Climate Change and Labor: Report on Recent Meeting

Union members and climate activists gathered for a discussion on Climate Change and Labor: Challenges and Opportunities March 12 in San Francisco.

Moderated by Blue Green Alliance West Coast Director JB Tengco with audience Q&A, the 90-minute meeting fostered agreement on the need to address climate change and union interest in becoming more green if the jobs are there.

“Our members are deeply affected by climate change,” said Victor Uno, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 565 covering Alameda, San Joaquin and Calaveras counties with some 2,000 workers. The union is among first responders when disaster strikes and during Katrina IBEW workers helped re-build the 9th Ward, he said. Uno noted that carbon emissions are compounded by fires. According to a national study, fire emissions of COin the US is equal to 4 to 6 percent of human-generated emissions, but at the state level sometimes exceed annual emissions from fossil fuel usage.

“Climate change is reaching into our own households now,” Uno said. “How are you going to retrofit to lower our carbon footprint?” Uno emphasized the importance of creating good jobs. “Good jobs are only if you have a good union,” he said. “Get involved and get good policy.” He emphasized that good jobs are part of good policy. A founding member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), Uno recognized a Japanese labor leader in the audience and remarked that the meeting was international.

United Auto Workers (UAW) International Representative Susan Reed said, “We’re concerned about green energy.” Currently campaigning to persuade Tesla to permit union organizing, she commented, “I like to believe that the auto industry can change to electric.” Reed said thatinvestment in workers is efficient for a company.

UC Berkeley Climate and Jobs Research Specialist Betony Jones emphasized working together to change the status quo and creating job policy to generate good job outcomes. Former director of the Green Economy Program at UC Berkeley Labor Center, Jones led research projects on the economic and employment impacts of California’s climate policies. Her work has been used to support passage of climate policies and ensure better outcomes for workers.

“In California we are on track and will meet our 2020 goals,” Jones said of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. “It’s been a promising story. Careful, thoughtful planning made it happen.” Such planning is needed for the labor sector and a focus of the Labor Center Green Economy Program The Labor Center Green Economy Program. Jones noted the benefits of better wages and the important role that labor plays in keeping us on track on climate policy.

Jones highlighted opportunities for green energy growth including renewable energy, electric grid infrastructure, water efficiency, waste management, advanced manufacturing and fields engaged in adaptation and resilience.

Climate and Environmental Justice Coordinator for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Marguerite Young said, “We’re joined together in a fight that is equitable.” Young said many SEIU workers live in communities most impacted by our fossil fuel economy. “We’re working to make communities more resilient and adaptive.”

Unions already are addressing climate issues. The Zero Net Energy Center Zero Net Energy Center in San Leandro offers electrical training for sustainable careers in a project owned and financed by the IBEW Local 565 and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Northern California Chapter. The unions also closely follow legislation.

Uno concluded, “There’s no reason that the environmental movement and the labor movement can’t get along.”

The meeting was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville and Citizens’ Climate Lobby Chapters from Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco.

Gail Schickele, environmental reporter



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Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has some 700,000 members in California and 1.9 million nationwide; United Auto Workers (UAW) some 400 thousand workers nationwide (check); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has 750,000 members in North America; IBEW Local 565 has 2000 members; and the ILWU some 37 thousand members in Northern California alone, Local 34 (230 members).

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The IBEW represents approximately750,000 active members and retirees who work in a wide variety of fields, including utilities, construction, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing, railroads and government.


Job Impacts of California’s Existing and Proposed Renewables Portfolio Standard

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