Comment: Creating Good Jobs


Original source: AFL-CIO

Remarks by Richard L. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Good Jobs Conference, Washington, DC, February 05, 2009.

Thank you. Good Morning

On behalf of the 56 unions and the 10 million working men and women of the AFL-CIO, I want to welcome you to Washington DC for the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference. I am honored to be part of this opening plenary with Margie Alt, the Executive Director of Environment America and my friend Terry O’Sullivan, the President of the Laborers Union.

Let me start by saying … What a year it has been!

Who would have dreamed a year ago we would be here today with a new government and our first African American President, Barack Obama. This was an election that changed history. It forced us to face up to and struggle with issues of race and class. It helped our nation has turn a corner and there is no going back.

Being here today is all about moving ahead. I want to thank the Blue Green Alliance and all the trade union, environmental, business and community partners responsible for this event.

This is a very good week to be in Washington DC to talk about Good Jobs and Green Jobs. It comes at a time that good ideas and loud voices are desperately needed. And, yesterday Congress saw a multicultural, multiracial, labor and environmental army that was a voice for workers, a voice good jobs and a voice for a cleaner planet.

For some, I’m sure, it was disconcerting to see the Sierra Club with their Pro-Worker, Pro-Union, Pro-Employee Free Choice posters.

For others, who were shocked to see union members and environmentalists walking the halls of Congress together.

To both I say … get over it.

Its no secret that there are still some issues we differ on but we also recognize that we are bound together by a greater ideal. As I have heard my union brother and friend, Leo Gerard, say so many times:

“We reject the notion that we have to choose between good jobs and a clean environment. It’s not one or the other. It’s both or neither.”

Your presence on the Hill spoke to that ideal. It was such a contrast to all the suits wandering the marble halls from the National Association of Manufacturers. It was their big lobbying day too. Did they come to lobby for green jobs or a cleaner planet … NO!

They came to say no to the Employee Free Choice Act, no to regulation, no to a new trade policy …and were silent on Buy America. After losing 500,000 jobs last year and 4.2 million since 2000 and the closure of 40,000 manufacturing facilities, you think NAM would change its tune. They should be here, working with us, to drive a good jobs green jobs policy for America. Their absence is a metaphor for the challenge before us.

The AFL-CIO recognized this in our 2008 Greening the Economy statement that ended with the words: “The nation stands at the crossroads of opportunity for domestic investments in innovation, new technology and energy efficiency that will save jobs, create new jobs and new industries and revitalize American manufacturing. There is no guarantee that these will be good jobs or that the investments will be made here unless we fight to make it so.”

When we wrote that we knew our nation had to take bold steps to meet the 21st century challenges related to climate change and that the world is looking to this nation for leadership. We knew we faced a climate change crisis that the United Kingdom’s Stern Commission said, “represented the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.”

We also knew that our nation was on the verge of an economic meltdown with inequality soaring, tens of millions without health care, secure retirement becoming a luxury of the rich, and where good middle class jobs, investment and innovation have been our leading exports. Now the crash has happened and we face dual market failures: climate change and the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes. The American labor movement believes that we must have a strategic approach to greening the economy centered on domestic investment in new technologies, the creation of good jobs and in leading a shared international response to both these issues.

There are a lot of voices who’ll scream that, given the scale of the economic crisis, America can’t afford to deal with climate change or to Buy America or to renew the fundamental compact between the federal government and the American worker. That compact is based on the simple understanding that government has a responsibility to act as a countervailing power on behalf of workers and their families; and the belief that shared prosperity is fundamental to a democratic society.

The nay sayers are the same financial and industrial interests that advised the entire world economy into chaos. And, their advice to us is more of the same: no rules, no regulations, free markets and free trade. Enough! It is time for real change. What Barack Obama and the new Congress is faced with goes beyond making a few fixes at the margins. It gets to the heart of the issue people like Dave Foster, Bob Baugh from our Industrial Union Council and international union delegates raised at the climate talks in Poznan.

They demanded that the governments acknowledge the economic situation and use it as an opportunity to drive a new environmental and economic development agenda. It is the same message the AFL-CIO has delivered to President Obama and to Congress. You can look at across the next 20 years and see the waves of investments and technology we need. In the next decade there is enormous potential for good jobs. Modernizing and extending the electrical grid will enable the aggressive build out of renewable energy sources. Coupled with a smart distribution system we could increase energy efficiency by an estimated 20 percent and diversify our generating base. Retrofitting public and private buildings and homes will create jobs, cut demand and save consumers money.

The expansion and increased usage of mass transit and passenger rail offers similar opportunities. Biofuel initiatives, the 2008 CAFE standards and state renewable portfolio standards are already driving investments and creating jobs. These steps can take us a long way in reducing our emissions. At the same time we must invest in reengineered technologies for the post 2020 era. The AFL-CIO recognizes that coal and nuclear powered plants are the primary sources of base load power and provide major employment opportunities. They must meet federal financial, egulatory and environmental standards.

But, time is of the essence if we are to answer some critical questions about advanced coal technology. The United States, other nations and industry need to quit talking about CCS/ IGCC technology and build full scale models now. Each possible clean energy technology has its advocates and its detractors. But the urgency of the crisis requires that every solution that genuinely holds out the hope of reducing carbon emissions must be explored.

The economic recovery package makes those type of investments. We know that means we will build the wind turbines, install the insulation, solar panels and energy efficient windows here. But, will we make them here? It is absurd that this should even be a question. But, you can see the Buy American fight we have had to are engaged in. No wonder other countries see this and laugh at us. That is why this is the moment for real leadership from all our institutions. In every area, the need is for scale, speed and commitment.

The AFL-CIO is gearing up for the challenge. The Building and Construction Trades Department is working with affiliates and their training systems to identify best practice community-labor-business-government partnerships to enable them to respond at scale across the country. The Federation is expanding its training and research capacities through the creation of a Center for Green Jobs. It is headed by Jeff Rickert, whom many of you know from his years with the Apollo Alliance. We are also working with environmental, industry and other partners on a series of studies on the impacts, opportunities, investment and training needs under a carbon emission regime.

Our government must also lead. Greening the economy means that green jobs must be viewed broadly and be inclusive so that working families to see themselves and their work as part of the solution. Every job that contributes to a low-carbon future is a green job. Congress and the Administration must be unambiguous in establishing an environmental economic development policy that seeks to increase the per capita income and protects the interests of working families. Workers exercising their free choice to form unions and respect for legal standards protecting workers' wages and benefits are fundamental to this goal.

Congress and the Administration must ensure that public resources are fully invested in the U.S economy. Be strategic - expand and enforce Buy American laws and use our financial leverage to get better technologies from overseas made here. Congress and the Administration can make green jobs good jobs by ensuring that they pay family supporting wages and benefits, offer a real career path and reduce waste and benefit the environment. Job and contractor standards are a prerequisite to good jobs.

Finally, the Green Jobs Act and its labor-management partnerships will assure good training for good jobs. Together with community and government partners we need to train workers in the poorest and most marginalized parts of our country to take part in the great task ahead. We are a big society and a big economy. Investing in economic security for working people -- helping families make it into the middle class and stay there -- that’s never been an obstacle to economic recovery; it’s a precondition for it. I know President Obama believes that. He is unequivocal that a new energy policy and jobs go together. He is also clear on the role of unions in creating good jobs.

When we met with last Friday he said: “I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it's part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. We know that strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant and growing businesses.

This isn't a either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and has never been a zero-sum game.” We share the President’s 21st century viewpoint. We know that energy and environment is not a zero sum game. And, we know we can be competitive and lean, mean and green and create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.

Working together, brothers and sisters, we will create a new economy and a cleaner planet.

Thank you.