March 17, 2021
Judy Asman (she/her)
The First Major Effort to Center the Voices of 100-Plus Workers and Indigenous and Community Leaders Affected by Workplace Closings, Climate Change and Major Shifts in Local and Regional Economies to Advance a Just Transition
New report underscores a critical point in the shift to much needed climate policies: Workers and their communities must not be left behind in the transition to a green economy and in fact, their role in the process of developing a just transition is critical to making it work fairly.
TAKOMA PARK, MD–After nearly a year of interviewing more than 100 workers and community leaders about how their lives and communities have been affected by factory closings and other major shifts in local and regional economies, the Labor Network for Sustainability and partners released its highly anticipated report “Workers and Communities in Transition.” The report captures “the voices of workers and community members who have experienced, are currently experiencing, or anticipate experiencing some form of economic transition.”
“We have rarely done a good job of supporting workers and their communities through these transitions,” says Labor Network for Sustainability Executive Director Michael Leon Guerrero. “If we are to move forward on the climate policies we need – we have to assure to the greatest extent possible that workers and their communities will not get left hanging in the shift to a green economy. ‘Workers and Communities in Transition’ tells the story of these transitions through the lived experience of worker and community leaders. We can learn from the lessons that they offer to make sure that future transitions are truly just.”
The first effort to center these voices, the Just Transition Listening Project launched in Spring 2020, resulted in more than 100 interviews with workers, community leaders and activists.
“The idea of ‘just transition’ has recently become more mainstream in climate discourse,” the Executive Summary states, also saying:
More environmental and climate justice advocates are recognizing the need to protect fossil-fuel workers and communities as we transition away from fossil-fuel use.
Yet, as detailed in our report, transition is hardly new or limited to the energy industry. Throughout the decades, workers and communities have experienced near constant economic transitions as industries have risen and declined. And, more often than not, transition has meant loss of jobs, identities, and communities with little to no support.
Adding to the challenges of the energy transition, we are also transitioning to a post-COVID-19-pandemic world. As such, we cannot afford, economically or societally, to repeat the mistakes of the past that left so many workers and communities behind.
The report, compiled and written by J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon with Maria Brescia-Weiler notes among the main findings:
- Transitions are inevitable and constantly happening across the economy. Past transitions, driven by market forces, corporate entities, and public policies left workers and communities largely behind with little to no support.
- Workers and community members from all regions of the country are suffering from an historic decline and lack of access to opportunities. Many also face the threat of losing opportunities in the near future. The COVID-19 pandemic and persistent structural racism and wealth inequality have exacerbated these realities. People affected by past unjust transitions are reacting harshly to climate action and policy, creating tensions between labor, community and environmental movements that often erupt into open conflicts.
- In the inevitable energy transition some, but not all, fossil-fuel workers will be employed in the renewable energy sector. Proactive policies should create a wide variety of high-quality jobs that can take advantage of these workers’ considerable skills.
About the Labor Network for Sustainability
For 15 years, the Labor Network for Sustainability has worked closely with many unions—connecting and informing individuals active at all levels within, and allied with, organized labor. As an independent network of individuals, we promote an informed but freewheeling discussion in and around the labor movement of what it will really take to create a sustainable future. Learn more at www.labor4sustainability.org.