AFL-CIO wants workers ‘front and center’ in battling global warming
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler says that workers must be placed front and center in the fight against global warming. CC4.0

WASHINGTON—Workers, especially union workers, should be “front and center” in the battle to reverse global warming, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler says.

That especially includes unionists who build and repair energy infrastructure, such as members of her home union, the Electrical Workers (IBEW), she adds.

Shuler outlined what should be the central role of workers in battling global warming in a one-on-one zoom discussion with Tony Podesta, the longtime Democratic heavyweight and founder of the Center for American Progress, a noted D.C. think tank.

And she made the point that global warming is here, proceeding more quickly and negatively than people realize. She gets evidence both from data and personally: Talking with her parents in her home state, Oregon, now suffering under a combination of 100-plus degree days and ravaging forest fires. So is most of the Western U.S.

That doesn’t seem to budge global warming deniers in corporate suites or Congress. So, facing inaction on battling the rapid warming of the planet, restoring U.S. manufacturing, and creating well-paying union jobs in green industries, CAP examined developments in states, instead.

Its report, available on CAP’s website, americanprogress.org, found encouraging state and local moves at least on battling global warming and in restoring U.S. manufacturing and domestic supply lines for “green” projects.

“The enormous opportunity now facing the nation—the creation of millions of good union jobs to build a clean energy-driven economic recovery—flows in great measure from lessons learned through successful state leadership,” its summary says.

“State, tribal, and local governments are laying a road map for jobs, justice, and climate solutions. These include actions taken to promote job quality in new and fast-growing clean energy industries (and) efforts to expand existing industries that support union jobs critical to the clean economy, such as in transportation, water infrastructure, and manufacturing,” it adds.

Those jobs are linked to state and local “efforts to advance labor standards and the right to organize, ensure government spending does not undercut workers’ ability to bargain collectively, and promote local hiring and equitable access to good jobs,” it adds.

Shuler admits such progress is necessary. It’s also a key labor demand as it lobbies for infrastructure legislation, and a demand Democratic President Joe Biden backs.

“In very plain words, do we think federal tax dollars” for infrastructure projects “should support low-wage low-quality jobs in the renewable sector or high-wage high-quality jobs?” Shuler asked.

“The pattern we’ve seen so far” in the green sector is of “low-wage, low-quality jobs dependent on imported goods, some of which are made in very sketchy conditions.”

Argued for high quality green jobs

In its infrastructure lobbying, the labor movement has argued for the high-wage, high-quality union jobs. Those requirements were in Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill, since junked in favor of a “compromise” $974 billion bill Biden worked out with a bipartisan senatorial coalition.

They weren’t junked in a bipartisan green energy tax credit bill the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, headed by Shuler’s home-state Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., approved.

“We believe we shouldn’t be subsidizing foreign spending with U.S. tax credits,” Shuler told Podesta. The Finance panel’s Clean Energy for America Act conditions tax credits for U.S. “green” firms on following “high labor standards” and using union labor on top of that.

Consumers get credits for those same reasons, too. Shuler cited one key provision: Individual buyers of electric cars would get a $2,500 tax credit if the vehicles are made in the U.S., and a second $2,500 credit if unionists built them.

“Some would say that’s ‘industrial policy’ and say it should be avoided,” Podesta replied, an oblique reference to GOP hostility to green jobs, hatred of unions, and opposition to Biden’s plans. “I’d say it’s industrial policy to be embraced.”

“We are finally getting traction on that idea” the U.S. needs an industrial policy, Shuler replied. Biden’s American Jobs Plan could be a vehicle for that. “For many years, we” in the union movement “were screaming in the wilderness about it.”

Wyden’s bill also requires contractors pay Davis-Bacon prevailing wages for building federally funded green energy projects, including projects using “green” tax credits, not just federal cash. The measure repeats that requirement several times, a detailed summary from the Finance panel reveals.

“We’ve seen bad results from the policies of the past” which ignored both environmental impact and workers’ safety and rights, Shuler added. “Now we have a chance to do this the right way—and everybody wins.”

“Unions were what transformed low-wage dangerous work in the energy economy, industry by industry,” to high-wage middle-class jobs, she said. If it was done once, it can be done again, she contended.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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