By Paul Blast
March 13, 2019 - The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last month calls for, among other things, a partnership for Green New Deal policy to be developed in consultation with labor unions, the right to a “high-quality union job” for every American, and the right to unionize. Despite this, America’s largest coalition of labor groups is not happy with Markey, Ocasio-Cortez, or their plan.
In a letter dated March 8 and addressed to Markey and Ocasio-Cortez last week, the AFL-CIO Energy Committee ripped apart the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to both tackle climate change and overhaul and expand the safety net in America.
“We welcome the call for labor rights and dialogue with labor, but the Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions the speak to the jobs our members and the critical sectors of the economy,” the AFL-CIO said. (Disclosure: Splinter is part of the Writers Guild of America East, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.) “We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”
The letter is signed by United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts and Lonnie Stephenson, the president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. It is written on behalf of eight other unions, including United Steelworkers (USW) and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU).
Previously, UMWA and other unions raised concerns with the Green New Deal due to its call to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” a pledge that would mean the ultimate end of the fossil fuel industry in America, including coal mining and natural gas pipelines. The GND calls for a “just transition” for those workers and includes a job guarantee, but apparently, that isn’t good enough.
Already, the letter has been weaponized by the GOP, which has never been a friend to organized labor. Sen. John Barrasso tweeted it out on Monday night and said he agrees with the AFL-CIO.
Markey shot back on Tuesday morning.
We’ve reached out to Ocasio-Cortez for comment, and will update with any response we receive.
According to the Washington Post, Trumka told reporters last week that the union wasn’t consulted before the Green New Deal was introduced. “Look, we need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly,” Trumka said. “But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”
Interestingly, some local affiliates of the IBEW have come out in support of the Green New Deal, such as one in San Diego. “I know some of my counterparts and other unions have concerns about the Green New Deal, and they have positions that are not our position,” Lou Antonellis, the business manager for IBEW Local 103 in Massachusetts, told the Dorchester Reporter last month. “So, we think it’s about time. We are all about green jobs. We’ve been promoting green technology for a long time.
It’s hard to imagine a union like UMWA, however, ever supporting something like the Green New Deal. While Roberts and the UMWA have tended to support Democrats in the past, they’ve been forceful opponents of efforts to wean the U.S. off of coal energy. For instance, the union unabashedly opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan under the Obama administration, suing the administration in federal court over the plan in 2015 and cheering its demise in 2017.
But despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to keep it afloat, the coal industry is dying, with or without regulations. Sooner or later, the few coal miners remaining will be forced to transition to another job. And while the Green New Deal of course will have kinks to work through, it at least plays at the need for a just “transition.” If Roberts and the UMWA believe that Trump or anyone else in the GOP will prioritize helping former miners land on their feet (with the help of a safety net) when the other shoe drops, they’ve got a rude awakening in store.