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June 04, 2014

New Climate Protection Standards and Walmart Moms on Strike: Coincidence or Timely Convergence?

20140521_112353Funny how the universe works sometimes. Like the long overdue carbon pollution standards coming out the same week moms go on strike against Walmart in dozens of cities across the country. Two totally unrelated phenomena, you say? Not so fast.
 
In the words of Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, "this action by the Obama administration is a starting point in a much-needed effort to address both climate change and the need to keep and create good jobs in our communities."
 
We have to do both things. Neither is optional. We have to reduce the carbon pollution that is threatening the viability of human civilization by disrupting our climate, and we have to create and keep good jobs as we do it.  
 
If we follow the path of the Walmarts of the world, we will fail on both counts. A devastating report last year laid out how Walmart's business model is making global climate disruption worse:

  • The world's largest retailer is failing to cut its carbon pollution. Walmart's own accounting shows that its carbon pollution has risen by 14 percent since the 2005 launch of its sustainability PR campaign, when it promised to lower its emissions across the board.
  • Walmart's failure to cut its carbon pollution is even more devastating because the company excludes shipping across its global supply chain, new store construction, and sprawl from its calculations.
  • Walmart is failing on clean energy. Only four percent of the power Walmart uses to power its stores comes from renewable sources.
  • On transportation, the company's reliance on extreme fuel sources like oil from tar sands ties it to the world's dirtiest sources of energy.
  • Worst of all is Walmart's generous financial support for climate science denial and extreme anti-environmental politicians.

This same business model has made Walmart one of the world's worst violators of the human rights of working people, especially disabled people and women. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka points out,

Retailers like Walmart are the root cause of income inequality. Walmart keeps the wages of its employees low while it rewards its owners - the Waltons, a family whose wealth is equal to the combined wealth of 42 percent of Americans. . . [T]he moms going on strike this week . . .know, even if the Waltons don't, that this is not how one of the largest companies in the world is supposed to act. A company shouldn't illegally retaliate against those who want to improve their working conditions! And a company should not allow about two-thirds of its employees to make less than $25,000 a year and schedule irregular hours so most of its workers cannot earn enough to support their families.

Together with our allies in the labor movement, the Sierra Club is committed to building a clean energy economy that works for working families. The new carbon pollution standards will protect the health of working families and communities by reducing asthma and helping calm the extreme weather which is one of the most immediate visible effects of climate disruption. Walmart momWe are proud of the Obama Administration's decision to ask Jason Walsh to help us make sure those standards build a clean energy economy that protects working families' economic health as well.
 
The clean energy economy will be an engine of job creation, resulting in millions of new jobs. These jobs tend to pay a lot better than jobs in the dirty energy economy. But the market alone will not drive a just transition for America's working families. It's up to us to make sure clean energy jobs are family-sustaining careers, not Walmart-style jobs where workers have to turn to public assistance and food drives around the holidays while the owners become obscenely rich. To make sure they are good jobs, we need protections that assure it, including living wages, project labor agreements, trade and manufacturing policies that protect workers and the environment and encourage domestic job-creation, and labor law reform that truly protects people's right to organize.
 
To get those kinds of changes, we have to fight together to reform a political system that allows well-funded opponents of democracy to suppress the votes of working people, communities of color, the elderly, the disabled, and immigrants -- the same people who are the most economically insecure, who are exposed to the most pollution, and who are hit first and hardest by climate disruption.
 
That's why the Sierra Club has joined allies like the AFL-CIO in the Democracy Initiative, which seeks to restore the core principle of political equality. Whether it's coming from families like the Waltons or the Kochs, the corrupting influence of pro-polluter, anti-worker money in politics needs to be stopped.

And stop them we will. We may be outgunned financially, but we have a few factors in our favor. Beginning with the moms of Wal-Mart. Their vocal advocacy already has made a big difference for Walmart employees. Recently, Walmart improved its pregnancy policy after mothers, and OUR Walmart members submitted a resolution to the company about its discriminatory pregnancy policy. And, after OUR Walmart called on the retailer to improve workers' hours, Walmart introduced a new system that allows workers to sign up online for available shifts in its stores.
 
These are big victories but there's a long way to go. Let's travel together on the journey.
 
To support the Walmart moms, go to WalmartEconomy.com and post a picture of what the #WalmartEconomy means to you. Or sign up to donate your Twitter and/or Facebook account for one tweet/post, so Walmart workers can instantly respond to the company.

-- Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club Labor Program

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