Blue-Green Alliance urges ‘green jobs’ investment
WASHINGTON — Shawn Grimes, 30, who makes batteries for hybrid autos was one of more than 2000 people who converged on the nation’s capital to demand that Congress fund programs that create more “green jobs” like his.
Grimes drove here from Kettering, Ohio to attend the second “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference Feb. 4-7 sponsored by the Blue-Green Alliance (BGA). The BGA was founded by the United Steelworkers (USWA) and the Sierra Club and now enlists scores of unions, environmental groups and some businesses in advocating for sharp reductions in greenhouse gases that cause global climate change.
Grimes has been quoted twice by Barack Obama as the new president makes the case for converting to renewable, energy-efficient forms of energy such as wind and solar power, weatherization, mass transit, and electrically powered automobiles. Obama’s economic recovery plan allocates tens of billions to begin that conversion.
“We have the green technology. We are ready to go,” Grimes told the World, explaining that his employer, Cobasys, provides 200 union jobs manufacturing lithium batteries for General Motors hybrid vehicles. Grimes is the Second Vice President at IUE-CWA Local 84755 and shop steward at the Cobasys plant in Kettering.
“We could be in the driver’s seat, we could be helping rebuild American manufacturing,” he continued. “We can keep the green jobs here. But this is also another industry we could lose. These jobs can be sent overseas.”
He added, “Obama gives us hope. He has opened the doors of the White House to labor.”
Grimes and other conference participants from Ohio met with Ohio’s Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown who gave full support for the Obama plan. “We have hopes that Sen. (George) Voinovich will also support the bill,” he said. “Ohio needs these jobs nearly as badly as Michigan. Manufacturing is what made America great.”
The conference, which overflowed the largest ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, was convened in an atmosphere of hopes for winning a “Green Deal,” a modern-day incarnation of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
But the joy was coupled with fury that Senate Republicans were blocking approval of the Obama plan even as the jobless rate surged to 7.8 percent and nearly 600,000 workers lost their jobs in January.
BGA Executive Director David Foster told the World, “We support Obama’s plan, absolutely. It is a down payment on a green economy. We are going up to Capitol Hill this afternoon to urge the Senate to approve it.” Republican attempts to derail the House-passed package, he warned “will boomerang.”
United Steelworker President Leo Gerard, co-chair of the Blue-Green Alliance told the crowd, “We can create two million new, good jobs by investing $100 billion in a green economy now. That’s a lot of money. But we just gave AIG $125 billion and what did we get? The CEOs gave themselves $18 billion in bonuses. I’m not prepared to stand to the side and let the fearmongers and deregulators block our nation from moving toward a green economy.”
The pad a wind turbine stands on requires 200 tons of steel and 250 cubic yards of cement, he said. The turbine generates enough electricity for 500 homes. “Imagine how much carbon that would take out of the atmosphere.”
Gerard blasted corporations for exporting manufacturing jobs to China, which he accused of “slave labor.”
But Achim Steiner, chairman of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) cautioned against China-bashing. “China’s trade union movement has always stood for solidarity and favors policies that do not destroy jobs in other countries,” he told the crowd. “There is an agenda we share across boundaries of every other nation in the world.”
He praised China for approving a $100 billion economic recovery package with strong provisions for environmental protection.
He also praised U.S. voters for electing Obama, “a leader who has changed the discourse on what can and should happen in the world.” He said he met Obama when he traveled to his father’s village in Kenya. “He expressed an extraordinary sense of vision and optimism,” Steiner said.
The UN leader spoke of workers in Nairobi who collect and recycle heavy metals. “It is a green job but it is not a good job when workers have no protection from toxins.” Steiner held up a copy of a report “Green Jobs” authored jointly by UNEP and the Geneva-based International Labor Organization that stresses the urgency of standards to protect this growing sector of the work force.
Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, echoed this link between workers’ rights and environmental protection when he urged support for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) making it possible to win union recognition when a majority of workers sign union cards.
“We all believe in a sustainable economy,” Cohen said. “We can’t just be another commodity thrown in a landfill. Sustainability means you have workers with worker’s rights. Without workers’ right, the chances of creating a sustainable economy are non-existent.”
After Cohen spoke, the conference adjourned and thousands of participants went to Capitol Hill to lobby both for the Obama’s “green” economic recovery bill and the EFCA.