Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Labor Unions; Climate Change; Just Transition; Climate Justice; Labor Movements; Social Movements; Ecological Marxism

Major Advisor

Michael Wallace

Associate Advisor

Mary Fischer

Associate Advisor

Jeremy Pais

Associate Advisor

Lyle Scruggs

Associate Advisor

Brian Obach

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


Ever-growing levels of fossil fuel use are stretching planetary limits by raising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution to dangerous levels. The current carbon-based energy system is negatively affecting the health and quality of life of the world’s population and is disproportionately affecting marginalized populations. Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes and consequences of climate change, the political influence of the powerful fossil fuel industry, with support from other institutions governed by the dominant free market ideology of contemporary capitalism, has prevented the U.S. government from significantly reducing GHG emissions. This dissertation explores one of the major pillars of support for the fossil fuel regime—workers and unions. In particular, this study examines the nascent labor-climate movement embedded within the U.S. labor movement that is challenging the prevailing “Jobs vs. the Environment” master frame by targeting the state, the mainstream environmental movement, and the culture of the labor movement as a whole with an emerging counter-frame: “Clean Air and Good Jobs.”

Drawing insight from ecological Marxism, theories of the labor movement, collective action framing, contentious politics, and the multi-institutional politics perspective, this research explores the interplay between political opportunities, framing, and the tactical repertoires of this emerging movement. Through participant observation, in-depth qualitative interviewing, and content analysis of original source documents for three social movement organizations—one at the state level, one at the national level, and one at the international level—I identify three distinct but interconnected frames deployed by labor-climate activists ranging from relatively

moderate to transformatively radical in their prognosis: protective just transition, proactive just transition, and transformative just transition. I find the strategic use of these collective action frames can interact with the targets selected by activists and the existing political opportunity structure to help shape the tactics deployed by the movement. The findings of this study will increase our understanding of how various political actors can best construct linkages between economic, social and environmental reform agendas; which strategies are most successful for building broad support; and what forms of alliances are most conducive to supporting a rapid transition to a sustainable future.