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Unions, Environmental Groups Join Forces on Climate Action

On the heels of the Green New Deal debate, the BlueGreen Alliance released an ambitious climate action plan to boost renewables and workers' incomes.
By Roya Sabri
Climate Action

On the heels of the polarizing “Green New Deal,” the BlueGreen Alliance has released a “Solidarity for Climate Action” plan. The plan is the product of a partnership between 14 organized labor and environmental organizations.

The ultimate goal, according to this partnership’s leaders, is getting the United States to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in a way that enriches and sustains the American workforce.

“This is the most comprehensive statement brought together by environmentalists and trade unionists, so far, in the United States, Canada, and perhaps Europe,” International United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said at a recent press conference announcing this venture.

Some of the partners include the United Steelworkers, Sierra Club, Communications Workers of America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Service Employees International Union, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Utility Workers Union of America.

The BlueGreen Alliance has facilitated this partnership of labor unions and environmentalists to design cohesive solutions to two pressing issues: climate change and income inequality.

Part of the plan’s focus is on communities that once relied on coal and fossil fuel. The hope is to rebuild American manufacturing in industries such as renewable energy and sustainable products, but also to divert jobs into repairing neglected, hazardous and energy inefficient infrastructure.

The document includes the group’s vision, principles and many policy goals. Although the plan does not include specific steps the coalition will take, it does propose policies the group aims to promote for the country at large. Policy categories include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions reductions
  • Infrastructure and community resilience
  • Competitiveness, strength and innovation
  • High-quality job creation and retention
  • Equity, responsibility and safe and healthy communities
  • Fairness to workers and communities

The real power of the document, though, is found in this statement:

“The BlueGreen Alliance and its labor and environmental partners are committed to the vision, principles, and policies outlined in this document, and are committed to a process of working together to identify concrete solutions to achieve these goals.”

Time will tell what that process looks like.

A focus on jobs protected by labor unions

As stated in its vision, jobs that are both stable and well-paying have been few and far-between in the clean energy economy. Meanwhile, there are many jobs to be accomplished in building and rebuilding America’s infrastructure before we can form a comprehensive renewables sector.

Are unions part of the solution?

If America wants to build a sustainable manufacturing industry, unions are essential to protecting the rights and needs of the blue-collar worker. As the renewable industry burgeons, unions can ensure that lower income workers and communities of color are not cast to the fringes of progress.

A recent study has found that unions can have the effect of reducing income inequality, even though union membership is at an all-time low.

And when it comes to the American economy, a system where wealth is more equally distributed may not cushion a CEO’s bank account, but it does support a healthy, balanced and prosperous economy.

A vision for the renewable sector

This plan may be ambitious, but the ultimate goal is to set forth policies that do not simply focus on carbon emissions, but also include the American economy and people.

In an age where coal is more expensive than renewable energy sources in most of the United States, carbon neutrality is not a fantasy. It is clear that achieving a net zero carbon footprint is possible. The BlueGreen Alliance has laid out what it will take to achieve this - investing in new infrastructure and creating union-protected jobs are essential parts of that vision.

As NWF Executive Director Collin O’Mara said at the late June press conference, we shouldn’t sit back as China and Germany manufacture our solar panels and wind turbines. We should be creating our own clean energy future. We have the workforce for it. Now, we just need the policies and investment.

Image credit: Jon Kline/Pixabay

Roya Sabri headshot

Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn

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