California Labor Unions Support Global Warming Solutions: Green Jobs Seen as Future


Posted on 13 August 2008

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Andrea-Buffa.gifBy Andrea Buffa
UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education

As California moves toward a decision on how it will implement AB 32, the state’s landmark “Global Warming Solutions Act,” there is increasing interest in the legislation on the part of labor unions, who want to make sure that the AB 32 implementation plan not only benefits the environment but also benefits California’s economy and workers.

While labor unions in the United States have had a mixed record on global warming mitigation measures in the past (until this year the AFL-CIO opposed the Kyoto Protocol), today most US unions are starting to voice their support for policies to reduce global warming and the US dependence on oil. Just last month, the Teamsters reversed its support of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Teamsters President Jim Hoffa told a crowd of labor and environmental activists in Oakland that, “We must find a long-term approach [to our energy problems] that breaks our dependence on foreign oil by investing in the development of alternate energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal power."

In California, building and construction trades unions have long promoted energy efficiency measures like retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency for their promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions AND create high quality jobs. Several of their apprenticeship programs offer training in cutting-edge green construction techniques. Like most of the labor community, the trades want to make sure that the green jobs created by climate mitigation legislation like AB 32 are high-quality jobs with family-supporting wages, benefits and a career pathway. They also want to make sure that workers in heavy-greenhouse-gas emitting industries who lose their jobs because of climate mitigation legislation receive financial support and retraining.

A recent op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle articulates California labor unions’ general principles when it comes to global warming legislation. In the op-ed, Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, and Ken Jacobs, Chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, call for the California Air Resources Board to pay more attention to the key role California’s workers will play in restructuring the state’s economy to reduce its carbon footprint, and the impact this change will have on them. They recommend incorporating the following ideas into the AB 32 implementation plan:

-- Invest in the California workforce.
-- Favor policies that are proven to create good, middle-class jobs.
-- Prevent jobs from leaving the state.
-- Help workers transition to a greener California economy.
-- Invest in infrastructure and innovation.

The op-ed ends with the following: “AB32 can be a win for the environment and a win for working people. But the win-win is not going to be created by wishful thinking; it's going to be created by intentional policies like those above. The Air Resources Board has the opportunity to help shape this major restructuring of our economy in a way that promotes California businesses, creates good jobs for a skilled and stable workforce, and reduces our carbon footprint. Our planet and its people depend on it.” To read the op-ed in its entirely, click here.

For more information about labor unions’ interest in global warming legislation, see the new report released last week by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education: California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006: A Background Paper for Labor Unions.

Andrea Buffa is the UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Communications Analyst.