New York, NY – DC37 AFSCME, the largest municipal union in town, is being hailed this week for championing contentious Green New Deal legislation now before the City Council — and “blazing the trail” for the rest of organized labor to follow.
“This issue of climate change is something that affects all of us,” Working Families Party National Director Maurice Mitchell told LaborPress at City Hall Park on Tuesday. “And the role of organized labor is to be on the forefront of issues that impact their rank & file and working people in general — and there’s no clearer issue than climate change. We think that what the leadership at DC37 is taking [on], we anticipate many, many more locals will be finding the opportunity to align with.”
Mitchell’s comments come amidst increasing rancor surrounding Intro. 1253 — a City Council bill seeking to retrofit the dirtiest polluting buildings in the city and thereby reducing Gotham’s overall green house gas emissions by seven percent.
The effort enjoys the support of at least two-thirds of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, but sits in the crosshairs of REBNY — the Real Estate Board of New York, which has been trying to stave off and/or water down similar legislation for 10 years.
Earlier this week, a coalition of property owners including REBNY fired off a letter to Council Member Costa Constantinides [D-22nd District], chair of the Committee on the Environment and primary sponsor of Intro. 1253, strongly objecting to the bill in its current incarnation.
Several labor unions — 32BJ SEIU, IBEW Local 3 and UA Plumbers Local 1 among them — were also signatories of the letter.
But at a rally ahead of Intro. 1253’s official introduction to the City Council on Tuesday, DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said that New York should be the leader in combatting climate change before it’s too late.
“We at DC37 believe leadership is about doing what is right, not doing what is popular,” Garrido said. “We saw the effects of Hurricane Sandy [in 2012]. We will make sure that all of our union’s political support is behind this bill. We want to ensure that the bill is passed as is — and not whittled down to be some empty gesture.”
We at DC37 believe leadership is about doing what is right, not doing what is popular. We saw the effects of Hurricane Sandy [in 2012]. We will make sure that all of our union’s political support is behind this bill. We want to ensure that the bill is passed as is — and not whittled down to be some empty gesture. — DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fewer than a dozen years remain before the the build up green house gases in the atmosphere becomes irreversible, and the catastrophic consequences unavoidable.
“Our city is uniquely vulnerable to climate change,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson [D-3rd District] added. “We saw what happened during Hurricane Sandy. We saw that our city was underwater in many places. And that it can happen again this fall when hurricane season comes. We have to act now.”
The City Council Speaker addressed the ongoing controversy surrounding Intro. 1253, insisting that the ultimate version of the bill will retain its teeth despite REBNY.
“There has been a lot of conversations about wanting to change this bill in significant ways,” Speaker Johnson said. “The chair and the author of the bill has been very pragmatic. But also not allowing this bill to be whittled away — ensuring that it is still a strong bill. We’re going to continue to be pragmatic. [But] We’re not going to make wholesale changes that weaken this bill in a way that would gut what we’re trying to do here.”
Council Member Brad Lander [D-39th District] lamented the city’s failure, over the last decade, to significantly address the threat of climate change — noting how former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn fell short of passing a bill similar to Intro. 1253’s aims.
“At the last minute the Real Estate Board of New York weakened that bill — and instead of mandatory retrofits — we got mandatory audits,” Lander said.
In addition to the damage Hurricane Sandy wrought on New York City seven years ago, and the increasing cases of asthma and heat-related emergencies that have occurred in the years since — Constantinides sounded an even more frightening alarm.
“New York as we know it will cease to exist,” he warned. ”Neighborhoods that we love, we take care of, we live in — will disappear from the map. These are the stakes we’re playing at. And yet, big real estate will say we should slow down. We haven’t moved fast enough. The action that we need to take will be the largest emissions reduction policy in the history of — not just New York City — but any city. And we need to lead.”
Hayes Slade, head of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, also chided continuing inaction, while also touting the creation of thousands of new jobs confronting the climate crisis.
“NYC has waited too long to require retrofitting of its large buildings,” Slade said. “We’ve given the industry years to retrofit en masse and that has not happened. If we want retrofitting of our large buildings we need government action in the form of requirements and incentives.”
The City of New York is attempting to cut green house gas admissions by 80-percent over the next 30 years. In 2016, two-thirds of the 52 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses pumped into the skies over NYC came from its buildings.
“The days are numbered where the interests of the real estate lobby, the fossil fuels lobby, will be able to drown out the interests of everyday people,” Mitchell added. “This is a tipping point — you’re going to see a trend. [The real estate industry] is going to do what they’re going to do, but I think there’s going to be a grassroots movement towards finding a solution, and I anticipate that our brothers and sisters in labor will be a part of that.”