Good, Green Jobs Conference - June 21, 2008
In 1999, labor leaders and environmentalists, united by their common opposition to the policies of the World Trade Organization, came together to form the Blue-Green Alliance. On June 21st, 2008 at the University of Washington, the Blue-Green Alliance brought these two groups together again, this time with a common vision, for the Good, Green Jobs conference.
Co-hosted by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, the conference posed the question of working people in new "green" industries. From the carpenters and plumbers who renovate houses to meet environmental standards, to the roofers who install solar-panels, to the many other trades and professions: how can these green-industry jobs benefit the working class, and pay good, family-supporting wages?
Political officials attended the conference to lend their support, including Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, State representative Jay Inslee, and King County Executive Ron Sims. Now, the hard work of answering that question continues on beyond the conference. The Bridges Center spoke with a few members of labor and low-income communities who attended the conference to learn what they see as the challenges ahead on the road to good jobs in the new green industries.
Patrick Neville attended the conference in two roles, as Development Specialist of the MLK County Labor Council, and as Coordinator of the Washington Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental, business, and community based organizations. The Apollo Alliance has been assisting in the work of drafting policy on green jobs. "In Washington State," Neville said, "the Alliance was integral to the creation of a policy concept that eventually became HB 2815, the 'Climate Action and Green Jobs' bill which was passed into law in March 2008."
According to Neville, the work of making legislation relevant to the lives of working people is a top priority moving forward after this conference. "How do we translate highly complex policies into what is meaningful, affordable, secure, and creates opportunity for working people?" Such policies, he says, include carbon cap and trade, efficiency and renewable energy incentive regimes, and energy and trade policy.
In the breakout sessions at the Good, Green Jobs conference, Neville's question of making policy meaningful to working people was a broad concern. For instance, while many proposed environmental solutions are consumer-based, participants noted that green products, such as organic food, often come at a price that only middle-class people can afford.
Participants agreed that education in public schools is especially important - not only environmental education, but job training as well. It was noted that stigmas and stereotypes often cast skilled work such as carpentry as work for people who fail in school. In fact, participants stressed, work in the trades is some of the most valuable work a student can learn. Connecting this job training with green industries presents one opportunity for working people.
According to one member of the labor and low-income community, access to these very conversations continues to be an issue. Holding the conference at a large university limited the audience. "The voices of the people Green Collar Jobs should benefit were underrepresented. Without this perspective decisions will be made creating systems for job training that will not address the needs of the working poor, unskilled and under-employed, new immigrants, and re-entry populations." These same groups, the person noted, are often those faced with the most severe and hazardous environmental conditions.
At the Good, Green Jobs conference, it was clear a sustainable green economy is a vision everyone shares. "The greatest challenge," one participant said, "will to get everyone working together to create the 'movement' that will lead us to a sustainable green economy that will benefit us all.” Indeed, building a movement to make that vision a reality will be hard work – but it is work that is worthwhile. With the Good, Green Jobs conference, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies is proud to have helped that work move forward while striving to keep the interests of working people firmly at the center of the conversations.
Watch it on-line!
Streaming video of the Good, Green Jobs conference can be viewed courtesy of TVW.