SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The myth that labor is some type of dinosaur wedded to an extinct rust-belt economy was shattered here March 5 when the AFL-CIO executive council unanimously passed a resolution urging greening of the economy and creation of a climate change and jobs strategy that works for all Americans.

The resolution says it is time for bold steps to meet 21st century challenges related to climate change and cites scientific evidence confirming that use of fossil fuels is “undisputedly” causing global warming, rising sea levels, changes in climate patterns and threats to coastal areas.

“Climate change is the most pervasive form of globalization,” federation President John Sweeney declared, “because the atmosphere recognizes no borders. The accumulated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions move freely across the planet.”

The resolution puts labor on record as part of a global movement that has already become a driving force behind proposed climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress.

During discussion of the resolution union leaders noted that the world expects leadership from the U.S. on this issue because, as the leading emitter of greenhouse gas, America should lead a new technological revolution in the way energy is generated and used. Those urging support for the resolution said the new approach would both benefit the world and help revive the “middle class” in the United States.

The Steelworkers, who are part of the federation, have been advocating for green jobs for more than a decade, said Leo Gerard, their president.

“The AFL-CIO supports a new industrial policy, an environmental economic development policy, which places manufacturing and trade at the center of a green economy program. New investment in a sustainable energy infrastructure must be structured to create good jobs and ensure stable energy prices,” Sweeney said.

He went on to note that these must be supported by effective trade policies and that, without these features, there is serious risk of driving good jobs offshore. The jobs would go, presumably, to countries lacking emission controls and to countries with far less carbon efficient production.

The resolution indicates that the federation’s program for a green economy requires five pre-conditions. Those are:
(1) The U.S. should embrace a balanced approach that ensures diverse, abundant, affordable energy supplies, creates good jobs for America’s workers and improves the environment.
(2) The U.S. should adopt an economy-wide cap-and-trade program that is transparent and requires all sectors to come to the table to reduce their carbon emissions. It should have timetables and standards that allow for the development and deployment of new technology and should help finance the new technologies that can provide clean energy at prices close to conventional sources.
(3) Energy incentives and investments by the federal government must be based on a set of economic development principles that clean the environment and create jobs but will not encourage offshoring of manufacturing jobs.
(4) Investments must be used to identify, develop and capture cutting-edge technologies and to manufacture and build those technologies here for domestic use and export.
(5) The international component of any climate change cap-and trade-program must provide incentives to ensure that developing nations, such as China and India, can participate.

There are signs that the approach backed by the unions is already gaining support. Pending legislation in Congress includes some domestic investment requirements and some incentives embodied in proposals regarding participation of developing nations. The legislative steps taken thus far, however, fall well short of what AFL-CIO leaders discussed in San Diego.

Essentially, the union leaders believe we can have both a healthy economy and a cleaner planet. The investment portfolio supported by the AFL-CIO – carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS), domestic production of advanced technology vehicles, renewable energy and biomass, electric grid modernization, relief for low and moderate income families and more – is becoming increasingly well received.

This, of course, is because in the coming years, the nation faces a series of challenges and choices about the path we take to achieve a low carbon future. The AFL-CIO position, however, is that not everything can be done at once. In electrical generation, for example, the federation’s position is that coal and nuclear powered plants are still the primary sources of base load power and that, for now, both technologies are needed to meet future energy needs while also helping the country meet lower carbon emission goals. The federation, therefore, is backing the expansion of both IGCC coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration and new nuclear technology that meets federal developmental, financial, regulatory and environmental requirements.

The United Mine Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in particular, have been pushing both the Environmental Protection Agency and the coal industry to join them in backing legislation that would create and fund a trust for CCS development. Both unions have been pushing, in the meantime, for immediate emissions reductions that can bridge the big gap between the coal technology of today and the carbon capture and sequestration technology of the future.

Another area of focus for union leaders was energy efficiency, which they see having huge potential for both good jobs and energy savings for the public. To that end they called for modernization and extension of the 160,000 miles of high transmission lines that make up the electrical grid. They noted this will increase energy efficiency by 20 percent and provide access for many new renewable energy projects.

Also along these lines, they called for retrofitting public, industrial and commercial buildings and for home weatherization projects on a massive scale.

The resolution called for expansion and increased usage of mass transit and passenger rail as essential to both the economy and the environment.

“Our members and workers everywhere,” the federation statement said, “with their knowledge, skills and experience – have valuable insights to offer for the greening of the workplace and the community. The greening of the economy means that every job that contributes to a low carbon future is a green job.”

Work on the international front has been very much a part of labor’s climate change and job strategy.

The AFL-CIO has worked with its international counterpart, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), as a part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. At the December, 2007 UNFCCC meetings in Bali, Indonesia, AFL-CIO members served as part of an ITUC delegation.

The ITUC’s statement on climate change sent a powerful message about the nature of the crisis and the need to make changes in a way that creates good jobs, improves communities and reduces poverty.

The ITUC position in Bali reflected AFL-CIO demands for a workers’ voice in the UN process, a role for workers at all levels of decision making, skill development and stronger laws that promote “employment rights and the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

China and other developing countries agreed at Bali to cut their rate of greenhouse gas growth. The U.S. and other developed countries agreed on financial assistance and technology transfer. While the AFL-CIO sees these as important breakthroughs, it has called for further negotiations to refine and strengthen the agreements and it has called on the U.S. Congress to act.

“The uncertainties of the open-ended Bali Action Plan make it essential that Congress enact job friendly and technology friendly national climate legislation that will define our commitments before the 2009 Copenhagen UN meeting to set new carbon emission protocols. The “Copenhagen Protocol” will replace the Kyoto Protocol that was ignored by the Bush Administration and will require Senate ratification.

The AFL-CIO has a special energy task force. At the San Diego executive council meeting it was announced that the task force will help draft and support legislative efforts that insure:
1) Creation of standards and timelines that are realistic in relation to available technology;
2) Any investment portfolio is invested in the United States.
3) The system encourages investments in domestic energy-intensive industry and discourages the offshoring of jobs;
4) Developing nations participate in climate change solutions;
5) An effective cost control mechanism is in place to ensure energy pricing stability;
6) Adequate resources for transition and training education are available for workers and their communities;
7) Assistance is available for low and moderate income families impacted by energy prices; and
8) State climate change measures integrate appropriately with a federal cap and trade program to achieve environmental goals and avoid economic dislocation.

“Congress must be unambiguous in establishing an environmental economic development policy that seeks to increase the per capita income and protects the interests of working families,” the federation resolution read, adding, “Workers exercising their free choice to form unions and bargain collectively and the respect for legal standards protecting workers’ wages and benefits are fundamental to this goal.”

The union leaders here showed an understanding that climate change and energy policy will play a dominant role in the economy for the foreseeable future. Both are already high on the agenda in the 2008 elections. The labor leaders believe that the call for a new energy policy and green jobs will grow as the economic downturn deepens and that the same discussion is at the center of an international carbon emission regime. Most important, however, is that the discussions and resolutions passed in San Diego show they intend for labor to play its crucial role in these areas.

“The nation stands at the crossroads of opportunity for domestic investments in innovation, new technology and energy efficiency that will save jobs, create new jobs and new industries and revitalize American manufacturing,” the federation declared. The resolution warned, however, “There is no guarantee that these will be good jobs or that the investments will be made here unless we fight to make it so.”