Figuring out how to respond to global warming has been difficult for organized labor. The issue can pit union against union and unions against environmentalists. Now, however, a new alliance is developing around the idea of “green jobs”–the jobs that will be needed to rebuild our economy and drastically reduced greenhouse gasses.
Seemingly from nowhere, “green jobs” have emerged as a key issue in the presidential election. Barack Obama calls for a $150 billion investment in green-collar jobs. Hillary Clinton refers to renewable energy employment as “jobs of the future” that can create 5 million jobs. Even John McCain calls for research and development of green technology, calling it the “path to restore the strength of America’s economy.”
The stealth “green jobs” issue did not emerge from nowhere. Its prominence in the presidential debates results in good measure from the commitment of some, though by no means all, environmental and labor leaders to building an alliance for jobs that fight global warming.
In 2006, the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers initiated the Blue-Green Alliance under the banner of “Good Jobs, A Clean Environment, And a Safer World.” This “strategic alliance” would focus on “those issues which have the greatest potential to unite the American people in pursuit of a global economy that is more just and equitable and founded on principles of environmental and economic sustainability.”
Linking jobs and the environment, Steelworker president Leo Gerard said, “Secure twenty-first-century jobs are those that will help solve the problem of global warming with energy efficiency and renewable energy.” Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope added, “Our new alliance allows us to address the great challenge of the global economy in the twenty-first century–how to provide good jobs, a clean environment and a safer world.”
As the presidential primaries approached, the Blue-Green Alliance called on all candidates to commit to reducing carbon emissions by 2 percent every year, increasing green-energy based manufacturing jobs by 2 percent and rewriting American trade laws to advance labor and environmental standards.
The politically savvy alliance began organizing in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin–states that would be critical in the presidential primaries–a year before the primaries would be held. Almost all the Democratic candidates agreed to their program, and even John McCain is finding that he must echo it.
The coming-of-age party for this coalition may well be the Blue-Green Alliance’s “Good Jobs, Green Jobs: A National Green Jobs Conference” scheduled for March 13-14 in Pittsburgh. The conference will bring together advocates representing labor, business, the environment and public health; economic and workforce development specialists; investors, scientists and technology experts; and local, state and federal policy makers. Its aim is to launch a nationwide dialogue about “moving our country rapidly toward leadership in promoting a new green economy.”