Delegates to two conventions in the same hotel in D.C. – the GoodJobs GreenJobs conclave run by the union-founded BlueGreen Alliance and the Steelworkers’ Rapid Response conference – spent their time honing points about how to create up to 2 million new jobs: By manufacturing green products, rewiring the nation’s electric grid, developing solar, wind and geothermal energy projects and retrofitting millions of buildings and appliances for energy conservation.
Many of those new jobs, speakers noted, would go to building trades workers, cutting into unemployment rates of up to 25% among union members and up to double that in various regions, construction crafts and states.
Green factory jobs would go to Steelworkers to make the wind turbine blades, pipe and tubing, and components of new “clean energy” plants. Still other green jobs would go to Utility Workers and Electrical Workers to retrofit buildings to increase energy efficiency and to rewire the U.S. power grid to make it less wasteful.
And bus and subway drivers, mechanics, track workers and their colleagues have green jobs, too, Amalgamated Transit Union President Warren George said. “Public transit saves 4.9 million tons annually” of imported oil, by taking cars off the road. “One motorcoach is six times more fuel-efficient than passenger cars,” he said.
All the effort was designed to push the Senate into debating and voting on the environment and energy bill. The measure is designed to both cut carbon emissions that lead to global warming while encouraging energy development — including both traditional sources such as oil and coal and alternatives such as wind, geothermal and solar. The bill is part of labor’s 5-point platform to restore “an economy that makes things.” It’s also a top Obama administration goal.
But the measure has hit, as usual, a planned Republican filibuster in the Senate, plus strong opposition from the coal and oil industries. Its GOP co-author, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is wavering and under party pressure to drop his support. And the massive oil spill after the fatal explosion, fire and sinking of a rig in the Gulf of Mexico forced Obama to reconsider one key section of the bill, encouraging offshore oil drilling.
Those problems didn’t dissuade the union leaders or their allies.
“Working together with the BlueGreen alliance, we can rebuild America’s middle class,” said Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan, one in a parade of union speakers. Others were Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, Utility Workers President Mike Langford and chief of staff Stewart Acuff and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
All, led by Trumka, emphasized that the environment-and-energy bill now pending before Congress would also be a jobs bill. That theme was also hit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
“We can create good union jobs –- not only jobs that green our environment, but jobs that put green in workers’ pockets. By investing in industries like clean coal, nuclear power, wind and solar and just as importantly, by reducing energy consumption through energy efficiency, we can create good, family supporting jobs that are green jobs,” O’Sullivan added.
O’Sullivan cited weatherization as an example. Gerard and other speakers asked delegates to dream about how many jobs would be created and how much energy would be saved if every building – not just schools – was weatherized. O’Sullivan’s answers: 500,000 new construction jobs, 100 million homes retrofitted, $500 billion in energy cost savings – and we “would save the equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil.
“Toward that end, LIUNA now has the capacity to train skilled weatherization workers in every state” to “create a brand new industry,” he stated.
Even non-union speakers noted many of the green jobs would be union jobs. Roan Resch, of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told a luncheon meeting that his industry’s member companies created 17,000 new jobs last year, despite the Great Recession. The jobs are in manufacturing, installation, plumbing, roofing and installation — and in California and Nevada. Resch said they’re usually union jobs.
Solar jobs, however, are dependent right now on federal grants and tax credits, Resch admitted. The industry’s firms are too small for traditional Wall Street investors.
The unionists’ pro-jobs push also had another side, appealing to the workers’ environmentalist allies to help create green jobs to clean up the planet. After telling how USW started labor’s environment crusade more than 40 years ago, Gerard said: “We’ve built a movement that will be the engine to drive the change that will create good jobs for the next generation. Our generation will either leave to the next generation the worst mess in history — or the greatest opportunity in history.”
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.