Photo: AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. Used with permission via Creative Commons by Matt Popovich.

In a March 8 letter to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey, the Energy Committee of the AFL-CIO stated, “America’s labor unions agree that climate change must be addressed.” It added, “It is critical that the voices of American workers be included in the discussion, especially those who are most at risk of job disruptions and economic dislocation as a result of those actions.” And it said, “We are ready to discuss these issues in a responsible way, for we all recognize that doing nothing is not an option.”

As a labor group concerned about threats both to the climate and to workers, the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) welcomes the Energy Committee’s call for the voices of American workers to be included in the discussion and the Committee’s readiness to discuss these issues. Indeed, we believe that the voices of all segments of the working class and of the labor movement should be heard on how to address the climate emergency.

We agree with the letter’s proposals to “invest in energy efficiency in the industrial and commercial sectors, retrofits and upgrades to schools and public buildings, and to make our communities safe and resilient.” Indeed, we think the labor movement should be discussing an even broader set of investments that provide millions of jobs by making the transition to a climate-safe energy system in all sectors.

We also agree that “all of these investments must be paired with strong labor and procurement standards to grow family-sustaining, middle-class union jobs.” We join with the Energy Committee in encouraging policymakers to develop such standards and incorporate them in plans for climate protection policies.

The letter states that the “the Green New Deal resolution” proposed by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Markey is “too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members.” The LNS discussion paper “18 Strategies for a Green New Deal” lays out a program for how worker needs, labor rights, and union interests can be protected and advanced within the framework of the Green New Deal. The LNS National Labor Convergence on Climate this July will provide diverse union members a chance to speak out on their views and proposals for incorporating such concerns in the framework of the Green New Deal.

We appreciate the Energy Committee’s stated readiness to discuss these issues. We believe a constructive discussion should address three objectives:

  1. Protect the livelihood and wellbeing of those who are “at risk of job disruptions and economic dislocation” as a result of climate change and policies to address it.
  2. Eliminate the production of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels on the timetable required to meet the science-based Paris agreement goals.
  3. Use the transition to a climate-safe economy to realize greater economic, social, racial, and gender justice.

We believe that a properly constructed Green New Deal can realize all three of these goals. We encourage all sections of the labor movement to join with others in constructive discussion of how these goals can be realized.