The largest private-sector union in Canada has pledged its opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, joining more than 100 First Nations groups and other unions who have vowed to fight the project.
On Thursday, the British Columbia director of Unifor signed the Save the Fraser declaration, an accord that aims to ban all tar sands projects from First Nations territory and from the ocean migration routes of the Fraser River salmon. In a speech, Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s B.C. director, said a “good jobs revolution,” with opportunities in clean energy and expansions in public transit, would bring better opportunities to B.C. than the pipeline would.
“The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project seeks to massively increase oil exports as if climate change wasn’t real,” he said. “It proposes to travel through our communities and First Nations with profit as the first motive instead of respecting our environment and social obligations to each other. It creates few jobs in Canada compared to its scale and exports more of our natural resources even faster.”
Unifor has been outspoken about oil and gas development before — last month, the union released a paper calling for a moratorium on all new oil and gas fracking in Canada, citing environmental risks and the need to preserve the desires of First Nations to keep their lands free from energy development. On Thursday the union vowed to join First Nations in protesting the project if it were to proceed.
“We signed in solidarity, so we’ll be there in solidarity to support them,” McGarrigle told the Globe and Mail. “We support lawful and peaceful protest. We know what solidarity means: It means you stand together with a sense of purpose. We have a saying in the labour movement: We’ll be there one day longer.”
Unifor’s signature adds significant weight to the fight against the Northern Gateway pipeline, a project which would carry Athabasca tar sands bitumen from Alberta to a marine terminal in Kitimat, B.C. The union was formed through a merger between the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada and has more than 300,000 members in all economic sectors, including the oil and gas industry. But it wasn’t the only one to join the more than 130 First Nations who had pledged their opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline — the B.C.’s Teachers’ Federation, which represents 41,000 public school teachers and has promoted anti-pipeline literature in the past, also signed on to the declaration Thursday, as did the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
The unions’ decision to oppose the pipeline contrasts sharply with the stances many U.S. labor unions have taken on Keystone XL. In 2012, the Laborers’ International Union of North America split with the BlueGreen Alliance, a group that unites labor unions and environmental organizations. LIUNA cited BlueGreen Alliance’s anti-Keystone stance and said they were “repulsed” by any labor unions that continued to oppose the project. The issue has created a divide among unions, which have had to weigh their often pro-environmental views with arguments about job creation. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Teamsters and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters for the United States and Canada are among the unions that support the project, while the Transport Workers Union opposes it.
Last month, the Labor Network for Sustainability released a report that argued more jobs could be created through improving existing pipeline infrastructure than building Keystone XL.