AFL-CIO backs Keystone XL Pipeline

Barack Obama and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

While President Barack Obama has been trying to rally his base by talking up climate change and taking shots against Republicans for their support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, he may be doing so at risk of alienating labor unions — specifically the AFL-CIO.

Writing earlier this week at the Heartland Institute, Marita Noon took note of the AFL-CIO’s support for the pipeline, noting that it means jobs for their workers, even if they’re temporary, at a time when the economy is struggling to gather steam:

By Obama’s calculus, the 5,000 to 6,000 jobs a year created in the construction of the pipeline (State Department estimate) or the “approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a one-to-two-year period” with wages totaling $2 billion the project would support (also State Department) are to be dismissed. These jobs include the manufacture of steel, the people making the pipe, and the waitresses and hotel workers. Of course, if the Keystone jobs were tallied in the same way as the Bureau of Labor statistics counts green jobs, the number would be massive.

No one knows better than the major labor unions—which support building the pipeline—that the entire construction industry is based on a continuing series of single projects, be they roads, buildings, bridges, or other structures.

Sean McGarvey, president of the AFL-CIO Construction Trades Department, which represents 13 unions, makes the point: “The interstate highway system was a temporary job; Mount Rushmore was a temporary job. If they knew anything about the construction industry they’d understand that we work ourselves out of jobs and we go from job to job to job.”

The AFL-CIO explains its support: “The American construction industry has suffered greatly. The national unemployment rate for construction workers remains above 13 percent and far too many of our members have lost homes and are struggling to put food on the table. For many members of our unions, Keystone XL is not just a pipeline; it is, in the most literal sense, a life line.”

And the bi-partisan support the pipeline attracts in Congress, clearly signals that many legislators understand the economic benefits that are generated throughout the supply chain and the economy down to the local level.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, endorsed Keystone XL last year, expressing his belief that environmental concerns about the pipeline could be worked out. The labor union reiterated its support for the pipeline earlier this year.

President Obama is taking his time with a decision on Keystone XL, saying that he will only sign off the pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” He’s also downplayed the pipeline’s potential jobs impact, despite both government and private studies showing that thousands of jobs would be created directly and indirectly.

But while President Obama diddles his thumbs on Keystone XL, workers are ultimately paying the price. His inaction on Keystone has cost over $2.3 billion in worker salaries since January 2012, when the administration rejected the pipeline after its first application for approval.

Keystone XL has bipartisan support in from Congress — both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate have overwhelmingly passed measures in favor of the pipeline. Polls have also showed significant support from broad sections of the American public.

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