Iron workers union opposes carbon tax

Iron workers union opposes carbon tax
The Iron Workers District Council of the Pacific Northwest has announced its opposition to Initiative 1631 that would create a $15-per-ton fee on carbon emitters, citing the long-term effect on future industrial growth in the state. Photo: Kgequipment

Fears about the effect of a carbon tax on new job creation has prompted the Iron Workers District Council of the Pacific Northwest to oppose Initiative I-1631, a measure that would place a $15-per-ton fee on certain emitters.

The IWDCPNW represents over 9,000 members in the region and includes the members of Seattle-based Iron Workers Local 86; earlier this year its members crashed a political rally in support of the now-repealed city worker’s tax after Amazon announced plans to halt construction.

“The biggest the impact is the loss of future jobs and the cost of the gas pump getting to and from work,” Council President Steve Pendergrass said. “We’re all about improving the future (carbon emission reduction); we don’t think this is the right way.”

The council is one of several labor groups that have come out against the initiative. In July, Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council (WSBCTC) Executive Director Mark Riker wrote a guest commentary for the Wenatchee World that said: “regardless of what it’s called, the I-1631 is ill defined and takes money out of everyone’s pockets” and “could hinder future transportation projects by driving up costs even further.”

I-1631 proponents say the revenue generated will help boost the clean energy industry in Washington as directed by an oversight board composed of state agency heads and members appointed by the governor.  According to a fiscal impact statement by the state Office of Financial Management, the tax would bring in $2.2 billion over a five-year period.

However, Pendergrass told Lens that “it’s going to have a huge impact on industrial development in the state. Who’s going to bring an industrial plant into the state of Washington with all these extra taxes and fees?”

Like trucking industry members, Pendergrass says the gas price hike due to the new tax will hurt iron workers who often commute 60-80 miles a day.

However, as with the Seattle head tax, Pendergrass fears it will send the wrong message to potential employers looking to open new facilities. In a press release, he noted “a growing concern amongst leaders in the building trades is that the current political climate in King County and Washington State is growing too burdensome on both large companies and small business.

“Now is not the time to be putting good paying jobs at risk,” he added. “We should instead be taking full advantage of our area’s growth and prosperity.”

Worries over too many overlapping environmental regulations prompted two eastern Washington utility commissions to pass resolutions opposing I-1631.

Pendergrass added that since 1970, the number of unionized fabricators in Seattle metro has dropped from 2,000 to 140. “We have dealt, especially in the steel industry, with thousands of jobs lost to fabricator producers in Korea and China.”

Although many buildings rely on locally-produced steel from West Seattle-based Nucor steel mill, Pendergrass says Chinese steel has been used for structures such as the Washington State Convention Center, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Columbia Towers and the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle. Due to less restrictive environmental regulations, Chinese steel production emits three times as much greenhouse gas as compared to the equivalent amount of U.S.-produced steel.

China is the largest carbon producer in the world, emitting nearly twice as much as the U.S. – which comes in second. Washington state makes up 1.4 percent of total U.S. emissions.

Pendergrass said the increased use of imported steel “is all generated by the cost. It’s appalling to us, but I don’t think the general public knows.”

Although he supports efforts to reduce carbon, particularly emissions generated by the state’s transportation sector, he said a carbon tax could ultimately discourage “future development or any industrial base coming into the state,” he added. They might instead go to Idaho or Montana, “somewhere where they’re not going to be held hostage on some of these taxes.”

As of Monday, the NO ON 1631 campaign has raised almost $20.4 million in contributions or pledges, while the Yes campaign has raised $6.1 million. Labor groups that have donated to the Yes campaign include the UFCW 21, the largest private-sector union in Washington that has over 44000 members. Also contributing to the Yes campaign is the Washington State Labor Council, which earlier this year failed to garner enough votes for an official endorsement.

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