There’s a lot of hype about “going green.” But we must ensure that as we pursue alternative energy and sustainability we are protecting our greatest resource: America’s workers.
This year’s Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference explored ways to incorporate workers’ rights into green initiatives. At the conference, American Rights at Work hosted two panels, highlighting employee protection within the agriculture and construction industries.
Paul Rubin, Secretary Treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 99 emphasized the progress Arizona food workers have made through pay increases, overtime inclusion, and elimination of pace rates. In the area of ‘green’ construction, Vice President of the U.S. Green Building Council Mike Opitz spoke to the ways in which LEED certification has created jobs and trained highly skilled workers.
“Environment-friendly construction often requires more skilled labor than other construction,” said fellow panelist Harry Melander, President of Minnesota’s Building Trades Council. “Thousands of unemployed workers have been called back to work after gaining LEED skills in sustainable construction. It works to create jobs.” Ken Potts Director of Sustainability at McGough credited the skill union labor brings to his company.
Over 90,000 workers across the country have signed up for LEED certification, which rates the ‘greenness’ of a construction job on a points system. Yet labor advocates still feel there is more to be done in order to ensure that workers have a say as green industries continue to expand.
“You cannot talk about partnerships between employers and contractors and expect to collaborate without labor,” said Nikki Daruwala, the founder and director of American Rights at Work’s Socially Responsible Business Program, who moderated both panels. “It is necessary to continue the inclusion of labor rights as green jobs grow.”