Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Labor Unions' Green Efforts

Labor Unions' Green Efforts Are Cause For Celebration This Labor Day


by Andrea Buffa


Published on Monday, September 7, 2009 by CommonDreams.org




It may seem like labor unions don't have much to

celebrate this Labor Day, considering the ongoing

dismal state of the economy and its impact on their

members' pocketbooks. But when it comes to green

issues, Labor Day 2009 marks a high point for the U.S.

labor movement. From national initiatives - like the

AFL-CIO's inauguration of the Center for Green Jobs -

to grassroots, member-driven projects like Oregon

AFSCME's Environmental Caucus, labor unions have

shifted into a new gear in their efforts to address

climate change and other pressing environmental issues.

The goals of these efforts are a healthier environment

and a groundswell of high-quality green jobs.


"Our members are no different than the rest of the

public. They're concerned about climate change. And as

the issue becomes more talked about out in the world,

our members put more pressure on leaders to step up and

get involved in the policy work," said Barbara Byrd,

who holds positions at the Oregon AFL-CIO and the

University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center.


"Labor unions are also becoming more involved in green

jobs issues, now especially, because it's a question of

economic development and it's a question of jobs. We're

in the middle of a recession...jobs are hard to come

by, and it's becoming more clear that the green jobs

sector is growing faster than traditional jobs," Byrd explained.


National and International Labor Participation in

Climate and Clean Energy Efforts


At the national level, the inauguration of the AFL-CIO

Center for Green Jobs was announced at a press event in

February at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in

Washington, D.C. The new center's mission is to help

AFL-CIO affiliates implement green jobs initiatives

that create and retain good union jobs. At the same

press event, another innovative green labor program was

announced: the Emerald Cities Initiative is a

partnership between the Building and Construction

Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and various social

justice groups to make building and construction trades

union apprenticeship and other training programs

accessible to people of color and other community

members who need a pathway out of poverty and into

green, union construction jobs.


Labor unions were also intimately involved in national

policy negotiations this year around the American Clean

Energy and Security Act, green measures included in the

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the

new national clean car standards that were announced by

the Obama administration. The AFL-CIO's Bob Baugh, the

United Steelworkers' Leo Gerard, and many other labor

leaders testified before Congress on these and other

green issues. United Auto Workers President Ron

Gettelfinger stood next to President Obama in May as he

announced new national clean car standards that will

improve fuel efficiency and reduce vehicle greenhouse

gas emissions. The UAW had urged the Obama

administration to adopt the new standards.


Labor unions were also involved in international

climate change negotiations this year. Since 2007, when

the Cornell University Global Labor Institute organized

a delegation of U.S. labor leaders to attend United

Nations climate talks in Bali, U.S. labor

representatives have been participating in

international meetings, including this year's meeting

in Bonn, Germany. The U.S. labor representatives work

under the umbrella of the International Trade Union

Commission to promote an international climate

agreement that provides for a "just transition" to a

global green economy. As Bob Baugh, executive director

of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Council, blogged from

the international talks in Bonn, "The ITUC has

emphasized the need for the U.N. climate change

agreement to address employment and income, the

inclusion of trade unions and other stakeholders in the

decision-making process and a sensitivity to the needs

of the poorest and least-developed nations."


State and Local "Green" Labor Activities Run the Gamut


While the labor movement's national and international

efforts on climate change and other environmental

issues are exciting, it's the local initiatives that

are particularly creative and inspiring. Labor union

members seem to be applying a coat of green to their

activities - from the training programs that unions

offer to the ongoing education that is being provided

to union members and policy makers.


Labor union members are designing and constructing

green buildings from one side of the country to the

other. In Connecticut, members of Local 1 of the

International Union of Bricklayers and Allied

Craftworkers helped build an ultra-green building that

will house the Yale University School of Forestry &

Environmental Studies. Its features include a

rainwater-harvesting system, a 100-kilowatt rooftop

array of photovoltaic panels, an energy-saving

displacement ventilation system, and glass facades that

enable daylight to provide much of the interior

building illumination.


In New York, members of AFSMCE Local 375 designed the

New York City Parks Department's first green building,

a community center that features a vegetative roof with

plants and solar panels, a bike path and bike racks,

proximity to public transit, and a system of light

controls and sensors to increase energy efficiency. All

of the materials used to construct the building, many

of them recyclable, will come from local suppliers

within 500 miles of the community center. Members of

Local 375 also developed a New York City Green Schools

Guide, which sets sustainable design requirements for

new school construction and major remodeling projects

and awards points for features like low-water-use

plumbing fixtures, high-efficiency boilers, and

selection of sites that are near public transportation.


Labor unions are also training building superintendents

and residential managers to maintain these new green

facilities in a way that uses less energy, conserves

water, reduces operating costs, and minimizes

environmental impacts. SEIU's Local 32BJ participates

in a joint labor-management training program, the

Thomas Shortman Training Program, which has been

teaching green building maintenance skills since 2005.

32BJ recently announced its intentions to dramatically

expand this training as part of a "1,000 Supers"

program to train 1,000 green superintendents in New

York City in such skills as installing efficient light

bulbs, fixing leaky toilets, installing motion sensors,

and weather-stripping doors. "In some cases, where

trained building service workers have put these

state-of-the-art techniques into practice alongside

retrofits, energy bills can drop by 20 percent," said

James Barry, manager of program development of the 32BJ

training program.


Some unions are taking advantage of new trends in

renewable energy and energy efficiency that are being

created by state and government policies. In Nevada,

which has a renewable energy standard requiring that 20

percent of the state's energy come from renewable

sources by 2015, members of Local 357 of the

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

recently helped install the largest solar photovoltaic

power system in North America. The system is located on

140 acres of desert just outside of Nellis Air Force

Base and is now providing 30 percent of the base's power.


Many IBEW locals are doing renewable energy system

installation work and incorporating solar PV training

into their apprenticeship programs. According to Tom

Bowes of IBEW Local 58, who is the assistant director

of the Electrical Industry Training Center in Warren,

Mich., the national labor-management committee that

develops curriculum for local IBEW training programs

started incorporating information about photovoltaics

into the apprenticeship curriculum about 10 years ago.

In the Detroit area, they've been offering a

journeyman-level PV training for the past four years.

Nearly 500 people have attended the trainings, and 100

people have earned entry-level certificates in PV

systems from the North American Board of Certified

Energy Practitioners. Bowes says it's not difficult for

a person who already has thousands of hours of

experience doing electrical work to learn the nuances

of photovoltaics systems. "This fits very well with

traditional skills, and it's had a huge interest from

our members who are looking for new job opportunities," Bowes said.


Just as the IBEW is putting its expertise in electrical

work to use to take advantage of new job opportunities

created by renewable energy policies, LIUNA-the

Laborers International Union of North America-is

capitalizing on opportunities resulting from the

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's support for

residential weatherization. ARRA will invest $5 billion

in weatherizing U.S. homes so that they use less energy

and emit fewer greenhouse gases, and LIUNA is working

to ensure that jobs in weatherization are high-quality

and that weatherization training is done by qualified,

experienced training entities and is accessible to

communities that have experienced barriers to

employment. At the local level, this looks like a

program that LIUNA's Local 55 is involved with in

Newark, N.J., in partnership with the city of Newark

and an economic justice group called the Garden State

Alliance for a New Economy. The program trains people

who have formerly been excluded from the workforce in

green construction and weatherization and gives them

hands-on experience weatherizing the homes of seniors

and low-income families. According to the U.S.

Department of Energy, weatherization reduces home

energy use by 32 percent, on average.


Another green program that is developing within unions

is the environmental committee or caucus. These tend to

be driven by environmentally conscious union members,

especially ones who work in government environmental

agencies. The Environmental Committee of SEIU's Local

1000 in Sacramento, Calif., was established in March

2004 at the urging of committee chair and Local 1000

member Mike Roskey. Roskey asked Local 1000's governing

council to inaugurate a committee that would work on

reducing resource consumption, networking with labor

organizations, and initiating programs and legislation.

Roskey, who works at the California Department of Fish

and Game, says the Committee has focused on educating

labor unions and the general public about environmental

issues and on developing green bargaining language.

Their proposed bargaining language was used by SEIU for

its national "Negotiating Green" handbook.


A similar process unfolded in Portland, Ore., where

AFSCME members who worked at the Oregon Department of

Environmental Quality exhorted the union to start

addressing matters beyond the usual bread and butter

issues that are at the heart of labor unions'

activities. The group started as a volunteer effort two

years ago and has now received some funding from Oregon

AFSME's executive board. Among other projects, they

convened a legislative forum on pending environmental

legislation for environmental groups, AFSMCE members

and policy makers, and they organized a phone bank of

members in key districts to help pass a bill that would

implement a low-carbon fuel standard and other measures

to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.


Steve Hughes, an organizer for Oregon AFSCME, explained

why AFSCME members are concerned about climate change.

Beyond the fact that some AFSCME members work in the

environmental field, "Our union lives and dies by the

public budget," Hughes said. "And if you look at any of

the literature out there about the costs of mitigating

the effects of climate change, there's going to be a

huge strain on public dollars. If we're having to spend

millions and billions mitigating the effects of

something we should have stopped long ago, that's going

to be less budget for all the other services and

infrastructure that people care about."


Byrd of the Oregon AFL-CIO remarked that Oregon

AFSCME's Environmental Caucus has drawn in young people

who might not otherwise have become active in the

union: "The issues of the environment and climate

change motivate young workers in a big way. I've seen

this in AFSCME here in Oregon, where a number of very

smart, committed young people who were never involved

in the union before get involved because the union is

taking a position on an issue they care about. People

who care about the environment deeply, when they see

the union step up and make it a priority, they say,

whoa, there is something in this union for me. The

opportunity to engage young members [around green

issues] is another opportunity that smart labor leaders

are taking advantage of."


While labor unions' efforts on climate change and

environmental issues have attracted youth, such efforts

also have the potential to draw community groups closer

to unions. A stellar example of potential

community-labor collaboration is the Coalition for

Clean and Safe Ports. The coalition, spearheaded by the

Teamsters and Change to Win, includes labor unions and

environmental, public health and community groups and

is targeting the ports in Oakland, Los Angeles, Long

Beach, Seattle, Newark and Miami. Its goal is to

address the fumes from dirty diesel gas trucks that

pollute port communities and endanger public health. To

fix the system, the campaign recommends that trucking

companies buy cleaner trucks and directly hire the

truck drivers as full-time employees.


"We feel we have a responsibility to the workers for

them to have a clean environment to live in," said

Frederick Potter, port division director for the

Teamsters. "You spend a lot of your life at your job.

The truck drivers are in this pollution all day long,

and they bring it home to their families in the

surrounding communities, because that's where they

live. Essentially they're living next to the factory

that's spouting pollution. The Teamsters looked at this

and said, you know what, we've got to leave something

for our children. We've got a responsibility to address

global warming, and we have an obligation to provide

our workers a clean and safe environment."


The clean ports campaign won a major victory in Los

Angeles when the Port of L.A. approved a strong and

sustainable diesel emissions-reduction plan in March

2008. So far, the result has been more than 5,000 new

and cleaner trucks on the road at the L.A. port and an

80 percent reduction in harmful emissions. However, a

lawsuit by the American Trucking Association has held

up the adoption of similar clean truck plans at other

ports and has delayed the piece of the L.A. plan that

would make port truck drivers employees of the trucking

companies rather than independent contractors.


There are dozens of other examples of labor union

efforts on green issues-from labor unions' leadership

in national coalitions like the Apollo Alliance and the

Blue-Green Alliance, to labor education programs that

are being developed to help union members understand

how climate change will impact their jobs and

industries, to advocacy efforts by western labor unions

in the U.S. and Canada who are trying to improve a

regional cap-and-trade program called the Western

Climate Initiative. But United Steelworkers

International President Leo Gerard-whose union has

worked tirelessly on federal clean energy and climate

legislation-summed up the sentiments of the movement

that seems to developing among labor unions from coast

to coast:


"We must make a national commitment to rebuild America

clean and green with products built here, to develop

new forms of clean, renewable energy and provide

incentives to further their deployment," Gerard

testified before Congress in March. "We must bring our

power grid and energy infrastructure into the 21st

century and train the American workforce to use these

new technologies. We must create a revolution in our

transportation sector, rebuilding the American auto

industry to produce the best and cleanest vehicles in

the world, and connect America's cities and

neighborhoods with world class transit systems. And, of

course, we must limit greenhouse gas emissions

consistent with what the best science tells us."


Andrea Buffa is a senior writer and policy associate at

the Apollo Alliance.


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