by Veronica Wilson, Labor Network for Sustainability
On April 13, 150 local labor leaders, members and organizers, along with ally organizations gathered for the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO Labor Convergence on Climate. The Convergence was co-hosted by Labor Network for Sustainability and sponsored by 15 union locals. It was held at the Zero Net Energy Center of IBEW Local 595 and the Northern California Chapter of the Electrical Contractors Association in San Leandro, California.
Liz Ortega-Toro, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council reminded participants of labor’s commitment to equity and diversity and emphasized the Green New Deal needs to ensure “the green in people’s paychecks.” Joe Uehlein, President of Labor Network for Sustainability, noted that climate change is the real job killer, and that labor has to shape the policies of the Green New Deal so that no community or worker gets left behind.
Presenters and participants alike shared harrowing experiences of wildfires in the Northern California region. The urgency to mitigate impacts of climate change was particularly noted by workers in health care industries, especially because inequality increases after disasters and because of pollution’s unequal impacts on people of color, children and the elderly.
Carly Ebben-Eaton, leader in UAW Local 5810 and climate scientist grounded this urgency with data illustrating the global scale of the problem and a timeline that made it clear “the longer we wait to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the harder and less likely a just transition will be” for workers and communities. Andreas Cluver of the Alameda County Building Trades Council seconded an urgency to find a just transition for workers in fossil fuel industries that will be dislocated, and potentials for cross training between crafts. Jack Buckhorn, Executive Director of the North Bay Labor Council noted labor has made significant strides on building toward cleaner energy but has serious shortcomings in organizing solar panel installers and auto workers in EV manufacturing facilities. The IBEW’s Net Zero Center and the protection of workers in the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant closing provide examples of labor mobilizing to support workers in transition and stepping to the plate on climate change, indicating a way to have a future for workers and a living planet for future generations.
Veronica Wilson is an organizer with Labor Network for Sustainability, based in Los Angeles. In the summer of 2018, Veronica helped coordinate the first Los Angeles Labor Convergence on Climate Change. Before joining LNS, she managed a cross-border network of labor leaders, organizers, academics and activists for a global solidarity project at the UCLA Labor Center.