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Why Are Unions Joining Conservative Groups to Protect Pipelines?

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What Illinois HB 1633 reveals about the split between labor and environmental groups—and how that might change.

In March, the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association, and the energy company Enbridge shared a flyer with members of the Illinois State House asking them to support the “Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill,” which would enhance penalties for damaging, destroying, tampering with, or trespassing on pipelines, coal mines, and other energy infrastructure. The flyer shows an article from progressive outlet Common Dreams, featuring a photo of climate protesters clad in bright orange safety vests, shutting down two crude oil pipelines in Minnesota.

“This is not okay…” the flyer reads. “VOTE YES.”

The fight over Illinois HB 1633 offers a localized look at why creating alliances between green and labor groups continues to be challenging. The AFL-CIO and the bill’s other supporters said the law would protect “the health and safety of protestors, employees, and communities.” But the bill’s critics, including more than 50 environmental and civil rights groups, saw it as an attack on the right to protest—specifically, to stage the kind of high profile actions at pipelines that have taken place at Enbridge’s Line 3 and 4 in Minnesota and the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota.

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