Labor Tackles Climate Jobs Challenge as Oakland Coal Controversy Goes to Court: “Jobs for Workers, Not for Lawyers”

  • Labor delegation led by Alameda Labor Council leader Josie Camacho speaks out against coal at Oakland City Council meeting | Photo: Brooke Anderson

On Saturday, April 8, the Alameda Labor Council will sponsor a Labor, Climate & Jobs Forum with plenary and workshop sessions devoted to how Unions are addressing climate and environmental challenges by organizing workers and communities.  Speakers will include Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer, Alameda Labor Council; Kathyrn Lybarger, president, California State Federation of Labor; Cesar Diaz, State Building and Construction Trades Council; and Carol Zabin, UC Berkeley Labor Center Green Economy Program.

The Forum follows the Labor Council’s pathbreaking support for the No Coal in Oakland campaign.  In September 2015, in one of the first actions by any labor council in the United States to oppose a developer’s plans on environmental grounds, the Alameda Labor Council passed a resolution calling on Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Oakland City Council, and the project developers “to reject the export of coal through the Oakland Global project, to not take funds from Utah to secure use of the terminals for coal, and to execute a binding agreement or adopt an ordinance that will bar export of coal from this public land.”

With strong support from Labor, faith, environmental, and community organizations, the Oakland City Council banned the storage and handling of coal in the City of Oakland by adopting an ordinance prohibiting bulk storage and handling of coal within Oakland’s city limits.

The City supported its decision by reviewing extensive evidence of serious local health and safety impacts that would result from locating a large coal export facility in West Oakland as well as disastrous effects on global climate that would result from burning the vast quantities of coal that would be shipped overseas.

Tagami takes the City to court and community responds

Unfortunately, developer Phil Tagami refused to accept the community’s verdict on his coal export terminal.  In December 2016, Tagami filed a federal suit against the City claiming the City’s prohibition violates his Constitutional and federally protected right to ship coal.

Once again, labor and community activists are responding.  In an open letter to Tagami, hundreds of Oakland residents and local organizations are now calling on Tagami to drop his lawsuit against the City and create an alternative that will bring clean, sustainable jobs not dirty coal to Oakland.

Union activists opposed to coal have stressed some key points:

  • No coal does not mean no jobs
  • Thousands of other, non-toxic, bulk goods such as grain, gravel, sand and steel can be exported from the new terminal
  • Jobs involving coal are unhealthy and unsafe due to dust emissions, which is why the Alameda Labor Council and the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union passed resolutions saying NO to coal
  • Tagami’s lawsuit creates no jobs except for lawyers

Developer promotes false job claims in support of coal

Throughout the No Coal in Oakland campaign, pro-coal mailers and public pronouncements by the developers claimed that thousands of jobs would be lost if Oakland banned coal.

The 34-acre West Gateway, where the bulk terminal would be located, occupies only one corner of the former 310-acre Oakland Army Base under redevelopment.  Projects on other parts of the Base are proceeding without interruption, including a giant 250,000-square foot warehouse on which real estate developer Prologis broke ground last November.

The actual number of permanent jobs that a coal terminal would create is small, perhaps fewer than 100.  In 2012, before the controversy over coal erupted, the environmental report stated that the bulk terminal “would be open twenty-four hours per day and employ up to an estimated 60 International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) dock workers.”  Similarly, an economic impact analysis prepared for the City estimated that operation of the bulk terminal would create 117 permanent jobs at the site.

The developer’s grossly inflated numbers of jobs “at risk” were repeated by gullible reporters (including a possible threat to 12,000 jobs in one poorly researched San Francisco Chronicle article).  Most of the projected jobs were speculative and unverifiable “ripple effect” jobs expected to be created somewhere in the Bay Area.  Most of the rest of the jobs related to projects other than the bulk terminal, short-term construction jobs, and “infrastructure” jobs clearing the ground, building new roads, and installing utilities throughout the former Army Base–so-called horizontal construction that has already been largely completed.

As for the 60 or 117 or whatever number of permanent jobs the terminal might create, the ILWU has made it clear that it does not want these jobs if they involve handling coal.  At the September 21, 2015 City Council hearing, the ILWU took the extraordinary step of speaking out against the jobs the developer was proposing to deliver to its membership.  Derrick Muhammad, representing ILWU Local 10, said coal would affect the predominately African-American neighborhood adjacent to the port, which already has one of the highest asthma rates in Northern California. “We cannot sell our soul for a job,” Muhammad said. “All money ain’t good money.”

During the course of the campaign, the developers made cynical efforts to enlist local clergy in their support by suggesting that the coal terminal would help deal with the deep pockets of unemployment in Oakland’s Black community.  A number of local pastors spoke passionately at City Council meetings about the job opportunities coal would bring to Oakland.

Josie Camacho, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, condemned the developer for using the largely African-American and minority “community’s desire for jobs to push a project that poses a great danger to our health and the environment.”

Camacho told the Council, “We reject the notion that this is a matter of jobs vs. community health, or jobs vs. climate justice.”  She emphasized that Labor, like the rest of the No Coal coalition, was not trying to kill the terminal proposal or any of the other redevelopment projects.  “The port development will be profitable and create jobs regardless of the commodity shipped through it,” she said.

Local 10’s Muhammad said the pro-coal pastors were being “disingenuous” to imply that unemployed and formerly incarcerated people living in Oakland would be given jobs building and operating the coal terminal. “I think it’s disingenuous to parade these brothers before the council talking about jobs. The trade organizations in this area typically do not have a practice of recruiting in the inner city of East and West Oakland,” said Muhammad. “They don’t have a practice of recruiting in the Black neighborhoods.”

One of the slogans being used in the renewed campaign is “Jobs for Workers, Not for Lawyers.”  Over a hundred other community, faith, environmental organizations joined with Labor to fight for the coal ban.


  • AFSCME District Council 57
  • AFSCME Local 444
  • AFSCME Local 2700
  • Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Local 192
  • American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Local 78
  • California Nurses Association
  • Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Bay Area Chapter
  • Inland Boatmen’s Union of the Pacific: San Francisco Region
  • International Longshore & Warehouse Union, Local 34
  • National Nurses United
  • National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW)
  • Oakland Education Association
  • Peralta Federation of Teachers
  • SEIU 1021
  • SEIU USWW (United Service Workers West)
  • UNITE HERE 2850
  • United Auto Workers (UAW), Local 2865

Individuals and Organizations can sign on to the Open Letter to Phil Tagami at   You can contact the Labor Committee of No Coal in Oakland emailing (just include “Labor Committee” in the subject line).

Featured Photo: Labor delegation led by Alameda Labor Council leader Josie Camacho speaks out against coal at Oakland City Council meeting | Photo by Brooke Anderson