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Unions, Environmental Justice Advocates Say “No!” To Coal Transport through Oakland

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Oakland City Council Meeting on transport of coal through Oakland - photo by Brooke AndersonThe Alameda Labor Council was a key player in the nearly 100-member Coal-Free Oakland Coalition of unions, climate justice advocates and environmental groups that has halted the proposed transport of coal through Oakland in its tracks, pending a health impact study by the Oakland City Council.  The coalition includes unions representing nurses, teachers, longshoremen, city workers, recyclers, housekeepers, postal workers, bus drivers, custodians and security officers. City Council staff are to report to the council on their public health study and propose next steps by December.

As part of its strategy, the Labor Council passed a hard-hitting resolution opposing a coal export terminal in the new Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center. Not only was that document key to the coalition’s win, it also firmly aligned organized labor in Oakland with the city’s environmental justice and climate movements. It did so by acknowledging and commending labor’s growing commitment “to environmental justice issues that affect workers, communities and future generations. ”

According to Emerald Cities Oakland Director Tara Marchant, “This coalition and its victory reflect years of work building alliances along environmental justice and labor unions to reject old, polluting energy."

Case Against Coal

The resolution builds a strong case against coal, stating that “jobs involving coal are unhealthy and unsafe due to dust emissions” which threaten the health of workers and communities; and that burning coal “leads to as many as 13,000 premature deaths every year and more than $100 billion in annual health costs.”

The resolution also notes that “West Oakland residents are already twice as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma as the average Alameda County resident and are also more likely to die of cancer, heart and lung disease; and toxic coal dust is linked to decreased lung capacity, increased childhood bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema and heart disease.”

The resolution points out that a wide swath of the scientific community believes that 80 percent of the world’s coal reserves must remain in the ground to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius – the temperature increase at which dire effects of climate change would occur.

The resolution ends with the labor council’s intention to convey its opposition to the export of coal though Oakland to the city’s mayor, city council and project developers.


L-R: Josh Willis of Bay Localize; Derrick Muhammad, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10; Pa Dwe, Jessica Tovar and Pauline Garcia of Bay Localize; Jean Quan, former mayor of Oakland - photos by Brooke Anderson

No False Choice Between Jobs, Environment

According to Brooke Anderson, an organizer with Climate Workers, the labor council’s opposition to coal transport through the neighborhoods where its members live was “hugely significant and precedent setting” by “refusing to allow jobs and the environment to be pitted against each other.”

According a piece published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, Anderson said the clear message from many union members who addressed the six-hour-plus City Council hearing on the proposed coal transport was: “[N]ot every job is a good job; you can’t add this level of pollution to our communities; coal is not the only way to get those jobs.”

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