Can Unions and the Renewables Stand Against the Attacks of Big Dirty Energy?

kristyGreen Prosperity

A publication from GreenTech Media

Can Unions and the Renewables Stand Against the Attacks of Big Dirty Energy? United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard talks about the fight against the unions-renewables alliance to protect the environment and grow a future economy.

Organized labor is again leading the defense of the nation’s dwindling middle class against monied power. As Michael Kanellos wrote here last week, the Wisconsin attack involves an attempt by vested fossil fuel interests to control the kind of generation Wisconsin builds and to sideline the state’s renewable resources.

Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers, answered some of GTM’s questions about the longstanding and growing partnership between unionized workers and environmental and renewables advocates to protect the nation’s air, water and climate and grow the nation’s future economy.

GTM: How was the BlueGreen Alliance forged?

LG: The real foundation of the BlueGreen Alliance was built in the 1970s and discussions around the Clean Air Act. While many corporations, especially in heavy manufacturing, resisted efforts by the government to reduce emissions and install pollution control equipment, the USW found in those regulations an opportunity to create a safer, more stable industry through mandates that required employers to invest in our facilities. The steel companies, like U.S. Steel, which invested in upgrading plants and equipment to comply with the Clean Air Act, in many cases, are still here.

In 2000, the USW published a report that specifically addressed global climate change titled “Securing Our Children’s World,” which laid out the potential devastation of global warming in plain English for USW members. The BlueGreen Alliance was officially formed in the late spring/early summer of 2006 in the midst of two separate crises — with unfair and illegal trade costing millions of American manufacturing jobs in steel, rubber, paper and other union-dense industries while our nation’s addiction to foreign oil and global climate change became household dinner-table discussion topics.

GTM: Is the bond between the renewable energy industries and the American worker intact?

LG: Joining forces with Carl Pope and the Sierra Club wasn’t just a common-sense choice — it was our only choice. The jobs of the future depend on our ability to transition to a sustainable renewable energy economy. The research showed that this country stands to gain millions of good, family-supporting jobs by investing in clean renewable energy component manufacturing.

New research has backed up those initial estimates and we’ve already seen some green investments generating those jobs. We will not be lured into a false choice between a clean environment and good jobs — because we cannot have good jobs without a clean environment and we can’t have a clean environment without good jobs. It truly is a question of both or neither.

Other trade unions and environmental organizations have joined over the the last five years.

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