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The Green New Deal from Below and the Future of Work

The Perfect Storm of Extraction, Poverty, and Climate Change: A Framework for Assessing Vulnerability, Resilience, Adaptation, and a Just Transition in Frontline Communities

What kinds of jobs will be created by offshore wind farms?

Bridgeport CT Schools Seek Climate Safety for Teachers, Kids

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

Local initiatives around the country are advancing the goals of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. A good example is the Bridgeport Carbon Free & Healthy Schools campaign. The campaign was launched May 14 at Bridgeport Public Schools’ Volunteer Day, where members of the building trades, teachers, parents, and students worked to make improvements to a Bridgeport school.

An opinion article in the Connecticut Post by Bridgeport superintendent of schools Michael Testani explained why these groups have joined to fight for Carbon Free and Healthy Schools:

The climate crisis and extreme weather events contribute directly to the well-being of our faculty, staff and students. We’ve seen the impact of the climate crisis on Bridgeport when floods from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 revealed the city’s vulnerabilities and damaged homes, businesses and public school buildings.

We can conduct energy audits and get students involved through an apprenticeship program so they can assist in the modernization of their own schools. We can expand our rooftop solar initiative, build solar carports, install fuel cells, address the battery shortage in some of our schools, upgrade the boiler systems, provide EV charging stations, and invest in small-scale wind demonstration projects.

Not only are these projects good for the environment, they are good for the city’s budget. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects will save the city and the district money that can be reinvested in after-school and summer programs, in addition to the recruitment and hiring of highly qualified teachers.

For a Living Wage and a Habitable Planet, We Need Climate Jobs Programs

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, June 2, 2022

Climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that also creates good union jobs. For both paychecks and the planet, it’s the only path forward.

The stalling of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda raises serious concerns for those looking to the federal government for strong action on climate change. Much of the more ambitious climate-related aspects of the legislation have already been gutted — and the fact that it still can’t pass a Congress with a Democratic majority is a worrying sign for the future.

But despite the dysfunction at the federal level, there are encouraging developments occurring at the state level. Increasingly, climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that creates family-sustaining union jobs.

These state-based efforts are often facilitated by the Climate Jobs National Resource Center. States like New York, Connecticut and Maine have managed to get real buy-in from the building trades on a vision that defies the false jobs versus environment dichotomy. Recently, the Illinois legislature passed landmark climate legislation that puts the state on a path to reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050, all with the full support of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Rhode Island has now joined the party. Earlier this year Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a broad labor-environmental coalition, released a report titled “Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island.” The report, compiled in partnership with the Worker Institute at Cornell, takes a comprehensive approach to limiting carbon emissions — containing recommendations on retrofits, public transportation, renewable energy, and climate resilience.

The Rhode Island initiative is a good model for activists in other states to consider. In addition to meaningfully addressing climate change, there’s no doubt that this program would result in the creation of tens of thousands union jobs. It points the way forward for both the climate and labor movements, which must join together in order for the working class to have any hope of a sustainable future.

Unions Making a Green New Deal From Below: Part 2

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 2022

This second of two commentaries on “Unions Making a Green New Deal from Below” portrays what it looks like when unions in a town decide to create a local Green New Deal or when unions in a state decide to transform their economy to expand jobs and justice by protecting the climate.

Workers and unions are among those who have the most to gain by climate protection that produces good jobs and greater equality. That’s why unions in the most diverse industries and occupations are creating their own Green New Deal-type programs in localities around the country. Here are some examples:

Opinion: Labor taking lead on green economy

By staff - Connecticut Post, April 28, 2022

The American economy is driven by American workers. In Connecticut, many areas of employment have organized labor and fill our unions with bright, hardworking individuals dedicated to moving the state forward and securing a better future for all residents.

However, we still aren’t moving fast enough when it comes to our economic transition toward a green-collar workforce. It is important for labor to lead on climate now. This process begins with individual workers, mainly union members, taking action and organizing around environmental issues.

Labor unions are a powerful political force that can advance environmental protection for the benefit of workers and society as a whole. An initiative of the ILR Worker Institute at Cornell, in partnership with Climate Jobs National Resource Center, “Labor Leading on Climate,” proves that when organized labor leads on an issue like climate change, the outcome is a thriving economy. According to the International Labour Organization the creation of 24 million new jobs is also something that cannot be ignored. The challenge for individual workers, however, is that it isn’t always clear what they can do to advance a clean energy transition in ways that are meaningful and sustainable.

Labor unions and their members can be a driving force of a transition to a clean-energy economy. Sometimes, unions and their members already do this when they advocate for improved workplace conditions. For example, bus drivers can advocate for electric buses to reduce both their exposure to harmful diesel exhaust and air pollution in the communities they serve. Health care professionals can advocate for air pollution reduction measures that can limit asthma prevalence. Educators can present concepts of sustainability to their students and can introduce older students to “green-collar” careers to prepare them for work in the low-carbon economy of the future.

The building trades can rally around clean infrastructure investments. For example, electricians benefit from increased electric vehicle charging installations that are beneficial for the electrification of buildings and industry whereas pipefitters can benefit from geothermal energy projects. State and municipal employees can advocate internally for Lead by Example programs and publicize what their agencies or departments have learned to help businesses and residents transition away from fossil fuels. Manufacturers can seek new opportunities in renewable energy such as manufacturing parts for the Northeast’s emerging offshore wind industry.

The opportunities for unions and their members to engage in environmental advocacy in ways that benefit both workers and the environment are abundant. Workers should not fear a transition to a clean energy economy. While fighting climate change seems like an insurmountable feat, it is also one that shouldn’t be delayed any further. The time to act is now and organized labor can and should take the lead on this issue.

Want to Know How We Can Win a Just Transition? States Hold a Key

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, November 16, 2021

The climate justice movement has undoubtedly picked up steam in the last three years as talk of a Green New Deal has made its way into the mainstream. But even after uphill and innovative organizing, our federal government has not adequately responded to the serious and existential threat of climate change: The Build Back Better bill, touted by the Biden administration as our generation’s great hope for action on climate change, has been almost completely gutted in Congress, where it still awaits passage. And after the ultra-wealthy took private jets to and from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it does not appear that the urgent action we need will come any time soon. As temperatures increase and storms become worse, the environmental situation is even more dire: Humans can expect ​“untold suffering,” scientists warn, including mass extinction and death, if we don’t act fast.

Amid our elected leaders’ monumental failures, the climate justice movement has smartly moved its focus away from pet projects, like small-scale lawsuits, and towards organizing to build a movement with enough popular support to change our political system. To get the numbers we need — of workers in the many millions — it is necessary to ensure that climate solutions, whether it’s stopping coal extraction or halting fossil fuel digging, don’t abandon workers in those industries. This is the idea behind a ​“just transition,” which aims to move to an environmentally sustainable economy while making sure all workers have safe and dignified work. 

State by state, organizers are working hard to make a just transition a reality and, fortunately, there are a few wins to point to. Unions and environmental groups won a joint victory this June, when the Climate and Community Investment Act, SB 999, passed in Connecticut. The legislation will do three important things: require prevailing wages for construction workers on renewable energy projects, ensure renewable energy projects create good, union jobs for Connecticut residents from disadvantaged communities, and negotiate community benefits agreements, which are agreements that describe a developer’s obligations to the broader community.

This state-level legislation is a step toward an urgent — and existential — need. Kimberly Glassman is the director of the Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that represents both building trades unions and union contractors to monitor public works’ projects for compliance with wage and other labor laws. She told In These Times, ​“As we transition away from fossil fuel dependent energy into green energy, [we have to make sure] that the workforce that has built their livelihoods in the fossil fuel industry has a way to transition and has access to good paying jobs in the green energy sector.” 

Spurred by unions, states make strides on climate action

By Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Pat Devaney, Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO - Climate Jobs National Resources Center, November 4, 2021

With Washington still negotiating critical climate provisions in the reconciliation bill, you’d be forgiven for feeling impatient. The dual crises of climate change and extreme inequality are a threat to our society, and every one of us has a stake in pushing our elected leaders to build a climate-safe and equitable future.

Fortunately, workers and their unions are making tremendous progress in advancing bold legislation at the state level to address these two existential crises. Just last week, labor unions united under the Climate Jobs Illinois coalition scored a massive victory for workers and the planet when Illinois enacted a landmark climate bill that sets the state on a path to a carbon-free power sector by 2045 with the strongest-in-the-nation labor and equity standards.

Thanks to the labor movement’s leadership on climate change, the Illinois bill will slash emissions, create thousands of new clean energy union jobs, expand union apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities, increase energy efficiency for public schools, and safeguard thousands of union workers at the state’s nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois’ zero-emissions energy. It also contains a transition program for families and communities currently reliant on jobs in the fossil fuel industry. This win shows what’s possible when workers and their unions lead on pursuing bold climate action at the scale that science demands.

Illinois isn’t alone. This summer, unions and environmental groups in Connecticut organized to pass strong labor and equity standards for renewable energy projects through the state legislature. The legislation they won includes prevailing wage and project labor agreement provisions and requires energy developers to partner with in-state apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, which will expand access to good union jobs, specifically in communities of color that have seen generations of underinvestment and underemployment.

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

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