As minority workers in Canada’s tar sands/oil sands speak up about systemic racism on the job, U.S. fossil companies are trying to present themselves as an ally to Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities—against considerable evidence to the contrary.
Racist jokes, on-the-job harassment, and seeing preferential treatment given to white co-workers while being passed over for promotions and permanent jobs are all part and parcel of being a person of colour in the Alberta oilpatch, reports CBC News. Also part of the job: the expectation that those experiencing discrimination will keep quiet about it.
“Across the board, you just don’t complain about things,” said Sara Dorow, a University of Alberta sociologist who studies the sector.
Citing a recent mental health survey she conducted among tar sands/oil sands workers, Dorow noted that one South Asian man who had chosen to take no action in the face of ongoing harassment and slurs told her, “I’m not there to make friends or solve racism. I’m just there to collect a paycheque.”
Making things worse on the worksite is an “old white boys’ network” that extends greater levels of distrust and blame to workers of colour. CBC writes that common experiences include “being denied overtime and advancement opportunities,” and workers being told that changing their names to “something more ‘Western’” might improve their odds of securing a permanent position—only to find that permanent employment is never offered ,regardless of qualifications.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) greeted the CBC exposé with a decidedly generic response. “Safety is placed at the highest value in the oil and natural gas industry, and that includes the right to feel safe from discrimination and harassment at work,” said media relations manager Jay Averill. “The issue of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is an important one, and companies across all industries must continuously strive to build positive work environments.”
Not waiting for the captains of his industry to step up, 48-year-old Shane MacQueen, a 14-year veteran of the tar sands/oil sands who has experienced considerable workplace racism, is looking for grassroots solutions. MacQueen has connected with Women Building Futures (WBF), an Edmonton-based non-profit dedicated to helping women find work in the trades, in the hopes that their “blueprint” for building gender diversity and support systems on the worksite will prove useful in his own efforts to push his industry into walking its talk on diversity and inclusion.
CBC has more on the story here.
In the U.S., meanwhile, some fossils companies are casting themselves as inclusion champions, reports the Los Angeles Times. But they have a damaging legacy to answer for.
“For decades, energy companies built polluting power plants in communities of colour and extracted fossil fuels from tribal lands with little regard for local health effects,” the Times writes. “Today, they’re working to build diverse political coalitions to preserve the fossil fuel economy, while making the case that their products are good for the pocketbooks of people of colour.”
Recent examples include an effort by a fossil advocacy group called Western States and Tribal Nations to secure approval from Mexico for a US$1.9-billion liquefied natural gas export facility in Baja California. While the group told Mexico’s energy minister that its mandate was, in part, to “promote tribal self-determination,” the majority of its backers are fossil fuel companies and a few regional governments, alongside just one Indigenous group—the Ute Indian Tribe.
And in California, a mysterious (and at least partly fossil-funded) advocacy group called United Latinos Vote (ULV) is undermining local efforts to communicate that the carbon-free transition will help, not hurt, the state’s job market.
The Times writes that ULV “made its first public foray into climate policy in San Luis Obispo, where its executive director, Robert Apodaca, wrote that a plan to promote construction of all-electric buildings would ‘disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and communities of colour’.” The evidently well-heeled organization also took out a full-page ad in the Times itself, claiming that “policies favoured by climate activists would ‘hurt the real people and communities we represent,’ namely, ‘low-income and ethnic minority populations’.”
Making nonsense of such claims, writes the Times, was a poll conducted this past summer by the Public Policy Institute of California, which found that “52% of Latinos and 46% of Black people are willing to pay more for solar and wind energy, compared with 42% of white people.” The study also found that “70% of Latinos and 65% of Black people said stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost, compared with 53% of white people.”
The full picture of who backs ULV remains murky, but two funders on the books include fossil producers Chevron and Phillips 66. Other fossil advocacy groups are also amplifying ULV’s messaging via social media and email blasts.
And fossil dollars continue to seep into community organizations across the country, in the hope of swaying minority community leadership to stick with the industry. The Times reports a stark warning from the NAACP’s national headquarters to its members: “When fossil fuel companies ‘make the case that the benefits of using fossil fuels far outweigh the harms’—or are caught ‘leveraging their wealth to create a false appearance of community support’—don’t believe them.”