When most of us think about strikes, we imagine hordes of autoworkers or coal miners on the picket line, protesting exploitation by venial mega-corporations. Think: the Smurfs versus Gargamel. But last week saw a new, trees-and-flowers kind of labor struggle: The Sierra Club threatened to go on strike.
If this sounds less than proletarian—biomass struggle, anyone?—so be it. But the truth is, organized labor and environmental groups have forged close ties in recent years, sharing a common desire to protect workers, the public, and the planet. Dubbed the “blue-green alliance,” the partnership also aims to help jump-start a new green economy filled with eco-friendly jobs that fight global warming instead of fostering it.
Against this backdrop, the Sierra Club in 1991 formed the John Muir Local 100, representing about 150 non-management community organizers and other staffers nationwide. Things have gone swimmingly until this year, when the union leadership, despite its warm relationship with management, wasn’t getting what it wanted in contract negotiations—including a 4 percent annual raise for workers and the retention of their current health benefits. The national office authorized a one-day strike for March 13.
“We utilized the strike because we seemed to be deadlocked with management,” says Local 100 President Cammy Watkins.
The striking enviros, just like the trees standing by the water in the song of yore, were prepared to go on picket lines in front of Sierra Club offices nationwide, including the one at 210 N. Higgins Ave. With nary a headline or tense stand-off with scabs and police, however, the crisis was averted. “We’re very pleased,” says Bob Clark, president of the Sierra Club’s Missoula Chapter and a John Muir Local 100 member. “My highest hope was to avoid the strike and get back to our work.”
Hardened union veterans might wonder how the small, soft-spoken union scared management so quickly, without sending even one picketer to the sidewalks. The answer, clubbers say, is that Sierra Club management cares a lot about organized labor. “The Sierra Club is doing a lot of work and outreach with unions on a national level,” says Watkins. “So many times the very polluters we’re fighting—coal, timber, and steel companies, for example—are the same companies who aren’t treating their workers well. It was really important for management to show their support for good jobs and green jobs within their own organization.”