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AFL-CIO (again) waffles on Keystone XL pipeline

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

The Wall Street Journal reports that the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor union coalition, is trying to straddle the fence on the Keystone XL pipeline project:

LAKE BUENA VISTA,Fla– Leaders of the AFL-CIO backed the expansion of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure, but stopped short of explicitly endorsing the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, suggesting organized labor is still divided over the project.

The heads of the nation’s biggest labor unions passed a resolution at their annual meeting in Florida Tuesday, saying they supported new pipeline projects that could create up to 125,000 jobs a year between now and 2035. (Emphasis in original.)

The pipeline project to bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico has  been a major point of contention among Big Labor leaders. The Teamsters, the Laborers International Union of North America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, among other unions have all strongly endorsed it. The pipeline’s backers claim the project will create 20,000 jobs. The AFL-CIO itself has endorsed it previously as well but has done noticeably little to push for it.

After the deal fell apart in 2012, LIUNA President Terry O’Sullivan, angrily charged that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had listened to environmentalist groups at the expense of union members:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently said there was a divide in the labor movement over this project. That is an understatement. That divide is as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon. We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.

O’Sullivan was referring to a labor/environmentalist coalition called the Blue/Green Alliance that has been guiding labor policy on environmental projects.  Groups like the Sierra Club are staunchly opposed to project, even to the point of threatening the administration and sanctioning civil disobedience. The alliance takes no position on the Keystone project.

Last year, Trumka told the Examiner that the pipeline project was possible in a second Obama term, but was careful to say that environmental concerns had to be addressed first:

A lot of people try to say it is either/or. Either you do the project or you destroy the environment. I think there is a way to do things both ways. Where you can do things without destroying the environment.

Today’s action by the AFL-CIO suggests it still isn’t willing to go to bat for the project. The workers at IBEW, LIUNA and others will have to look elsewhere for jobs.

UPDATE: The AFL-CIO’s official “Statement on Energy and Jobs” can be read here. The relevant section — which follows three paragraphs about countering global warming, renewable energy and the problems of oil spills —  is this:

The AFL-CIO supports the expansion of our pipeline infrastructure and a much more aggressive approach to the repair of our more than 2.5 million miles of existing pipelines. Repair and buildout of the natural gas pipeline system alone has been estimated by the INGAA Foundation as likely to create, on average, 125,000 jobs a year between now and 2035.

The AFL-CIO supports measures that ensure pipeline and other energy infrastructure development creates good jobs and builds America’s industrial base—project labor agreements, Buy Union and Buy America provisions, and robust training requirements for both installers and repairers of pipelines.

 

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner