Beyond the Bargaining Table: How Unions are Mobilizing on Climate Action

Editor’s Note: This is part of a blog series by the Office of Labor-Management Standards on the various ways unions support workers. OLMS Director Jeffrey Freund introduced the series by writing about how unions serve the interests of members and non-members alike "beyond the bargaining table." More recent posts have highlighted how union support for pre-apprenticeship programs helps provide a bridge to better employment opportunities and how union efforts to combat wage theft protects non-union workers and our communities. With Earth Day on April 22, this piece looks at how labor unions are mobilizing to help transition to a clean energy economy and how those efforts benefit our communities.   

Detailed earth globe photo with white clouds, Isolated planet earth on an black background

Labor Unions and Clean Energy

Many unions are engaged in climate action initiatives to help reduce the harm that carbon emissions have on our communities and our environment. Often collaborating with environmental and community organizations, unions are mobilizing to ensure that the transition to a clean energy economy keeps workers at the center – all the while benefitting the greater communities in which they live. A just transition to a clean energy economy will include well-paying jobs in renewable energy industries as well as support for fossil-fuel workers so they adapt and thrive as well. 

Let’s look at a few of the ways the labor movement is advancing clean energy initiatives:

  • Through Green and Healthy Schools, Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a labor-led coalition, is working to secure investments to refurbish and modernize the state’s over 300 public school buildings. The goal is for the schools to serve as a model for net-zero emissions and healthy learning environments. Poor ventilation, inefficient heating systems, and deteriorating pipes are examples of school building deficiencies that jeopardize the health and safety of children and teachers. By joining forces, the union and environmental groups behind Climate Jobs Rhode Island advocate for a full transition to clean energy in the state’s public-school buildings. The Rhode Island AFL-CIO and affiliates of the Teamsters, National Education Association, and Service Employee International Union are among the labor partners who have teamed up with environmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Clean Water Action.
  • The BlueGreen Alliance is a national partnership between unions and environmental groups to advance climate action in ways that create family-supporting jobs and protect workers, communities, and the environment. The alliance was born in 2006 when the United Steelworkers teamed up with the Sierra Club on the shared belief that workers and environmentalists both have a stake in building a clean economy. The Alliance advocates for renewable energy, energy efficiency, mass transit, and other solutions that help counter climate change.  The BlueGreen Alliance views transitioning to a clean economy as an opportunity to create good jobs, address inequities, reduce carbon emissions and potentially lead the nation to energy independence. The Alliance has grown to include several other union and environmental partners, and now has 10 affiliated state chapters.
  • From coast to coast, examples abound of unions teaming up with employers on clean energy initiatives. In Baltimore, Maryland, the United Steelworkers union has partnered with US Wind on a project to transform a section of the former Sparrows Point steel mill into a manufacturing plant to build the monopile foundations used in offshore wind energy farms. The partnership will create apprenticeship opportunities and good union jobs for local workers. Through its agreements with the Baltimore DC Metro Building Trades Council and affiliated unions, US Wind has also committed to using union labor to build the new manufacturing facility. In southern California, the renewable energy company Arevon has partnered with local trade unions to advance solar energy production for residents of San Diego County. Arevon has agreed to use union labor to build the Vikings Energy Farm that is expected to generate solar power for 70,000 homes. Operating engineers, carpenters, laborers, electrical workers, and ironworkers are among the skilled trade unions supporting this project.

To read more on union initiatives on climate action, visit the Unions in our Democracy and Communities page at the Department’s Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge (WORK) Center The WORK Center is your one-stop shop for information about unions and their far-reaching impact. We also invite you to visit the Office of Labor-Management Standards to learn about our work to advance democracy and financial integrity among over 20,000 labor organizations in the United States.

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