Highlighting the need to unite the labor movement behind the push for far-reaching climate action including a just transition to a renewable energy economy, several environmental groups are calling on President-elect Joe Biden to nominate Rep. Andy Levin as his secretary of labor.
As Politico reported late Tuesday, Oil Change International, Friends of the Earth, 350.org, and Greenpeace wrote in a letter to the president-elect late last month that Levin is "capable of bringing together the labor and environmental movement to implement" Biden's agenda for workers, which includes plans to hold companies accountable for wage theft and interfering with union activities, incentivize workplace organizing, and increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
"Friends of the Earth strongly believes that Rep. Levin brings well-grounded knowledge and an experience set that can bring the environmental and labor community together as we seek climate solutions that are good for people, workers, and the planet."
—Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth
The organizations say that Levin, a former SEIU organizer who has represented Michigan's 9th district since 2019, will be able to gain the trust of the labor movement.
"He has a long record of fighting for working people, and understands the climate imperative but knows the transition won't happen without proper buy-in and support," Collin Rees, senior campaigner with Oil Change International, told Politico.
According to this year's U.S. Energy and Employment Report, between 4% and 6% of workers in wind, solar, and photovoltaics power are unionized, while workers who produce oil, gas, and coal are between 1% and 3% unionized.
Despite this, many labor unions have been reluctant to throw their support behind renewable energy industries due to fears of job losses in sectors that have been around for decades.
Levin has spent his time in Congress pushing legislation aimed both at creating well-paying jobs and transitioning to renewable energy. Last February he joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in introducing the Electric Vehicle (EV) Freedom Act, which the lawmakers said would "create the jobs of the future" as Americans are called on to help establish a nationwide network of high-speed electric vehicle chargers over five years.
"The narrative we hear so often is that environmental groups, labor organizations, and industries can't work together when it comes to this fight," Levin said when the two lawmakers introduced the proposal. "Today, we prove them wrong. The unified coalition behind this bill is made up of labor, climate and environmental justice groups that see both the urgency and potential of another radical idea."
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Following the 2008 financial crash, Levin oversaw Michigan's No Worker Left Behind program which placed nearly 100,000 Michigan workers in job training programs—including for the solar power industry—over two years. The majority of workers trained in the program "went on to get good paying jobs," Levin said when campaigning for Congress.
The congressman also created Lean & Green Michigan, a program aimed at financing lean energy building improvements, and created jobs while reducing carbon emissions as head of his own clean energy business.
Last week, Levin took to social media to highlight a report by the United Nations Environment Program, which showed that paying all workers a living wage is key to halting the climate crisis.
A @UNEP report this week says humanity needs to drastically alter its behavior to stop climate change. Here’s what some of those changes look like in the U.S.:
Paying everyone a living wage
Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure
Empowering small farmers and businesses
— Rep. Andy Levin (@RepAndyLevin) December 15, 2020
The four climate action groups join five national labor unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO—the Office and Professional Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, Utility Workers Union of America, National Nurses United, and Communications Workers of America—in backing Levin to lead Biden's Labor Department.
— Johnathan Guy (@johnathanjguy) December 23, 2020
"Friends of the Earth strongly believes that Rep. Levin brings well-grounded knowledge and an experience set that can bring the environmental and labor community together as we seek climate solutions that are good for people, workers, and the planet," Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica told Politico.