FIVE CONSTRUCTION UNION LEADERS URGE DAKOTA PIPELINE GO-AHEAD

(By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer) Five construction union leaders, who have a combined 8,000 members working to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, are urging Democratic President Barack Obama to reverse agency rulings and let the oil pipeline project go ahead.

 In doing so, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa, Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan, Operating Engineers President James Callaghan, Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson and retiring Plumbers President William Hite are confronting Native American groups that oppose the project as intruding – and degrading – ancestral sacred lands.

“We urge you to adhere to the well-established regulatory process for permitting private infrastructure projects and approve the easement for the remaining section of the Dakota Access project without delay,” the five presidents said in their Oct. 3 letter to Obama.

“The project is being built with an all-union workforce and workers are earning family-sustaining wages, with family health care and retirement contributions. However, the delays are already putting members out of work and causing hardships for thousands of families.”

The faceoff over Dakota Access is the second major pipeline fight between building trades unions – whose members construct such pipelines – and other groups. Obama decided the other conflict, over the northern leg of the environmentally controversial Keystone XL pipeline, in favor of its foes. He barred Keystone’s construction on environmental grounds.

The five union presidents noted that Dakota’s sponsor, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, “obtained more than 200 required permits” and won approval after two years of review from state regulators in Illinois, Iowa and the Dakotas, plus the Army Corps of Engineers. They said numerous public hearings let supporters and foes both have their say.

After all that, federal District Judge James Boasberg reviewed the entire record and decided for the pipeline when the Native American groups sued to stop it, the presidents’ letter notes. Nevertheless, the Native Americans took the case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C., which heard arguments, 15 minutes per side, on the pipeline on Oct. 5.

The $3.7 billion pipeline, if completed, would transport 470,000 barrels of oil per day for 1,170 miles across four states. But the Standing Rock Sioux, whose reservation the pipeline would traverse, contend it would both endanger ancestral sacred lands and that spills and leaks could also contaminate the Missouri River. Their suit temporarily stopped construction.

And the tribal chairman told NBC News that other unions, including the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Service Employees, oppose Dakota Access. An attack on the Native American foes of the pipeline, by hired security guards, drew criticism from ATU President Larry Hanley, in a Sept. 13 statement. 

“ATU joins others in the labor movement in condemnation of the ongoing violent attacks on the Standing Rock Sioux and others who oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Hanley said then. “These attacks by a private security company bring back horrific memories of the notorious Pinkertons, who used clubs, dogs and bullets to break up peaceful worker protests

"Union members understand that today the greatest threat to jobs, health and decent standards is climate change. We…urge President Obama to stop construction of this destructive pipeline and keep dangerous fossil fuels in the ground."

The opposition did not stop the five union leaders in their letter to Obama. On Sept. 26, he praised Native Americans “for making their voices heard” on the issue and for supporting the Standing Rock Sioux. But Obama did not commit to halting the Dakota Access pipeline.

“Project opponents were unable to produce evidence that sites of cultural and historic significance would suffer irreparable harm from construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” the five leaders wrote to the president. After reminding Obama of Boasberg’s extensive review and ruling against the tribes, the five presidents said killing Dakota Access after all that examination “is chilling for future investment in necessary U.S. infrastructure – from highways and bridges to ports and factories.

“Our members make careers out of jobs created by projects like Dakota Access, and our jobs depend on the investments of conscientious employers. If companies like Energy Transfer Partners cannot trust that the regulatory process outlined in federal law will be upheld, who will continue to invest in America? The family-sustaining jobs and benefits that this project provides are in jeopardy,” the five leaders declared. 

Mark Gruenberg is the editor of PRESS ASSOCIATES UNION NEWS SERVICE