‘The Goal of Creating Good Jobs and Protecting Our Environment Are Not Incompatible,’ Recommends Ways to Protect Workers Amid a Shift to a Green Economy

July 21, 2021

Contact: Judy Asman (She/her)

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  On Wednesday morning, July 21, 2021, Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, Michael Leon Guerrero, joined fellow environmental justice leaders and activists to testify in support of the Biden-Harris Justice40 Initiative at a hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Led by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Committee highlighted its role in advancing the Justice40 Initiative–including ensuring a whole-of-government response, strong federal data collection, and a voice for state and local partners–to direct 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to the hardest hit communities.

An environmental justice organizer for much of his career, Leon Guerrero opened by saying, “I will speak to you today to affirm, as the title of this hearing suggests, that Environmental Justice is central to the American Jobs Plan, and in particular to affirm the importance of addressing the needs of workers and communities as we transition to a climate safe economy. Let me first say that the goals of creating good jobs and protecting our environment are not incompatible.”

A national network of unions and climate and environmental justice organizations working for urgent, science-based climate action, the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) strives daily to bridge the labor and climate movements to “secure an ecologically sustainable and economically just future where everyone can make a living on a living planet.”

“We commend President Biden […] for rooting his climate protection strategy in policies that foster job creation, the rights of workers to organize unions, and the ability of communities to achieve environmental justice,” Leon Guerrero added. “We support the Justice 40 Initiative as a strategy to assure that historically marginalized communities of color have equal access to the badly needed investments to rebuild our economy and infrastructure. We also want to express our support for the recommendations of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.”

The Justice40 Initiative is part of the American Jobs Plan and the Build Back Better Agenda, which Leon Guerrero said LNS feels–along with the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), and Justice 40–“set us on the path we need to address the multiple crises we face in health disparities, economic injustice and climate disruption.”

“These are troubling and turbulent times that require bold and creative action […] we are concerned that currently available details on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation package so far fall severely short of what is needed to address these crises,” said Leon Guerrero.

He went on to cite “Workers and Communities in Transition: A Report of the Just Transition Listening Project,” released by LNS earlier this year and which analyzes in-depth interviews of more than 100 workers and community leaders in 26 states “who work in a variety of industries including oil refining, auto and textile manufacturing, healthcare, education and agriculture.”

Leon Guerrero said:

“[…] most of the interviews did not paint a good picture of our history. Many interviewees described devastation in the wake of plant closings and support systems that were wholly inadequate. Many spoke of receiving training for jobs that did not exist in their communities. Many lost healthcare benefits and unemployment benefits that were both inadequate to begin with and expired before workers could transition to other jobs. Many were forced to relocate or lost family members or friends to suicide, alcoholism, or drug addiction. People felt a loss of community and identity.”

Before closing, Leon Guerrero made four over-arching recommendations to truly protect workers amid a shift to a green economy:

  1. Create Family-Sustaining Jobs that Address Equity and Communities in Need
  2. Enact High-Road Labor Standards to Ensure that New Jobs are Good Jobs
  3. Expand and Strengthen Social Safety Nets
  4. Establish Processes with Robust and Active Community And Worker Engagement

Additional witnesses included Co-Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council Richard Moore, Co-Coordinator, Los Jardines Institute, National Co-Coordinator, Environmental Justice Health Alliance; Nicole Lee Ndumele, Vice President, Racial Equity and Justice, Center for American Progress; Harold Mitchell, Founder and Executive Director, ReGenesis Community Development Corporation, Member, White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council; Raya Salter, Esq., Member, New York State Climate Action Council and Shay Hawkins, Chairman and CEO, Opportunity Funds Association.

About the Labor Network for Sustainability

Founded in 2009, the Labor Network for Sustainability sets out to be a relentless force for urgent, science-based climate action by building a powerful labor-climate movement to secure an ecologically sustainable and economically just future where everyone can make a living on a living planet. In March 2021, the organization released “Workers and Communities in Transition: A Report of the Just Transition Listening Project,” which chronicles the voices of workers and community leaders affected by factory closings and other major shifts in local and regional economies. Learn more at www.labor4sustainability.org.