March 17, 2008

Thomas Wigand: Camouflage Green

Engaged Citizen

As reported in the Providence Journal on March 13: "A coalition of labor unions, environmental advocates and antipoverty groups are collaborating to promote legislation that would help spark new renewable-energy industries in Rhode Island. The group, which calls itself the Green Jobs Alliance, says it has come together to promote a 'green economy' that improves the environment while at the same time creates middle-class jobs."

Neither the advance press release announcing the press conference regarding the rollout of this "Green Jobs Alliance," nor the subsequent Providence Journal story, made mention of the national and international roots and affiliations of this alliance. So it is fair to posit that there was a deliberate attempt to make it appear that this is some sort of homegrown, spontaneous effort within Rhode Island. But as we shall see, this seems unlikely — which in turn begs the question as to why the organizers sought to downplay those affiliations.

The Sierra Club, which was at the Providence news conference, has been engaged in a "partnership" with the United Steelworkers of America called the "Blue-Green Alliance" since 1996. This alliance, on March 13–14 hosted a conference called "Good Jobs, Green Jobs: A National Green Jobs Conference" in Pittsburgh. The speakers list includes representatives from various labor unions and the leadership of the AFL-CIO, which certainly was known to another attendee at the Providence news conference, George Nee of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO [who, with the local Sierra Club, co-authored a commentary piece calling for building wind farms in Rhode Island that appeared in the Providence Journal on February 20th].

The Blue-Green Alliance is sponsoring green jobs initiatives that appear identical to the Rhode Island "wind energy" effort in various of the "rust belt" states (arguably Rhode Island is one of the leading states in the expansion of the "rust belt" to encompass not just the upper Midwest, but the Northeast, as well). While an expansion of wind and solar powered energy generation is probably a good thing, it is fair to presume that the "green jobs" that they propose to create will actually be in the nature of taxpayer financed public works projects rather than incubating new private sector industries. After all, not every state can become a "leader" in a new "green" manufacturing sector, though it appears that this is how it is being marketed in each state.

Organized labor loves public works projects because they are de facto "corporate welfare" for unions. This is done through what are called "prevailing wage laws" and "project labor agreements." What these do is require public works projects (or private projects that get tax breaks) to pay union wages, the effect being that unionized contractors don't have to compete in a true competitive bidding process, so the playing field is shifted in favor of the unions … while the taxpayers are locked in to paying a higher-than-market price for the projects.

It is not a stretch to believe that the unspoken agenda here is to push new taxpayer financed public works projects, albeit labeling them as "good for the environment" and "fostering new industries with good paying jobs." After all, the Providence Place Mall and Route 95 projects are completed, so organized labor is no doubt on the hunt for new projects to fill the void.

Query whether Mr. Nee and the rest of organized labor would be willing, for the good of the environment, "to exempt such" green" projects from "prevailing wage" and "project labor agreements" so that they can be done at lesser cost, and so more of them can be completed. I think we all know the answer.

There is an international angle to this, as well. A group called the International Trade Union Confederation has involved itself with "global warming." This group declares on its Web site that "together with its affiliates, its regional organisations, the Global Union Federations, as well as with non-governmental organisations, the ITUC carries out ongoing campaign action for the universal respect of trade union rights, as guaranteed by the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)." The ILO is an affiliate of the United Nations.

The Blue-Green Alliance and the ITUC are advocating for the use of trade agreements and treaties to advance a "green" agenda, including "protections" for "workers rights." To the ITUC and ILO, "workers rights" is a euphemism for the government's actively promoting union organizing and otherwise using its power to subsidize organized labor, such as eliminating workers rights to a secret ballot election by enacting statutory requirements allowing union organizers to collect "voluntary" signatures from workers (e.g., you can just imagine Teamster organizers collect "voluntary" signatures), and once a simple majority of employees have signed, imposing a union on the entire workforce. (Note that a simple majority of signatures would not be allowed to later decertify a union; rather, a secret ballot election would still be required for that.)

In fact, the 2007 ITUC "Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights" criticizes the United States for preserving an employer's rights to demand a federally supervised secret ballot election for employees contemplating unionization and to conduct meetings with employees (on paid time) to explain to workers the employer's position on unionization (otherwise known as First Amendment rights). The AFL-CIO's single biggest legislative goal is to have enacted an Orwellianly named statute called the "Employee Free Choice Act" that would strip workers of secret ballot election protections (at least when bringing unions in).

It is not a stretch to imagine that organized labor simultaneously seeks to bypass the legislative process and advance this special-interest agenda by burying it within trade agreements and treaties marketed to the public as "green." Ironically, the presence of such labor union special-interest terms might discourage emerging countries from entering into such trade agreements and treaties, thus actually inhibiting the "green" initiatives that are supposedly being advanced.

Certainly, advancing a "greener" economy is desirable. And there is nothing wrong with organized labor pushing its agenda, although it is a special interest. But neither is it wrong to recognize that there is much institutional self-interest going on here, and that organized labor's green initiatives are predominately "camouflage green" intended to mask its pursuit of its own self interests under the halo of environmentalism.

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Positive steps are being made to reduce our dependance on foreign oil yet this post is an attack on organized labor. The unions aren't perfect, private industry isn't perfect, the enviornment isn't perfect. It is counterproductive to use an alliance between labor, enviornmentalists and anti poverty to improve our energy efficiency and create less pollution in the process as a pulpit to discredit these organizations.

If the private sector can figure out a way to make these improvements happen, more power to them. It is in everybody's "special interest" to do so.

Posted by: michael at March 17, 2008 10:49 AM

Why is pointing out a special interest group's motivation or ulterior motive always considered as an "attack" -- sounds awfully defensive.

Posted by: Will at March 17, 2008 11:53 AM

"organized labor's green initiatives are predominately "camouflage green" intended to mask its pursuit of its own self interests under the halo of environmentalism."

"It is not a stretch to imagine that organized labor simultaneously seeks to bypass the legislative process and advance this special-interest agenda by burying it within trade agreements and treaties marketed to the public as "green."

"Organized labor loves public works projects because they are de facto "corporate welfare" for unions"

if it walks like a duck...

Posted by: michael at March 17, 2008 12:19 PM

Labor unions are institutions that pursue their own self-interests, just like any others: they seek not only to survive, but to grow their revenues and in political power; they often become more focused on the best-interests and enrichment of their inner constituencies (bosses and other union officials) than those they are supposed to serve; etc.

So too it is with corporations that seek to grow their revenues and political power, and often become more attuned to enriching their CEO's than the best interests of stockholders and customers.

So too it is with political parties.

Labor unions deceptively try to promote an image of themselves strictly as egalitarian entities that are righting wrongs and helping "working families" and giving workers "a voice."

Yes, they do some good things. So do drug companies and oil companies.

But in the end labor unions are little different.

So it is fair to point out the self-serving nature of Archer Daniels Midland and politicians for pushing "green" ethanol to enrich themselves and curry favor with primary voting, corn growing Iowans (particularly since we know that on a net basis it ain't so "green").

But is is equally fair to point out the self-serving nature of organized labor pushing a "green agenda" - particularly when components of that have nothing to do with a "green" agenda (such as project labor agreements / prevailing wage / "Employee Free Choice Act" and its ilk).

Indeed, as stated, exempting "green" projects from prevailing wage / project labor agreements would result in more "green projects" commenced and completed. Yet it's safe to assume that these items aren't and will never be part of labor's "green agenda."

Posted by: Tom W at March 17, 2008 1:49 PM

Well said, Tom. I re-read the piece, and while I still sensed a bit of sarcastic contempt for labor, the overall message is true.

Posted by: michael at March 17, 2008 2:25 PM

>>"...I still sensed a bit of sarcastic contempt for labor ..."


True to an extent, though please note the distinction between "labor" and "labor unions."

I respect anyone who's doing their best to support themselves through honest work - blue or white collar. And there is honor in any job for which another willingly pays (i.e., free market jobs; many but not all government jobs - patronage and payroll padding jobs don't count).

I don't have much respect for labor unions. In the long run I believe they harm the "working families" that they are supposed to benefit (consider the UAW). In the long run, one can't raise wages above market realities, and when you try to do so you only bring less employment, albeit those that remain employed have "higher wages" until they too lose their jobs.

Also, unions are notorious for corruption, serving only their leadership and officials, and sham internal "democracy."

That said, like most things in life, it is not an "all good" or "all bad" equation. I also recognize that there are dysfunctional workplaces where a union can bring something to the table for employees.

Similarly, I am a big proponent of free market capitalism. On a net basis it is beneficial - but there are abuses such as fraud and CEO's (like union bosses) feathering their own nests.

In the end, they're all human institutions and so reflect and are susceptible to the failings of human nature.

Posted by: Tom W at March 18, 2008 11:43 AM

I think my distrust is equally distributed between the upper echelons of orginized labor and corperate ceo's and "way" upper management. Power corrupts.

I tend to defend the labor side a. because I'm in a union and b. because it is in my "special interest" to do so. Justin's post about China and their disregard for human rights also puts me on the side of labor unions. I still have images of the working conditions during the industrial revolution and believe that within a generation things could revert back to the way things were.

There is plenty of wealth on this earth. Without embracing socialism I like to think that the majority of people, those willing to work for it anyway, be able to earn some of it.

Posted by: michael at March 18, 2008 12:00 PM

It just occured to me that you wrote this in the first place!

Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on.

Posted by: michael at March 18, 2008 12:08 PM

>>Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on.

Welcome to the club! ;-)

Posted by: Tom W at March 18, 2008 12:28 PM

"But Nutting said the city is a victim of “green-mail” from an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy, or CURE. She describes CURE as a San Francisco law firm hired by unions to block projects that have an environmental connection until cities agree to use only union labor."

Posted by: Tom W at March 18, 2008 2:30 PM

Tom, I need to talk to you. Please respond to me at

Posted by: Marita Noon at March 24, 2008 3:13 PM
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