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

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 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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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."

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