BlueGreen Alliance Unites Labor and Environmentalists

  • Workers from Oncor, a Texas-based electricity delivery company, prep for a solar installation. Photo: Courtesy Oncor via Flickr

September 4, 2015

As some traditional blue-collar jobs like those in the coal industry are being lost, labor unions are regrouping and finding new allies—like environmentalists. Kim Glas is helping the two communities find common ground. She's the new executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of 10 labor unions and five national environmental groups that pushes for green job growth. Recently, Kara Holsopple spoke with Glas about how the labor and environmental movements are finding new ways to work together. Here are some highlights from the interview.

On the importance of labor and environmental groups working together

"I think that the labor and environmental movements aren’t movements that have naturally worked together until recently. And the vision of the BlueGreen Alliance—which was started by Leo Gerard, the President of the United Steelworkers, and the Sierra Club—was to really bring a collaboration between the labor constituencies and the environmental community; figuring out ways to push a common agenda: How do we address climate change [in a way] that actually creates jobs here in this country and provides opportunities for our workforce. Whether you’re addressing carbon mitigation, fuel efficiency in the auto sector, there are a variety of ways you can see an economy moving forward that addresses our environmental concerns, but also our economic ones."

On challenges faced by workers in the changing energy economy

"In Pennsylvania, workers in the coal industry have lost their jobs as the energy transformation has hit Pennsylvania and other states. And the BlueGreen Alliance has strongly committed to working on a just transition for these workers. And when I’m talking about a just transition, it’s not, ‘here’s an unemployment check.’ This is really about trying to get workers who are highly skilled, highly paid, who work in impacted industries, into other industries and highly skilled, highly paid jobs. Unfortunately, for workers impacted in the coal industry, who make a family-sustaining wage, looking at solar and wind—those industries pay less at this time. And that’s something that the BlueGreen Alliance has been working on: How to create jobs in those industries that also produce family-sustaining wages.

We were very pleased when the [Obama] administration announced the POWER Plus program, which ensures security for workers who may be losing their pensions if they are employed in the coal industry, and [for] certain communities that have been impacted by a coal-fired power plant closing down. But the issue is that Congress has not allocated the full funding necessary to make sure this program is fully realized."

On the importance of government support for green industries

"There definitely has to be buy-in on both the federal and state level. Congress has not extended the wind-production tax credits and that has led to uncertainty in the market. And as wind manufacturers are looking for opportunities to expand, they’re looking for leadership coming out of the U.S. Congress to ensure that these types of tax credits are extended and that there is reliability and certainty in the marketplace. That’s not a partisan issue. That’s just the reality of trying to ensure the renewable energy sector also has opportunities to grow and expand, which has been successful in the past."

To read more, visit the BlueGreenAlliance online at bluegreenalliance.org.