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Napa Environmentalists Pen Pro-Labor Op-Ed Ahead of Pipeline Project


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While environmentalists clash with everyone and their mother over the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, another pipe project in an even more traditionally pro-environment area, Napa County, California, is enjoying a different experience.

The new Napa Pipe, a 154-acre mixed use project which received unanimous support from county supervisors this week, is being used as a means of achieving quality wages and local hiring through collaboration between organized labor and environmentalists:

We are Napa County residents who have worked decades to promote vibrant, sustainable development and to protect our agricultural land and open spaces. Recently we have partnered with the unions representing electricians, plumbers and sheet metal workers to provide input to the Napa Pipe project.

These unions, representing more than 500 hard-working families in our county, have impressed us with their long-range vision for a stable local economy. They share our concerns and issues regarding the adverse environmental impacts of the Napa Pipe project and recognize the need for a thoughtful approach to development countywide.

The unions have been straightforward and honest in prioritizing work for their local members. As environmentalists, we are sympathetic to that objective.

More than 20,000 members of our workforce commute into Napa daily, emitting tons of greenhouse gases, clogging highways and spending the bulk of their wages in their home counties. Many live outside of the county because they cannot afford housing in Napa. Prevailing wages in agriculture and tourism are too low for the upscale Napa housing market.

The headlines in Thursday’s Register proudly announce that construction projects and hiring are on the rise. But who will get these jobs? And will the workers be paid prevailing wages, or offered only the lowest possible wage? Creation of more low-wage jobs in Napa will only increase our affordable-housing gap.

The unions want their members to have good, middle-class jobs close to their homes. They want to work on Napa Pipe and other local construction projects. Union efforts at securing good wages for workers are an important component to achieving balanced development in Napa County.

Though none of us agrees on every issue concerning Napa Pipe, we have found common ground trying to improve the project for the environmental, economic and quality of life benefits to all county residents. Just as Napa has been a national leader in forging alliances between farmers and environmentalists, we hope to be at the forefront in environmental and labor collaboration as well.

That is the entirety of the letter. It is honest and it is important. While the ballyhoo over Keystone XL has been ginned up to promote the fallacy that folks who want to build new infrastructure inherently have no regard for the environment or anything but the pursuit of jobs, this letter explains otherwise. The unions who wish to build these projects are far from careless, money-hungry job zealots. To the contrary, they represent the barrier between massive corporations who typically ignore what is important for the environment and our backyards. Further, they live in these backyards and want local work to go to local workers who have a vested interest in keeping these communities healthy. They are safety’s gatekeepers, the folks with the training to do these vital, multi-purpose jobs right the first time to avoid the environmental pitfalls of large-scale infrastructure work being put in the wrong hands.


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