From the TUC

TUC Green Workplaces project provides model for US

28 May 2010, By

Greetings from the unions of the Oregon AFL-CIO!  I’ve been in London for a week now, the first leg of my study tour of the TUCs Green Workplaces Project.  It’s been an exciting week as I’ve begun to learn how unions in the UK are approaching climate change, green job training and member involvement in greening workplaces and communities.

Through my experience in the US, I’ve learned that we’re stronger if we work with our allies.  I’m excited to be addressing the IPPR Green Jobs Summit on June 22 in London, where this challenge will be discussed by labor and community leaders. This is one lesson we’ve learned the hard way in the US.  Pitted against the environmental movement, we’ve lost over and over to the employer agenda.  Working with them, in coalitions like the Apollo Alliance and the Blue-Green Alliance, we’ve made some significant strides.

A few thoughts so far:

  • Involving members  – TUC efforts to “green the workplace” point to a productive new direction for us. The projects can (a) save employers money – at a time with budget problems are forcing hard decisions; (b) empower members and activists to put their knowledge of the workplace to use in creating more energy efficient and environmentally healthy working spaces; and (c) demonstrate to management the value of union participation in green initiatives.  In the states, unions have confined most of their work to policy initiatives.
  • Green jobs and skills – Climate policy creates extraordinary opportunities to create new “green jobs” and transform existing jobs in a greener direction.  It also creates challenges to train and retrain workers to perform these jobs.  Unions in the UK appear to deal with green skills issues in an admirably coordinated fashion, working with Sector Skills Councils to develop national standards.  We’ve only begun to work at that level in the states.  We have, though, done a lot of thinking about how to map “green career pathways”, so that low-income workers (and women and people of color hoping to enter blue-collar occupations) can secure entry-level positions, but also so that workers can progress up the job ladder to more skilled and better paid positions.

It’s all about organizing.  The UK and US labor movements share some common challenges, including the low level of involvement of some of our members, especially youth. We can use Green workplaces activities to attract members who might not otherwise be interested in the union. I heard examples of this at the CWU conference in Bournemouth, from the PCS reps at the British Museum, and from UNISON leaders at GOSH.  I also participated in discussions at TUSDAC and with Climate Solidarity staff about the difficulties of organizing sustainable activities among our incredibly busy reps and activists.

Finally, it’s been interesting to be in the UK during this political transition.  While our country has only recently emerged from 8 long years of conservative leadership, yours is just entering it.  We can learn from what you accomplished under Labour on the climate change front, and perhaps we can share some thoughts about how we survived the Bush years with a climate agenda intact.

Barbara Byrd is Secretary Treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO. A union member and labor educator for more than 25 years, she has worked across the US with a wide variety of unions –public and private, white- and blue-collar, manufacturing, construction and service. She oversees workforce and economic development policy issues for the Oregon AFL-CIO, represents the organization in state level discussions about climate change policy and sits on the Governor’s Renewable Energy Working Group. She also staffs the Oregon Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, business, environmental and social justice organizations.