This blog was co-written by Executive Director Jennifer Krill and Policy Associate Raquel Dominguez.
As we grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 on our health, our communities, and our economy, at Earthworks we extend our hand in solidarity to everyone on the front lines of this crisis. That includes workers in healthcare, transit, food supply, and energy supply. We recognize that COVID-19 is a crisis within a crisis—the dangerous impacts of exposure to toxic industries mean that people living next door to polluters face greater risks from COVID-19; and the damage these industries cause threatens our global climate and long term resilience.
Companies should do everything they can to prevent infection including but not limited to slowing production, increasing social distancing, increasing access to handwashing stations, and monitoring workers’ temperatures. Oil and gas companies with facilities in remote areas should provide workers more transportation and housing options including allowances for COVID-required physical distancing by adjusting time and space for workers to stay.
We support the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, and call for employers to provide workers in all sectors, including oil, gas, and mining to have appropriate COVID-19 personal protective gear in order to work safely. In workplaces where maintenance is necessary for health and safety, like oil refineries or operating oil and gas wells, workers should receive hazard pay or designation as emergency workers. Workers deserve to keep their healthcare, sick leave, and overtime, and related benefits. And they should suffer no penalty for seeking healthcare, childcare, or becoming sick or attempting to stay safe from COVID-19 in the workplace.
Communities on the fenceline of oil, gas and chemical facilities and downstream from large scale mining deserve safety and proper maintenance from those facilities’ operators. We need fully funded agencies enforcing common sense worker and community health and safety protections while ensuring aggressive oversight.
Additionally, during a pandemic it is unconscionable to allow new permits while the public cannot participate in the decision-making process. Therefore, agencies should halt all construction of mining and fossil fuel infrastructure projects until public participation can resume.
We support a managed decline from fossil fuels alongside a just transition for workers and communities. The growing demand for responsible mineral sourcing in the clean energy economy provides an opportunity for agencies and energy and mining companies to diversify their investments. Agencies, companies, and workers need additional investment in retention and re-training so they can build the green energy infrastructure to power us and future generations.
Yet, today we are witnessing the beginning of an unmanaged decline; the fossil fuel industry is undergoing a massive shift from which it may not fully recover. Our collective focus should remain on workforce safety, and for those unemployed, we need extended benefits including investment in programs for workers, communities, and everyone who participates in the global economy.
The COVID-19 crisis provides a historic opportunity to fundamentally reset our system. Now is the time for public and private sectors to act. Earthworks supports the Lofoten Declaration calling for a just transition away from oil and gas towards renewable electricity and transportation. We support the Labor Network for Sustainability which is building a movement for climate justice and for solidarity between the environmental and labor movements. We stand with workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, and proudly join in national, state and regional coalitions like the Last Chance Alliance that call for a managed decline from dirty energy and towards pollution-free alternatives.