American unions have been deeply split on the Green New Deal, the proposal for decarbonization through renewable energy and other means which is coupled with a massive economic mobilization and social programs more ambitious than anything seen in this country to date.
However, local and state unions which have defied national leaders to support the resolution just got a big boost from the participation of their first national union: the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). At its convention in Minneapolis, the 1.9 million-strong union passed a resolution not only supporting the Green New Deal in principle, but stating that will “coordinate and integrate advocacy for the Green New Deal with local unions and state councils across the country.”
Sections 8-10 of the document are particularly notable:
Opposition by energy workers’ unions
But while SEIU has a broad membership in hospitals, nursing homes, janitorial and food service workers, the unions with workers in the energy industries have been either cooler or actively hostile to the Green New Deal at the national level.
On March 8 the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee sent a sharply worded letter to Green New Deal sponsors U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) describing the proposal as a “threat” to their members’ jobs and families’ standards of living:
The Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our member and the critical sectors of our economy. It is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.
We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and families’ standard of living to go unanswered.
It is not surprising that this is signed by the head of United Mine Workers of America, which represents coal miners. However it also got the signature of the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which is the union whose members are likely to benefit the most from a rapid transition to renewable energy, given the incredible need for electricians that this will entail.
The Laborer’s International Union of North America (LiUNA!) is also at the top of the list of Green New Deal critics, and LiUNA! President Terry O’Sullivan has been outspoken about his opposition. But signatories also include the powerful Building Trades Council.
This is not the first time that SEIU has split with the AFL-CIO. In 2005 SEIU helped form the Change to Win coalition as an alternative to the AFL-CIO, but the new federation has seen the loss of some member unions including LiUNA!.
Splits at the local level
While most national labor leaders have been cool if not actively hostile on the Green New Deal, the proposal has seen some endorsements by state chapters and local unions.
IBEW local 103, which boasts over 6,000 members and a wind turbine at its union hall in Boston, has endorsed the Green New Deal, and IBEW in San Francisco put forward a resolution in favor of the proposal that was passed by San Francisco Labor Council in April.
However, it is notable that such locals are much smaller than the 560,000 members of LiUNA!, and only a portion of the 750,000 national members of IBEW – let alone the roughly 12 million workers associated with the AFL-CIO.
Building renewables or shutting down fossils?
State union leaders have also come out against the Green New Deal. Notably, the president of California’s Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 400,000 workers, is calling for a “blue collar revolution” at the state’s Democratic Convention next week.
This is in response to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Green New Deal for Los Angeles, which calls for shutting down three large natural-gas fired power plants.
This underlines the contradiction that while building renewable energy remains broadly popular including among union members, shutting down conventional generation can be much more controversial due to the affects on workers.
And with relatively static demand for electricity, bringing more renewables online will inevitably cause coal, gas and nuclear power plants to shut down. However, this is not how major environmental groups are framing their messages.