California Union Leader: ‘Hundreds and Hundreds’ of Workers Oppose Local Natural Gas Bans
San Luis Obispo, Calif., is one of a handful of municipalities around the country contemplating banning or limiting the use of natural gas appliances and hook-ups in new buildings to force electrification as a climate solution. In the spirit of not letting a good crisis go to waste, they even scheduled a vote on this issue during the COVID-19 lockdown. This strategy has received significant pushback from a variety of stakeholders, including local trade unions. To say the strategy backfired would be an understatement.
San Luis Obispo officials scheduled a meeting for April 7 to hold a vote on their proposed climate policy, but the meeting was canceled after a local union leader threatened to turn out “hundreds and hundreds” of workers to express their views against the proposal. The concern over losing these good jobs in a downtrodden economy far outweighed the potential health impacts of gathering in mass numbers during a global pandemic. Think about that: a local policy decision having such a profound impact on workers in the region.
In an email to city officials, Eric Hoffman, president of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 132 and chairman of the board for Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, made his group’s position crystal clear. As the Los Angeles Times reports:
“If the city council intends to move forward with another reading on a gas ban I can assure you there will be no social distancing in place,” he wrote. “I strongly urge the city council to kick this can down the road to adhere to public health safety measures. Please don’t force my hand in bussing in hundreds and hundreds of pissed off people potentially adding to this pandemic.”
“We will pull permits and close streets and have a massive protest on April 7th. Now is not the time to do this,” Hofmann wrote. “Please tell Mayor Harmon and the rest of the council for the sake of people’s health, that their efforts are better focused on how to better deal with this pandemic than to stir up all the emotions of people losing their jobs along with this disease.”
UWUA 132 represents roughly 3,500 workers that would be impacted if natural gas is phased out in California communities like San Luis Obispo. Huffman has actively engaged on behalf of these workers on the city’s proposed policies for months. As the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported in 2019:
“A majority of the City Council made an uninformed, errant decision, without proper analysis of potential impacts and what it will mean for hard-working, blue-collar working members,” Hofmann said. “(SLO is) eliminating an energy choice that can help toward climate goals. Natural gas has a seat at the table to help with climate goals. … We need every energy source.”
While lawmakers frame moving away from natural gas in homes and businesses as a necessary move that will include a “just transition,” the reality for many of these workers is an end to family-sustaining careers without a clear plan for comparable jobs. And even according to the very people pushing these policies across the country, the future for these workers doesn’t look bright. For example, 360.org’s Bill McKibben recently admitted that these “big changes” that will be made “pretty quickly” will “be difficult for the people who have done the necessary and useful work of providing energy for a long time.”
As this shortsighted trend continues, government officials must consider the detriments of these policies against the perceived benefits. Or else, they will continue to face opposition from the very people they are accountable to.