[Union workers support Green New Deal policies because they know
there doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between climate action and good
REJECT THE 'JOBS VERSUS ENVIRONMENT' NARRATIVE – WE CAN DO BOTH
J Mijin Cha and Jeremy Brecher
September 10, 2019
_ Union workers support Green New Deal policies because they know
there doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between climate action and good
‘Most Democratic voters recognize, intuitively, that climate change
is an existential threat and support a Green New Deal. Indeed, so does
half of the American electorate.’, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
It is a classic narrative: jobs versus the environment. We have heard
it over and over again: “Blue-collar union workers,” the media
are “rejecting Green New Deal Politics.” But the truth is that we
can fight climate change _and_ create millions of good, green, union
jobs in the process. And, despite the rhetoric, a new poll
by Data for Progress shows that the majority of union members agree.
In the poll, 1,012 voters representative of the broader electorate
were asked if they support the Green New Deal
From what you hear in the media, you would probably expect union
members would strongly oppose the Green New Deal. The actual response
from union members? Sixty-two per cent support the Green New Deal,
while just 22% oppose it.
Far from being opponents of climate action, rank-and-file union
members understand that climate change is a real threat, that
addressing it can create jobs and strengthen unions, and that the
government has a responsibility to protect climate, communities and
workers. Lost in this false choice between jobs or the climate is that
union workers also live in communities and want to live in a clean,
Previous research indicates that union members have long been more
supportive of climate protection policies than Americans as a whole. A
by Todd Vachon and Jeremy Brecher based on data from national surveys
found that union members are on average more likely than the general
population to display pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors.
For example, in the General Social Survey (GSS), people were asked to
agree or disagree with the statement “We worry too much about the
future of the environment and not enough about prices and jobs
today”. More unionized respondents disagreed with this statement
than nonunion respondents. In other words, unionized respondents were
more likely to think we don’t worry _enough_ about the future of the
The media has propagated the false impression that union workers
oppose climate action and the Green New Deal. By trumpeting the
age-old “jobs v environment” framing, they are echoing Republican
talking points, not reporting on the empirical data-driven truth.
Right now, many unions are reevaluating their approach to climate.
While the AFL-CIO and most building trades unions have been critical
of the Green New Deal, unions with millions of members have endorsed
the progressive climate platform. America’s second largest union,
the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), recently endorsed
the Green New Deal. In doing so, the SEIU and other unions are simply
following the lead of their members towards a more positive and
hopeful view of the future rather than looking back, longingly, at a
fading dirty energy past.
Joining SEIU, the Railroad Workers United and several state and local
labor federations have voiced their support
[https://www.labor4sustainability.org/gnd-labor-endorsements/] for the
Green New Deal, including Maine’s AFL-CIO, the Los Angeles AFL-CIO
and the San Francisco Labor Council.
Moreover, labor unions have been integral to climate jobs campaigns.
In New York state, for instance, labor unions have not only worked in
coalition with environmental groups and communities of color, but have
also played a major role in advancing and passing climate legislation.
These campaigns include Climate Jobs New York
a coalition of unions advocating for substantial greenhouse gas
reductions and good, family-sustaining jobs. New York’s governor,
Andrew Cuomo, in partnership with CJNY and the Worker Institute at
Cornell University, developed the Clean Climate Careers Initiative,
which committed up to $1.5bn to create 40,000 jobs in climate friendly
The NY Renews coalition, which includes labor unions, community
groups, faith-based organizations, environmental justice organizations
and green groups, just scored a huge victory in passing the most
ambitious climate plan in the country, which targets an 85% reduction
in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2050, 100% carbon
neutral electricity by 2040, and dedicated funding to low-income
communities across the state. These campaigns show that we can have
climate protection and good jobs. They also show that, far from being
enemies of climate action, unions can be key drivers of it.
These state campaigns are also on the ground examples of how we
implement a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal moves beyond carbon
reduction to address the whole picture of the climate crisis: rising
seas alongside rising inequality. As a result, good jobs, investment
in underserved communities and carbon reduction are equally needed to
fully address the climate crisis. And, as seen in New York, it can be
done. We can, and must, adopt a Green New Deal.
Rather than focus on the misleading and inaccurate narrative of union
opposition to climate legislation, politicians, activists and
journalists should discuss union’s environmental priorities. To help
kickstart that conversation, Data for Progress has put together a
to help allies identify pro-union climate policies.
These include procurement policies such as Buy Clean, which uses the
power of the government purse to reduce emissions and empower unions.
It includes implementing project labor agreements to ensure unions
have collective bargaining power and receive good benefits and a
family-sustaining wage. And it includes strong public investment in
communities to guarantee jobs, strengthen the social safety net and
maintain wages, benefits, pensions and healthcare in the transition to
a green economy.
Most Democratic voters recognize, intuitively, that climate change is
an existential threat and support a Green New Deal. Indeed, so does
half of the American electorate. But the impression that unions and
their members oppose the platform has led to hesitation and second
thoughts on the part of elected officials, aspiring candidates and
Polling data on union members’ support for the Green New Deal should
put those fears to rest. The union rank-and-file, like the Democratic
party rank-and-file, want a Green New Deal. Democratic leaders should
not be afraid to follow their lead.
J Mijin Cha is an assistant professor at Occidental College, a fellow
at the Worker Institute, Cornell University, and a senior fellow at
Data for Progress
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