PG&E Union at Odds With Sanders Plan to Make Utilities Public

Senator Bernie Sanders visits Paradise, CA. Image: Justin Sullivan

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s main union is pushing back forcefully against efforts to make the company, which is currently owned by investors, controlled by the public instead — something Sen. Bernie Sanders, state Sen. Scott Wiener and the city of San Francisco have proposed in various forms.

IBEW Local 1245 quickly responded to a political advertisement from Sanders that criticized PG&E for its role in causing deadly wildfires. The union, in return, criticized Sanders’ endorsement of a public takeover, saying it would be prohibitively expensive and misguided.

PG&E currently employs 24,000 workers and IBEW Local 1245 represents about half of them. While it’s far from California’s largest union, it’s one more example of how fractured unions are around the Green New Deal–event if many are starting to come around.

What’s Happening: As the Chronicle also explained,

“Taken together, the efforts demonstrate the kind of resistance that ideas for complete structural overhauls at PG&E will continue to encounter. Despite PG&E’s responsibility for fires that killed dozens of people and burned communities to the ground, utility labor leaders could prove a powerful supporter of keeping the company intact.”

Why This Matters: While union membership has been on the decline, California has seen the growth of union members in 2019. Since climate change will be a major issue for Democratic candidates this election, a story to watch will be if union workers embrace bold climate policy proposals like the Green New Deal. In Texas, the Sunrise Movement is betting big that union members will be sympathetic to progressive candidates and their climate plans. In California, evidence points to this not being the case.

This is all to say that workers aren’t uniformly hearing what role they might play in a clean energy future. Democrats up and down the ballot would be wise to rethink their climate messaging in order to build union support.

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