As the Minnesota unemployment rate climbed to a 25-year high, manufacturing workers and Sierra Club members delivered more than 5,000 messages from Minnesotans calling on Governor Pawlenty to implement a comprehensive green jobs plan that puts people back to work in a clean energy economy.
“We are calling on the governor to immediately take action to create good, green jobs in the clean energy economy,” Gerry Parzino, co-chair of the Minnesota Blue Green Alliance and staff representative for United Steelworkers District 11, said at Monday’s action. “Building a clean energy economy in Minnesota will put people back to work and help us to protect the environment at the same time.”
Last week, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said the state’s unemployment rate increased to 8.1 percent in February. A recent study showed that green investments could create more than 37,000 jobs in Minnesota.
More than two dozen people turned out at a Blue Green Alliance forum last week seeking information on green jobs. Speakers said recent passage of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides money to hire workers for projects such as weatherizing buildings and cleaning up brownfields.
“We have an opportunity to confront two of our most pressing problems — rising unemployment and global warming,” said Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. “That is why it’s so important that Governor Pawlenty utilize the Recovery Act to make a down payment on this green economy.
“Minnesota can be a leader in creating these family-sustaining, good green jobs.”
Added Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, “We know we have environmental problems coming to us if we don’t do this. And ultimately it is good for the economy to wean ourselves from foreign oil . . .”
Parzino, Hunter and Levin then led a group to the governor’s office, where they delivered 4,600 signed cards and more than 1,000 e-mail messages urging Pawlenty to act.
Specifically, the group called on state government to use federal recovery funds to:
· Create a Green Job Corps Program, in cooperation with labor and business, to recruit and train workers for green jobs and lift people out of poverty.
· Provide state incentives to attract and retain green manufacturing facilities, including creating Green Industrial Parks, particularly in areas that have lost manufacturing jobs.
· Increase investment in transit and encourage the use of fuel-efficient vehicles in both the public and private sector.
· Increase building efficiency and renewable energy use by providing incentives to individuals, government entities such as schools, and small businesses, and develop and implement green building standards for renovations and new buildings; and
· Support Minnesota’s large industrial-energy users by providing incentives and technical assistance to increase energy efficiency.
At the forum March 18 in Hastings, speakers said moving to a green economy will require new approaches.
“Essentially a green job is doing everything we’re doing now, but doing it differently and in a right way,” said Michael Haynes of Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota.
Bernie Hesse of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 789 said his union has worked with employers to implement environmentally friendly policies that also save money. For example, Cub Foods is reducing waste and energy use at its first “green” store on St. Paul’s East Side, while the union is helping Dakota Premium find ways to use less water in its meatpacking operation in South St. Paul.
Sometimes new jobs are created and sometimes current jobs are re-defined, said Russell Hess of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. In all cases, “they’re going to be great jobs if we organize and make sure they’re great jobs,” he said.
The Blue Green Alliance is a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations, representing more than 6 million people, dedicated to expanding the number and quality of green jobs in the United States.