Labor Pushing for a Better Climate Future

Climate Change has remained a divisive issue that has divided the labor movement for a long time. However on September 21st we will see many of those same labor organizations put aside their differences to call on international leaders to form a more just and science-based  global climate policy.

    The Peoples Climate March, which is happening September 21st at 11:30am in Manhattan is organized in response to a meeting at the United Nations where leaders from around the world will convene to discuss the future of the global climate. This is an effort to make sure that world leaders truly understand  and act quickly to blunt the perils of Global Warming. Labor, unions community groups and dozens of other activist groups are marching.

    “[We] are going to see an unprecedented alliance of community, labor and other groups participating around the single agenda of addressing climate change while protecting their communities and creating jobs,” said Josh Kellermann, Senior Research Policy Analyst at Alliance for a Greater New York.

    The participation of large labor unions in the environmental movement has occurred over a long period of time as many of these union’s leaders came to fully understand the damage of climate change to their members and their local community. One of the most recent wakeup calls came when many workers in New York, were smacked in the face by the impacts of climate change literally knocking on their front door after Superstorm Sandy.

    James O’Connell, a 911 operator and member of Local 1549 of District Council 37, experienced the dire impact of Superstorm Sandy when it hit while he and his family tried riding out the massive storm in their in their home. He described what it was like to see the ocean surging through the floorboards and eventually flooding their entire first floor. O’Connell was fortunate to escape Sandy without injury to himself or his family but his house was so damaged that they had to live out of suitcases until their house could be fixed. Many working-class families throughout the waterfront neighborhoods of NYC suffered similar fates, with recovery and relief still off in the future.

    What happened to O’Connell happened to many other people in New York and these obvious effects of  global climate change on our weather are finally causing many who had long ignored the problem to see the urgency of immediate action on the issue of climate change. From the droughts in California to Superstorms in New York and atomic power plant shattering typhoons in Japan, the signs are becoming apparent that the impacts of climate change are not going to be limited to a specific locality.

    JJ Johnson is a retiree from 1199 SEIU, he pointed out that “we had members who were both victims and heroes of the storm” because many of the caregivers who were affected by the storm went out of their way to make sure their patients were taken care of, even as their own homes and neighborhoods were being badly damaged by the storm.

    It is the hope that the Peoples Climate March on September 21st can show how wide the support for action on this issue has now become and how inclusive the climate change movement can be in the future. As Dean Hubbard, Labor Director for The Sierra Club, has recently written, shifting to “green jobs and industries” can mean the opening of whole new industries and job creating technologies well into the future. Workers and their labor unions should recognize that the jobs of the past are no longer sustainable, while future jobs may mean ever greater opportunity and good pay well into the future.

“For us here at DC 37, environmental justice is a huge issue” says Jon Forster, Vice President of DC 37, “we have the potential here to build one of the most diverse environmental groups that we have ever had.”

Route for Peoples Climate March

    Please join us and tens of thousands of your fellow workers on September 21st 2014 at 11:30am for the Peoples Climate March, the biggest and most important march to save our earth from the ruinous and self-serving path of the climate change opponents and their greedy and exploitative bosses.

This article was developed based on the recent Labor Lines program The Labor Movement Confronts Climate Change. To hear the rest of what labor leaders had to say, you can listen here