Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Aren’t The Unions Fighting For Energy Sector Jobs?

Labor Unions in the U.S. lay claim to a long and successful history of bettering the working conditions, promoting higher wages and gaining benefits for America’s working people. They claim standing up for the “little guy” against oppressive corporations and government efforts that may be perceived to hurt the working class. They claim they fight for jobs for Americans.

So why are they so absent in fighting for jobs available and waiting in the energy industry?

We read how the Longshoremen are fighting an effort at non-union jobs in the Port of Longview in shipping grain. But, where are they in the ongoing effort to block jobs at the Port of Cowlitz in shipping coal to China?

Does the powerful Longshoremen’s Union, that claims support for other Labor Unions not realize that there is a United Mine Workers Union in Wyoming that will lose their jobs if there is no shipping of the coal mined?

More importantly, what of the oil and natural gas jobs just waiting for government approval to fill and putting American workers back to work?

You didn’t realize that even oil rig workers and others in the industry have union representation? Neither did I, until I checked. How could we be expected to know of them, what with the years of silence on the Unions part as government regulations continually dried up those well-paying jobs and kept workers from gainful employment recovering our own energy sources?

Since the Oil Embargo of 1973 and subsequent energy crisis of 1979, America has become more and more dependent upon foreign sources for our energy needs, ignoring much of what lies beneath the ground inside and offshore of our own borders. At times it was cheaper and at other times it has been regulations, moratoriums and excess government mandates preventing exploration and recovery of our own sources.

As the price of oil has skyrocketed, making what was formerly too expensive to recover more attractive, we are still facing those regulations, moratoriums and excess government mandates, many brought on by environmentalists who falsely believe the answer lies in unproven, overly expensive and unreliable alternative energy sources.

During this time, starting in 2007, our economy has plummeted as have jobs, unemployment exceeding 10% at one point and hovering at 9.2% now. We also have seen the price of our gasoline skyrocket twice during this period, bumping $4 gallon and exceeding that in some areas.

Nothing could be worse than high unemployment, a deep unending recession and escalating prices. That’s why it is so important to get the American worker back to work in good paying jobs to grow ourselves out of this economic morass we remain mired in.

A recent study commissioned and released by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) showed some startling results pertaining to the Gulf of Mexico, hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, the moratorium imposed because of the BP deepwater drilling accident and the ‘Great Recession’ we can’t seem to get out of.

Among the key findings,
“This report has documented the decline in capital expenditures and operational spending of the GoM offshore oil and natural gas industry that occurred over the2008 to 2010 period. The principal reasons for this decline include the economic recession in 2008-09 and the establishment of a moratorium on deepwater drilling and subsequent slowdown of permit issuance in both GoM deep and shallow waters in 2010and into 2011. We estimate that tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in response to the decline in capital expenditures and operational spending of the offshore GoM oil and natural gas industry over this period.”

I don’t know just how many, if any at all, of those “tens of thousands of jobs lost” were Union. But, I do know that oil rig workers have a Union that once fell under the “Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union” that, through subsequent mergers, now comes under the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union (still mostly referred to as the United Steelworkers).

Right after the BP Deepwater accident, we saw the leader of the Central Mississippi Building and Construction Trade Council AFL-CIO saying that “offshore oil workers should unite and have the ability to voice safety concerns on rigs” in concern of the 11 workers killed in that accident.

Apparently, that particular rig chose not to be Union for whatever reason. Does he not realize that oil rig workers that choose to are represented under the United Steel Workers?

Another key finding in the study above says,
“We also demonstrate the near term potential of the offshore GoM oil and natural gas industry to create jobs, boost GDP and generate tax revenues at all levels of government – if the government pursues a balanced regulatory approach that allows for the timely development of the backlog of GoM projects in an environmentally responsible manner. Under such government policy, we estimate total spending by the GoM offshore oil and natural gas industry to increase by over 70 percent by 2013from 2010 levels, and capital expenditures to increase by over 140percent. If potential spending levels are reached, total employment supported by the Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas industry in 2013 could exceed 430,000 jobs or a 77 percent increase from 2010.”

Bear in mind, that is just in the Gulf of Mexico and does not include supportive jobs from other regions, such as the recently completed $200 Million oil rig right here in Vancouver, Washington by Sheet Metal Workers local 16 working at Thompson Metal Fab Inc.

Although this particular oil rig is scheduled to be shipped to the North Shore of Alaska, where those same restrictions are in place and not every supportive job is Union of course, a more “balanced regulatory approach” from the government would get those 430,000 jobs going in the Gulf and elsewhere.

An API news release quotes API CEO and President Jack Gerard,
“The study shows what could be accomplished on jobs if project approvals and permits could get back to a normal pace. We’ve done the necessary work raising the bar on safety. We cannot continue to delay developing energy and hiring people in the Gulf. The disappointing unemployment numbers from the government last week make this more important than ever.”

We also see government foot dragging on approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed pipeline extending from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf. Unlike the silence we have seen from Unions representing oil rig workers, hundreds of members of the Laborers International Union of North America #1140 and reps for the AFL-CIO turned out earlier this year to show support for the construction project in Lincoln, Nebraska.

There it is claimed,
“the proposed $7 billion pipeline will dramatically improve U.S. energy security” and “the pipeline will generate $150 million in state and local tax revenue and will create hundreds of jobs in Nebraska.”

And, that is just through Nebraska. Imagine what other states stand to reap as both Union and non-Union workers will once again be producing and earning a livable wage to support their families, purchase clothes, cars, electronics, appliances, homes and much more.

Like casting a stone into water, there is a ripple effect as workers in one industry return to work; they create a demand in other industries that puts even more people back to work.

Referring back to the Central Mississippi Building and Construction Trade Council leader above, while he rightfully called concerns over safety, where is his call for a more balanced regulatory approach in our energy security and recovering our own resources?

As Union membership in America continues its decline, wouldn’t you think Unions would pool their considerable pull with government, especially the Democratic Party and follow the example of the Nebraska Union members and urge Congress and Barack Obama to adopt a more balanced regulatory approach and put the American worker back on the job?

Wouldn’t you think they could show fleeing members that they truly do have the best interest of the worker in their hearts and turn around their declining membership?

Maybe sitting back and allowing so many jobs to disappear or languish, while they pursue other political interests is why their numbers continue to decline.

The oil and natural gas companies are ready to supply hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The American worker is eager to get back to work.

What about the Unions?

No comments: