Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Clean Energy and Good Jobs Go Hand in Hand

Twenty-five major leaders from government, business, labor and activist organizations—including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore—met on Monday to discuss strategies for boosting the nation’s renewable energy production, reducing dependence on foreign oil and ensuring that “green jobs” are quality jobs.

The forum, titled “National Clean Energy Project: Building the New Economy,” was sponsored by the Center for American Progress (CAP). Participants focused on modernizing and expanding the electricity grid, rapidly increasing transmission capacity for renewable energy and reducing dependence on foreign oil by examining short- and long-term solutions to replace foreign oil with domestic resources. Click here for a video of the discussions.

As Sweeney told the participants:

The challenge of clean energy and climate change creates a rare opportunity to do two things at once—meet the challenge of a cleaner planet and at the same time use it to create the good jobs of a new economy. A new U.S. energy strategy can be the foundation of rebuilding the middle class if we ensure that the jobs we create are good, innovative jobs here in our country—and that can then become the foundation of a strong new economy.

It is essential, Sweeney said, to provide good training to create good jobs—and we need access to this training for a diverse group of residents of local communities. We need apprenticeship programs and labor-management partnerships to create high-quality training and good jobs with career ladders.

The nation also must invest in the materials and equipment needed for green technology, Sweeney said. One reason the AFL-CIO pushed for Buy American language in the economic recovery package was to ensure that we invest the money in building new technology here, he added.

Those investments should include job standards so federally funded programs support good living standards, Sweeney said, with health care, worker safety programs, apprenticeship and training programs, and respect for workers’ rights. On that note, Sweeney told the participants:

A related point is the importance of Congress passing the Employee Free Choice Act to allow workers the freedom to bargain with their employers to make their jobs good jobs—workers will organize to make their jobs better if we protect their right to do so.

Sweeney also told the forum how the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department is leading a national initiative joining their affiliates and 1,100 apprenticeship training centers with community organizations to train workers for the opportunities offered by new energy investment.

In the past year, the Electrical Workers (IBEW), Utility Workers and their employers have created a series of joint regional training programs for linemen and other skilled workers in the industry. And the AFL-CIO has created a Center for Green Jobs that will expand the research, training and policy work in support of good green jobs.

A new report released in conjunction with the forum calls for a national clean-energy grid that can transport energy long distances to market and deliver it efficiently to local consumers.

The report, Wired for Progress: Building a National Clean-Energy Smart Grid by CAP’s Bracken Hendricks, outlines a plan to develop such a secure, reliable, national clean electricity grid to power America’s coming clean energy economy. The report recommends strategies to break the principal bottlenecks for building grid projects

You can read the full report here.

Other leaders attending the forum included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and energy executive T. Boone Pickens.

-- James Parks, AFL-CIO NOW BLOG

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