Two major pro-Keystone unions donate to anti-union US Chamber of Commerce

One more fine catch from Lee Fang and the renascent Republic Report. My understanding is that the major trade unions who are pushing hard to get the climate-disaster Keystone XL Pipeline built are these:

▪ Laborers International Union of North America (“Laborers”)
▪ Pipeline Contractors Association (“Pipefitters”)
▪ International Union of Operating Engineers (“Engineers”)

… now joined by the Teamsters as well. Some background and context on whom these unions represent:

The Laborers are the do-everythings, the unskilled labor — “unskilled” in the sense that they’re not specialized in any other way. As we noted earlier they lift, carry, cut, cart stuff round, run construction elevators, and perform similar work. These are the lowest in the hierarchy on a construction site, they hold the flags on a road construction job, they work extremely hard — they break their backs doing work no other worker is asked to do. It’s tough work, not as well compensated, and thank god it’s union work.

The Pipefitters are what you think they are; they lay pipe. It’s easy to see why they’d be called on if a pipeline is to be built.

The Engineers are the lift-loader drivers, crane operators, the excavation equipment operators. They work all the heavy equipment. Again, an obvious group to be involved with a pipeline project.

That said, these unions are not our friends on climate or Keystone. In fact, and let’s be clear, they’ve chosen to be our enemies on climate and Keystone. In exchange for about 35 full-time jobs, and a bunch of part-time jobs that will be spread out such that no individual will get much more than six months’ work, they are willing to build the infrastructure that will accelerate the cookage of the planet.

climate change pollution global warming CO2

CO2 via Shutterstock

Put differently — these unions are willing to risk reducing many of their members’ grandchildren to hunter-gatherer status in trade for some temporary work building KXL. Even in the face of thousands of real jobs that would be created by actual sustainable-energy infrastructure. (Remember, if we fully build out the nation to wind- and solar-conversion, that’s a ton of jobs, and we’d be at it for years.)

One more note, then on to Lee Fang and the RR article. As I’ve pointed out many times, the constituency for a progressive org and the org itself are not the same thing. Orgs and their leaders have objectives that aren’t necessarily the objectives of their constituencies. For example, when national women’s groups endorsed anti-choice Joe Lieberman for the Senate in 2006, were they supporting women — or just supporting the interests of their organizations? Lieberman hated abortion, but he was someone to know if you wanted to know someone and have, well, access to people who knew people worth knowing.

By the same token, it’s a mistake to say that these unions equal their members, or working people in general. No org equals its members, even the most noble of orgs. We can oppose the bad deeds of these unions, yet not be in opposition to the real interests of struggling workers. I say that for two reasons. First, because of what these unions will shout at you when they become upset by your opposition — “You’re opposing ‘labor’ and the working man and woman. Shame!” Second, I’m saying it because this is exactly the response you should give —”Is this union really supporting ‘labor’ and working people, or is it, as an organization, colluding with Obama and the polluters for some other reason, like access?”

In other words, does an anti-environmental, pro-Obama union really put its members’ interest first when it acts against the needed climate fix, and avoids fighting hard for the real jobs a massive and necessary energy-conversion project represents? It’s a fair question. Progressives, dare to carry the fight back on that ground, when it comes. Don’t be rocked back by the first shove against you.

Now Lee Fang. It seems that two of these unions are not only enemies of the climate. They’re enemies of … well, unions. Fang (my emphasis):

Several construction labor unions have decided to lend their support to the Keystone XL. Though critics charge that the pipeline will lead to a drastic increase in carbon emissions, the unions, including Laborers International Union [Laborers] and the International Union of Operating Engineers [Engineers], have endorsed the project in exchange for several thousand short-term jobs and only 35 permanent jobs.

Trading a few jobs now for environmental destruction might seem like short-sighted strategy, but apparently such thinking runs deep in both unions.

According to a search of Department of Labor records, both the Laborers and the Engineers provided the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest anti-union lobbying group in the country, with $50,000 each[.]

Fang prints a handy table of contributions to the U.S. Chamber by these unions. And as he details, the anti-unionism of the Chamber of Commerce runs deep. They truly are enemies both of unions and working people. Fang also documents these unions’ support of the union-hating Chris Christie. Really?

So why are these two unions — remember those names, the Laborers and Engineers — paying these people with their members’ contributions? They have an excuse (sorry, carefully reasoned reply) for their anti-labor deeds, but I’m not buying it. There’s something else going on.

But what? Feel free to speculate (or document) in the comments.

If I’m Obama and the International Union of Carbon Criminals (sorry, Big Oil and Big Tar), I’d buy as many unions as I could, just for ground cover. Lee Fang agrees with me:

While those concerned with catastrophic climate change may have been disheartened by the pro-Keystone XL unions, short-term alliances with anti-union forces appear to be part and parcel to their strategy.

“Big Oil and Big Tar” — I like the sound of that.

Environmentalists and climate advocates, take note. You’re being triangulated by your friends in the corporate wing, and the Big Tar wing, of the Democratic party. Be ready with your reply and your pushback. Unions don’t represent workers when they do stuff like this, and you don’t have to agree that they do.

And a note to these unions — you can do better than that. When you do, we really do support you.

Mes centimes,


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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