Unions have long been split publicly on their positions on the Keystone XL pipeline. Building trade unions have supported the pipeline and progressive service unions have opposed it.
When it comes to lobbying, however, labor presents a unified pro-pipeline voice. Only the unions who support the pipeline have actually bothered to lobby on it. Those who oppose it have not.
Figure 1 below shows that none of the labor organizations that have filed lobbying reports mentioning Keystone are publicly opposed to the project.
The Laborers Union, whose president, Terry O’Sullivan, has been perhaps the most vocal labor advocate for the pipeline, tops the list with 20 reports. The Plumbers & Pipefitters Union (11 reports) and the Operating Engineers Union (10 reports) round out the top three organizations. In fact, all of the top five lobbying unions are those which have signed on to construct the pipeline for TransCanada, and whose memberships stand to gain from the jobs created.
We find no public position on Keystone for the MTA Police Benevolent Association or the Transportation Communications Union, which dissolved in 2012.
The pipeline promises to create thousands of jobs to be filled by members of many of the nation’s largest unions. This has pushed labor into a choice between environmentalists — their natural democratic coalition allies who oppose the pipeline — and pro-business, often anti-union forces that favor building the pipeline. This has been widely reported on as something of a “civil war” amongst the union left in the last few years. However, even as unions remain divided, the unions that have lobbied on Keystone XL have not.
In 2012, CWA, SEIU, UAW, Transport Workers Union, United Steelworkers Union and Amalgamated Transit Union issued a joint statement with the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council applauding President Obama’s move to delay the pipeline. Meanwhile, as the Keystone XL project website notes, the Laborers Union, Teamsters Union, Plumbers and Pipefitters Unions, AFL-CIO, the Operating Engineers Union and the Pipeline Contractors Association have entered into “comprehensive Project Labor Agreements” with TransCanada to work on construction of the pipeline should it be approved.
The unions whose members will concretely benefit from the pipeline — mostly building trades unions — have been quite active in favor of the pipeline, despite the fact that it involves breaking from their traditional coalition allies. The unions that won’t directly benefit from the pipeline — mostly service sector unions — have held with their progressive coalition allies. But they haven’t lifted a lobbying finger to try to stop it.
Unions may be publicly divided on Keystone XL, but when lawmakers hear from labor’s lobbyists in Washington, they hear that labor loves Keystone.