March 19, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The head of New York’s largest union for registered nurses is criticizing segments of the labor movement this week for what looks like an “insane” position on climate change.
New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA] President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez on Monday night called out labor unions seemingly more concerned with landing jobs for their members, rather than confronting fossil fuel corporations contributing to increasingly dire weather conditions worldwide.
“Building trades, electrical workers, fossil fuel workers, and labor organizations and unions who are either silently or actively opposed to efforts at stopping carbon emissions for the sake of jobs is analogous to nurses and doctors opposing cures for diseases or supporting the proliferation of illnesses so that we can have our jobs,” Sheridan-Gonzalez told activists gathered at DC37’s Barclay Street auditorium this week. “It’s an insane position.”
Odo Tevi, United Nations ambassador from the storm torn island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, joined with the NYSNA chief, as well as Councilman Donovan Richards [D-31st District], chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, Leslie Cagan, 2014 People’s Climate March coordinator, Samara Swanston, legislative counsel and other activists at a forum aimed at advancing new laws to combat climate change and promote environmental justice.
“All of us should be standing together in the struggle for climate justice,” an emotional Ambassador Tevi said. “A large country like yours and a small one like ours have the same vulnerabilities. It is a threat to humanity.”
Sheridan-Gonzalez, acknowledged that the potential for job losses as a result of limiting carbon emissions and confronting climate change is a real concern — but one that is ultimately and wholly unfounded.
“The fear of unemployment and economic hardship due to the loss of jobs related to the slow dismantling of these systems, that’s a real fear,” NYSNA’s president said. “And that’s why we talk about just transitions – the integration of developing sustainable energy solutions with the imperative that jobs aren’t lost.”
The package of bills that Councilman Richards is currently spearheading in the City Council which advocates the installation of solar panels and charging stations for electric vehicles, among other initiatives, would actually create new jobs.
Beyond New York City – which could see an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if action is taken now – Sheridan-Gonzalez says that a shift to “energy democracy” would be a “direct challenge” to the “neo-liberal, right-wing agenda" currently assailing working men and women nationwide.
“When we talk about energy democracy, we think about it in terms of the three Rs: Resist, Reclaim and Restructure,” the NYSNA chief said. “Together, labor and communities need to organize together to resist the fossil fuel industry’s agenda to continue drilling and mining in ways that destroy the planet, and [instead] put control in the hands of workers, communities and local governing bodies.”
Energy Democracy advocates maintain that a shift to 100 percent renewable energy could be accomplished in as little as 25 years.
"Like Superstorm Sandy whose scars are still evident in parts of New York City, the monster cyclone that smashed into the tiny South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu a few days ago, is a painful reminder that climate change is a reality that we simply cannot ignore," Cagan said.
Editor’s Note: The author of the above article stands one-hundred percent behind its contents. NYSNA disputes some of the reporting. We are including NYSNA Senior Communications Manager Tara L. Martin’s reaction to the piece here:
“The actual speech made by President Sheridan-Gonzalez on climate change and jobs made NYSNA’s position very clear – that we are working with other labor and allied trades. The fears of unemployment and economic hardship that many of our building trades brothers and sisters are feeling are VERY REAL. That’s why labor and communities must work together around Just Transitions, Energy Democracy, and developing sustainable energy solutions precisely in order to preserve jobs and to create green jobs.
“It is unfortunate that the Labor Press took President Sheridan-Gonzalez’s speech out of context and used a headline that was overly sensationalized and not accurate. The reference to ‘insane positions’ was specifically directed toward a metaphor where nurses who would actively spread disease in order to keep their jobs, and not directed toward other unions or allied workers.
"This past summer, we participated in the largest gathering of concerned labor leaders, citizens, community groups, clergy and environmentalists calling on governments everywhere to prioritize immediate solutions to this problem. President Sheridan-Gonzalez marched side-by-side with our brothers and sisters in organized labor, calling out the need to address climate change and the need to create green jobs in NYC.
"NYSNA, then and now, is working together with labor, community and political leaders to push for climate justice in our city, state and nation.”