UC academic worker unions host town hall to discuss transportation, climate
United Auto Workers 2865 and 5810 and Student Researchers United-UAW hosted a Sept. 28 town hall that brought together politicians, union members and scientists to discuss the unions’ demands for the UC to make new efforts to promote accessible and sustainable transportation for workers. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Oct. 4, 2022 10:29 p.m.
University of California academic worker unions jointly hosted a climate and transportation town hall Sept. 28, facilitating discussion between politicians and scientists about union demands regarding transit affordability and sustainability.
United Auto Workers 2865 and 5810 and Student Researchers United-UAW, which jointly represent around 48,000 academic workers across the UC, hosted the event. The panelists were Naomi Goldenson, a climate scientist in the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, state Sen. David Min, UAW 2865 President Rafael Jaime and UAW 4121 President Sam Sumpter, a union leader from the University of Washington.
The town hall was intended to push the UC to provide transit benefits and incentivize sustainable forms of community transportation, according to the UAW website.
Goldenson, who is also a member of UAW 5810, said at the event that global warming is a pressing issue perpetuated in large part by the burning of fossil fuels. Although the UC pledged to be carbon neutral by 2025, that level of ambition is not consistent with its current policies, she said.
Without significant changes to sustainability practices in California, the state will see adverse weather consequences such as increased heat stress and changes to precipitation that could lead to flooding or droughts, threatening ecosystem health and coastal infrastructure, Goldenson added.
“I think it’s an obvious win-win for the workers doing the essential core work for the University … and helping UC be more consistent with its own stated goals and bending this curve in the right direction,” Goldenson said.
UAW is bargaining for free public transit passes for workers who bought them, cash incentives for sustainable commuting such as by e-bike, and improved campus cycling infrastructure, she said.
Min, who represents California’s 37th Senate district, which includes part of Orange County, said although California often champions progressive values, the UC does not always live up to the idea.
“If we don’t act with urgency now, which I think is unfortunately going to be the case, we are expected to see something on the order of a 10 degree Fahrenheit increase in average temperature in the next 100 years,” Min said at the town hall. “That is going to be catastrophic.”
Making sustainability a priority within the UC can help set an example for other universities and the rest of the state and elsewhere, Min added. Beyond achieving net zero emission status in California, the innovation and technology developed in the process can then help the world do the same, he said.
Sustainability can also save costs in the state budget, said Porter, a former law professor at UC Irvine. The United States is estimated to lose $4.5 trillion over the next 50 years if its commitments to the Paris Agreement are not met, and there is urgency to keep the national economy competitive, she said at the event.
“Whether that’s transit passes, … whether that’s investing in solar and wind manufacturing, whether that’s building out the grid, yes, we are spending money, but we are making an investment that is going to make sure that our economy is strong and stable and globally competitive in the future,” Porter said. “If we wait – and we’ve already waited too long – the options get fewer, they get more expensive, and they get more difficult.”
With the UC being the largest employer in the state of California, its workforce’s commute serves as a large source of emissions to address, Porter said. She added UC staff simply need to be provided plausible options for sustainable transport, particularly since the UC has publicly committed to creating affordable transportation. Although some campuses have made more progress, the UC as a whole must be held accountable, she said.
“At UCI, I was able to walk to work. I had a sustainable transportation pass as a faculty member, and I walked to work including on the day that I gave birth to my daughter,” Porter said “So it really does work.”