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On Thursday December 13, workers at the Tesla solar panel facility in Buffalo, NY went public with their drive for a union. As an organization committed to both climate justice and to workers’ rights, we at the Institute for Policy Studies feel an obligation to voice our solidarity with the workers in Buffalo, and our support for their union organizing drive.

We love solar panels. We look forward to the day when they will power our future, replacing the fossil energy that powers our economy today.

But we love solar panels because we love people, not because of an abstract love for a technology. We love solar panels because, along with other technologies such as wind energy, they can supplant natural gas extracted by a process that uses too much precious water even as it contaminates communities’ water sources. A process that causes oil to emit toxins that too many people – disproportionately people of color and the poor – are forced to breathe and coal that leaves piles of ash laced with arsenic and lead when burned, endangering the health of exposed workers. Collectively, all fuels that emit greenhouse gases are exacerbating storms and wildfires, making the Arctic melt and the oceans rise, and endangering humanity’s collective future.

It is in this spirit of solidarity with people and concern for justice that we are calling for solidarity with Tesla workers. Tesla’s stated mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

As we transition from our exploitative and dangerous fossil energy system, it is imperative that we do so in ways that enhance justice and not continue to undermine it. An economy that does not damage ecosystems, but continues to exploit people is still an extractive economy. For us to transition to a truly regenerative economy that is built upon a foundation of respect for both people and planet, we must recognize that workers are central.

A future of clean, renewable energy will create lots of jobs – in fact it’s already creating more jobs than the fossil economy. But it’s not enough for there to be lots of jobs – the clean economy of the future (and present) must create good jobs, in which workers have the internationally recognized right to form unions and take collective action for a just workplace. Unsurprisingly, unionized workers earn more than their nonunion counterparts.

Climate change is the product of a system that puts the profits of the few over the rights – and sometimes the very lives – of many. To address climate change effectively, we need to transform this system. A union at Tesla will be a very important step in the right direction.

Workers at Tesla, we want you to know that you are doing critically important work for the future of your community and the future of humanity, and you deserve to be treated with respect. Climate and environmental justice organizers and activists are in solidarity with you.

Basav Sen
Climate Policy Director, Institute for Policy Studies

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