypes about union members are about as worthwhile as stereotypes about minorities, cops or women.

Worthless, that is.

So the kneejerk generalization that most rank and file unionists oppose environmental regulations should be given all the weight of typecasting union members as selfish, lazy thugs.

A new study demonstrates that that anti-green assertion by union members just isn’t true.

Unionists are more likely than the country’s general population to have pro-environmental attitudes and take action on those attitudes, according to a report analyzing several national surveys that’s to be published in Labor Studies Journal.

In it, the authors show workers’ outlooks and behaviors about a range of environmental issues are supportive of sustainable approaches. Specifically, the study compares union and non-union workers, and the numbers are revealing – and hopeful for those who’d not only like to work for decent wages, reasonable hours and good working conditions, but on a planet that will continue to provide work for them and their children.

The study was conducted by Jeremy Brecher (author of “Global Village or Global Pillage”), who works with the Labor Network for Sustainability, and Todd Vachon, a University of Connecticut doctoral candidate in sociology and president of UAW Local 6950, UConn’s graduate employee union local. They analyzed 19 survey items related to environmental issues, and in 13 of the 19, union members were more supportive of environmental policies than non-union members. In the other six items, there was little difference between unionists and everyone else.

“This finding runs against the mainstream-media mantra of ‘jobs versus the environment,’ a frame which portrays unionized workers as self-interested and materialistic, putting their own personal gains above all else, including the environment,” Brecher and Vachon say. “A more informed historical analysis would reveal a long record of environmental concern among unionized workers and their organizations that overlaps and intermingles with the sporadic ‘news event’ conflicts that occasionally flare up between workers and environmentalists.”

A good example of a labor organization that’s worked to protect its members and also the environment is the United Steelworkers, which not only backed the first Clean Air Act; but has been a leader in the BlueGreen Alliance with the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund – along with AFSCME, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers, SEIU, United Auto Workers, and United Association of Plumbers & Steamfitters.

“Such pro-environmental policies reflect a little-recognized desire and even activism for environmental protection among union members,” the co-writers say. “That isn’t to deny that unions face an inescapable tension. On the one hand, they are principally organized to protect the work-related interests of their members. On the other hand, they have a responsibility to represent the broad class and social interests their members share with other workers, citizens and human beings, and to protect the future of the labor movement. From time to time, these interests come into conflict.”

In fact, in the General Social Survey (GSS),
* Americans were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “We worry too much about the future of the environment and not enough about prices and jobs today,” and 43 percent of nonunion respondents disagreed. However, 48 percent of the unionized respondents disagreed;
* people were asked if they’d signed a petition about an environmental issue in the past five years, and 25 percent of the general population said yes, but 32 percent of union members said yes; and
* asked whether they belonged to an organization whose main aim is “to preserve or protect the environment,” 8 percent of the population said yes, but 12 percent of union members belonged to such environmental groups.

The dominant, corporate media’s usual narrative frames stark choices for unions: either resisting policies that could benefit the nation but hurt job prospects, or ignoring the duty of fair representation to ensure union members that their interests are protected.

The reality is that unionists and their unions care about the world, too, and can work to see environmental progress while guarding that workers don’t have to shoulder an unfair burden of changes.

“Unions have the opportunity to pursue another course,” the authors say, “ – not trying to preserve environmentally destructive jobs, but fighting for economic security and/or new jobs with equal or better wages and benefits, … providing a ‘just transition.’ Fighting for such a transition can be a crucial point of convergence between environmental and labor advocates.”

[PICTURED: Graphic from]

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