Green jobs: wave of the future

OAKLAND, Calif. — Earlier this month, the mayors of four San Francisco Bay Area cities — Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley and Emeryville — announced formation of the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership, together with leaders of the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The partnership’s ambitious goals: to build “the heart of the East Bay into a dynamic Green Corridor” and “to lead the world in environmental innovation, emerging green business and industry, green jobs, and renewable energy.”

Their Dec. 3 announcement came as new possibilities are emerging to combine curbing global warming and creating good jobs for workers who have been driven to the margins, including minority youth, workers with limited education, and former prisoners.

The U.S. House and Senate passed the Green Jobs bill to provide $125 million a year to train 35,000 workers for jobs that help the environment. It was incorporated into the overall energy legislation signed into law by President Bush on Dec. 19.

Locally, Oakland’s City Council has approved $250,000 to fund a Green Jobs Corps slated to launch next year. Richmond has a similar program.

In their statement of principles, the four mayors pledged to support new and emerging green industries, strengthen development of green technology, support employment opportunities and work together to build the “East Bay Green Corridor.” They said they would expand job training for a “diverse cross-section of youth,” including new partnerships with high schools, community colleges, adult education programs and California’s university systems.

As they unveiled the project, Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums and Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin emphasized the importance of job training and good entry-level jobs for their cities, where many residents have experienced prolonged economic crisis.

“We are cautiously hopeful about the potential of this partnership,” Aaron Lehmer, Green Collar Jobs campaign manager at the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, told the World.

Together with the Apollo Alliance, a national business-labor-environmental coalition, the Ella Baker Center was a significant force for passage of the federal Green Jobs bill. With the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the center also co-convenes the Oakland Apollo Alliance, which helped spark the Oakland Green Jobs Corps.

“We understand the mayors intend to pull their political clout together as a regional cooperative of cities, to increase the federal appropriations for investment in green businesses, and to augment green collar jobs training programs,” Lehmer said.

He said the Ella Baker Center believes it is vital for social justice organizations to help guide the process so that investment “is done with equity and justice in mind for everyone in the region.”

Lehmer expressed concern about possible negative effects from the regional program’s emphasis on biofuels, because of its potential to raise food costs. Earlier this year, UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Livermore Lab announced plans for energy biosciences research with funds from the energy firm BP and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The national Apollo Alliance has said its long-term program for a new, diversified, environmentally safe and more efficient energy infrastructure could add over 3.3 million jobs to the economy nationally.

In a recently released report, “Putting Oakland to Work: a comprehensive strategy to create real jobs for residents,” the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) identified “green jobs” as a rapidly growing category including well-paying jobs for young people and those with limited education, as well as managers and professionals.

“A number of initiatives are happening here to encourage the growth of the green sector, including the new partnership,” said EBASE spokesperson Kate O’Hara. “As with other sectors of the economy,” she added, “the more the city can do to set standards for wages and benefits, the more likely that these will be family-supporting jobs.”

Another just-released report, “Green Collar Jobs,” analyzes the ability of green businesses to provide quality jobs for workers with barriers to employment. Its author, San Francisco State University professor Raquel Pinderhughes, concludes, “Green collar jobs represent an important new category of workforce opportunities because they are relatively high quality jobs, with relatively low barriers to entry, in sectors that are poised for dramatic growth.”

At the green collar jobs panel organized by the Apollo Alliance during the recent Mayors’ Climate Protection Summit in Seattle, Oakland’s Mayor Dellums called the green economy and its potential for new good jobs “the wave of the future.”

He added, “We now have an opportunity to reach out to a community that has been neglected for the last 40 years. Poverty is real in our communities, and we all know it, with high crime rates, high murder rates, high incarceration rates, high dropout rates. But here’s this brilliant moment when we can address the unfinished business of the cities, the unfinished business of America and the new business of saving the planet.”

mbechtel @pww.org