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AFA Head Downplays Labor’s Green New Deal Opposition

June 25, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

AFA-CWA International President Sara Nelson.

New York, NY – The head of the union representing flight attendants in the U.S. isn’t buying the idea that organized labor doesn’t support the Green New Deal. 

“I don’t really buy the argument that there’re unions that are against it,” Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants [AFA] recently told LaborPress. “I certainly know that there are consultants that are paid by the fossil fuel industries and oil who also have union clients that try to promote this idea that unions are against this.”

To be sure, the Green New Deal has garnered strong support within the House of Labor. Earlier this month, Service Employees International Union [SEIU] became the first national union to endorse the green house gas-busting resolution.

“If you look, for example, at the AFL-CIO convention held in 2017, there’s a climate resolution that was passed that acknowledges that climate change is real, that this is something that we have to tackle, and that we can create an infrastructure that actually will build millions of jobs and that any policy for dealing with climate change needs to be rooted in labor rights and promoting good union jobs —that sounds an awful like the Green New Deal,” Nelson said. 

Nevertheless, labor is widely viewed as being divided over the Green New Deal. In March, the AFL-CIO Energy Committee criticized the Green New Deal charging that it is not “rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.”

Nelson, however, maintains that “a lot of assessments are made based on soundbites, and 144 characters.”

“Any union organizer can tell you that it takes multiple conversations in the workplace to move people to a place of recognizing what’s at stake, being able to define what they’re wiling to fight for, and sharing a common bond in that fight,” she said.

According to the union leader, one of the biggest challenges actually surrounding the Green New Deal is “just to get people to take an actual  look what’s in it, rather than be dissuaded by political commentary around it.”

“If we can give people the freedom to be able to have those conversations and we can do that in the workplace and unions can do that within the union halls, we can move this conversation,” Nelson said. “Even unions that have been identified or stamped with being opposed to the Green New Deal, there are local unions, locals within those unions that have worked hard [supporting it].”

Retiring United Steelworkers leader Leo Gerard, meanwhile, recently told LaborPress that his members are “not going to back a just transition from $30- to $12-an-hour,” and that the switch to renewable energy will still require at least some level of mining. 

“We need to get away from the emotional and put our thinking caps on,” Gerard said. “What we need to do, is sit down and talk about those things we can agree on.”

Nelson says those who have heard the term “just transition” before have every right to be skeptical because they’ve never seen a truly “just transition” in their communities. 

“If we want people to actually take us seriously — that we mean what we say when we talk about these principles and they must be included in any policy moving forward — then we have to take action now that helps them understand that we’re serous,” Nelson said. 

An example of that commitment, according to Nelson, is her union’s support of safeguarding the longterm viability of mineworker pensions and healthcare.

“First and foremost,” Nelson said, “we have a principle that we hold within our union that we hold dearly…and that is that we leave no one behind — and we’re not going to do that with our nation’s mineworkers. But our members are also interested in taking action on this because allowing their pensions to default has a potential impact of harming other retirement security for the rest of us.”

Ultimately, Nelson said Green New Deal advocates must take steps to show communities that have been hurt by a transitioning economy so far, that transitioning away from fossil fuels is about “participating in a process that is serous about addressing their needs.”

“And we can’t do that,” Nelson said, “unless we can show them something concrete — that we mean what we say.”

June 25, 2019

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