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Green New Deal Town Hall At 32BJ Does Little To Win Over Labor Skeptics

April 29, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

Residents fearful about a growing climate catastrophe and supportive of the Green New Deal attend a Town Hall at 32BJ HQ Friday night.

New York, NY – Despite a profound need to confront climate change charging the room — Friday night’s Green New Deal Town Hall at 32BJ’s W18th Street HQ, demonstrated the movement’s frustrating failure to fully draft organized labor into the cause. 

Earlier this month, the AFL-CIO’s Climate Committee penned a letter to Green New Deal architects Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-NY14] and Senator Edward Markey [D-MA] stating, “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.”

However, on Friday, Congress Member Jerrold Nadler [D-NY10], one of four representatives including Congress Member Carolyn Maloney [D-NY4], Congress Member Nydia Velázquez [DNY7] and Congress Member Yvette Clarke [D-NY9] to participate in the Town Hall, appeared nonplussed when asked about what is being done to address the concerns of working men and women who fear a Green New Deal will cost them jobs and income. 

“You develop a program in which you can persuasively show them how they’re not going to lose jobs,” the Democratic powerbroker said before stepping onto an elevator. “How, in fact, the expenditure funds to do this transition is going to generate a lot of jobs. That’s part of what the Green New Deal is about.”

Clarke acknowledged that activists advancing Green New Deal proposals introduced last February to head off the catastrophic effects of global warming “can’t do this without organized labor.” Yet offered little on how that’s supposed to happen . 

“I think they have to be at the table in helping to shape this,” Clarke told LaborPress. “Many of the professions that workers have organized around are legacy occupations — pipelines, trucking; things of that nature. We need to have them at the table working alongside the scientists and everyone else that looks at how we can convert those positions [and] those skills into green skills. And I think that will take away a lot of the anxiety and fear of the transition that’s going to take place.”

But the AFL-CIO has already stated that the Green New Deal is “far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy.” And if that weren’t enough — “is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.”

Last fall, at a climate change rally at Battery Park, Chris Erikson, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [IBEW] Local 3, voiced a willingness to fight climate change that many labor leaders have expressed. But also added, “Our message just can’t be — shut down the power plants. It’s got to be: transition those power plants and good union jobs to good green jobs.”

Nadler, however, downplayed “the risk of job disruptions and economic dislocation” that worry AFL-CIO leaders.

Climate activists interact with residents supportive of the Green New Deal.

“I don’t know how much displacement there’s going to be,” Nadler said. “Very few areas I see there’s going to be displacement. Obviously, there’s going to be a major increase in construction of all types. Where are there going to be displacements? Only in the fossil fuel industries.”

Clarke said only, “There’s not going to be a marketable difference in the work that is done, it’s the material being used.”

“I know that as we have conversations in Washington around infrastructure, we’ll have folks come in,” she added. “When we talk about AI and automated trucks and vehicles, of course, Teamsters are coming in. So, that’s an ongoing dialogue. And it all comes under the rubric, at the end of the day, of how we combat climate change.”

Just last week, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change told the AP that “world leaders must recognize there is no option except to speed-up and scale-up action to tackle global warming — warning that continuing on the current path will lead to ‘a catastrophe.’”

On April 25, climate change activists with Extinction Rebellion glued themselves to the London Stock Exchange and unfurled banners declaring, “Business As Usual = Death.” 

On its face, the task of fully enlisting organized labor in the movement against catastrophic climate change and advancing the Green New Deal would appear a slam-dunk. Especially given that, as the AFL-CIO has stated, “America’s labor unions agree that climate change must be addressed” and “support the need to invest in the development and deployment of technologies like solar, wind, nuclear, hydro-electric, carbon capture and utilization, battery storage, and high-speed rail that limit or eliminate carbon emissions.”

New York State alone, has at least 20 new wind farms in the offing — all of which are subject to project-labor agreements requiring contractors to pay prevailing wage.

Friday night’s Green New Deal Town Hall at 32BJ HQ drew a packed auditorium of concerned residents eager to advance the Green New Deal. But while the participating Members of Congress excelled at restating the current criss — just 12 years remaining to transition to a green economy capable of capping global warming at 1.5 degree C  threshold and avert worldwide disaster — slagging ongoing Republican obstructionism; and jeering Trump administration curruption — they also failed to challenge the entrenched opposition to the Green New Deal coming from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Party establishment. 

Pelosi has been dismissive of Ocasio-Cortez, since at least last fall, when the freshman representative backed climate change activists during a sit-in outside the speaker’s Capitol Hill offices.

And in February, Pelosi derisively referred to the Green New Deal as the “green dream or whatever they call it.” 

Nevertheless, Miles Goodrich, New York State director of Sunrise Movement — one of the groups including Indivisible Nation BK, 350Brooklyn and One Queens Indivisible responsible for Friday night’s Green New Deal Town Hall — issued a statement saying “Momentum for a Green New Deal is growing.”

“Already 100 members of Congress have co-sponsored Senator Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution, and polls show that the Green New Deal is broadly supported among voters of both parties,” Goodrich added. “We’re holding this town hall to educate our community about what a Green New Deal could look like and grow that support in NYC.”

On Tuesday, April 30, climate change activists will take direct action against Democratic Party elite and Green New Deal holdout Chuck Schumer [D-NY], staging a rally outside the senator’s Manhattan offices beginning at 10:30 a.m. 

April 29, 2019

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