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Rise Up Labor: Time To Confront Climate Change

New York, NY – Union leaders and climate change activists urging the House of Labor, this week, to fully back the transition to 100-percent renewable energy say it’s up to rank & file members to make it happen. 

Climate justice activists are urging union members to rise up and stand tall for good, green jobs.

“We need to get the idea across to labor and everybody [else] — but to Labor in particular — about how climate change is going to affect every facet of our work, and our own personal lives,” DC37 Climate Justice Committee Co-Chair Jon Foster told LaborPress on Thursday. “The climate is starting to spin more quickly out of control than anybody knows — Labor has got to wake up to this issue — we have got to mobilize and make it one of our priorities.”

Thursday’s Rise for Climate Jobs and Justice rally/march from Battery Park to Zuccotti Park, was part of a series of actions taking place this weekend in advance of the three-day Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco September 12-14.

Here in New York, the pressure is on Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to support measures that will facilitate a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy; stopping all fossil fuel infrastructure — including fracked gas pipelines and power plant projects —and making corporate polluters pay.

“It’s going to take a level of courage for the rank & file members to step up and say, climate justice is labor justice; it’s all connected when we come down to it,” Food & Water Watch organizer Santosh Nandabalan told LaborPress. “There’s no point in having a good job if we don’t have clear air and clean water.”

“Change the system, not the climate,” says NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez.

Chris Erikson, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [IBEW] Local 3, understands the devastation that burning fossil fuels has already had on the planet. 

“I’ve been to China twice — had to wear a mask in Beijing,” Erikson told LaborPress. “There’s no regulation and the government doesn’t care about the impact of fossil fuel poisons on their people and their children.”

Local 3 is actively training apprentices in the kinds of green technology that helps builders attain LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification. Erikson has also visited Copenhagen and talked with the manufactures of off-show wind turbines that could end up on Long Island as part of a plan to help New York generate 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, enough to power up to 1.2 million homes.

Nationally, however, IBEW represents some 200,000 members working in the utility industry — a good number of them at coal-fired power plants who are concerned about their livelihoods. 

“Our message just can’t be — shut down the power plants,” Erikson said. “It’s got to be transition those power plants and good union jobs, to good green jobs.”

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. — IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson. 

Politicians stubbornly fused to the fossil fuel energy — from Donald Trump to the Democratic National Committee — continue to obstruct that transition. 

But New York nurses have been confronting the realities of climate change, since at least Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, treating patients suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, bacterial infections and other serious health issues. They continue to care for still more victims of climate change in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. 

New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA] President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez urged demonstrates gathered at Battery Park, “Before it’s too late, let’s change the system — not the climate.”

“Long after hurricanes leave, these are the results of what we see,” the NYSNA leader said. “We see depression and mental illness because people lose their homes, jobs, and livelihoods. The government seems to have amnesia between these disasters — and I’d like to call them unnatural disasters — not natural disasters, because they are not natural.”

Foster acknowledged there is a “divide” within the House of Labor over the issue of climate change.

“There are those people who think, maybe, their jobs are threatened,” Foster added. “We’re going to do everything we can to transition people that may lose jobs — coal mining is basically done and, therefore, we need to work with coal miners and their communities to transition. But I think it’s more of a matter that Labor has not yet accepted that this is going to be one of the most important issues of our time.”

Climate justice advocates begin to gather at Battery Park on Thursday afternoon.

Nancy Romer, a member of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, and AFT #2334 Environmental Justice Working Group, said in a statement that Labor is “stepping up and joining the climate movement to demand a quick and just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.” 

“Let’s end the fossil fuel economy and bring in a renewable energy economy that will bring good union jobs to millions of people, especially to those most affected by the dual crises of climate and inequality,” she said. 

The only way to do that, Nandabalan, re-emphasized, is through a grassroots, bottom up campaign.

“We’ve tried the other thing where we’ve reached out to the leadership heads and folks that are singing the praises of what the fossil fuel industry can do to give us jobs,” Nandabalan said. “And we even saw the DNC go back on taking corporate donations. The only way to do this, is the same way we got environmentalists to really get on board with banning fracking. It starts with grassroots membership bugging their leaders and seeing systematic change.”

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