Minnesotans urge action to create green jobs


Union members, environmentalists and other citizens rallied Sunday to call on Governor Tim Pawlenty and other elected leaders to create and implement a plan for “green jobs.”

While climate change is a threat to the planet, it can spur the creation of a green economy and millions of good-paying jobs, said the event’s organizers, which included the Blue Green Alliance, Sierra Club and United Steelworkers.

“Thank you for coming out for the movement for green jobs that is growing across the country,” Margaret Levin, interim director of the Sierra Club’s North Star chapter, told the crowd gathered at St. Paul College. “The movement is growing because more and more people are recognizing the urgency of our collective situation. We are at a point where we can use our planet’s resources for economic sustainability, or create an ever more dangerous polarization of wealth and poverty.”

Joined by national radio commentator and bestselling author Jim Hightower, United Steelworkers International Vice President Fred Redmond, local labor, community, and environmental leaders said that investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency will stimulate economic growth and opportunity, creating thousands of good, family-supporting jobs for Minnesotans, while fighting global warming and moving America toward energy independence.

They urged Pawlenty to act on a plan that would include creation of a “green jobs corps” to recruit and train workers, creation of green industrial parks to attract and retain green manufacturing, more investment in transit and fuel-efficient vehicles and incentives for large industrial-energy users to increase energy efficiency.

The rally was part of the national Green Jobs for America campaign, which recently issued a report indicating Minnesota already has 252,000 jobs that could see job growth or wage increases by putting global-warming solutions to work. The report said clean, renewable-energy investments will create opportunities for welders, sheet metal workers, machinists, truck drivers, and other workers in Minnesota.

“Green jobs are not a pie-in-the-sky idea. Indeed millions of Americans already hold jobs intertwined with a green energy economy that combats global warming,” said Carlos Garcia-Velasco, executive director of the West Side Citizens Organization in St. Paul.

Local labor leaders said part of the strategy must include saving facilities like the Rock-Tenn plant in St. Paul. The company’s search for a new way to power the plant, which recycles paper, has engendered debate in the community.

At Rock-Tenn, “500 good union-paying jobs are being performed right now, today. They’re represented by the United Steelworkers. We want to see those jobs maintained here while we’re in St. Paul,” Ray Waldron, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said.

“Many blue collar jobs are also green jobs,” said Shar Knutson, president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. “This is a perfect example of where we can have both.

“As the Blue Green alliance, we need to work together to make sure that plant stays here and those jobs stay here and those workers have food on the table and, frankly, St. Paul and the metro area doesn’t have another gaping hole where manufacturing has left the area. None of us can afford that.”

USW Vice President Redmond noted that, “For decades, unions didn’t mix well with environmentalists,” adding, “Our conflicts were drummed up in the media and it was fueled by the bosses’ desire to divide and to conquer us. But we believe that we’re ahead of the curve. We’re all in this together.

“Today we recognize that global warming has emerged as a significant threat to the stability of union jobs in the coming years. We have concluded that the environment is an essential union issue. In the same way that globalization and trade are essential union issues, so is the environment.

“If we are to be successful in pursuing a world that is more economically just and sustainable in the long term, then environmental work must be part of the mission of our work in the union, every day and at every level of the union.”

Hightower lauded Minnesotans for taking leadership.

“You’re challenging conventional wisdom,” he said. “You are confronting the corporate order. . . Labor with environmentalists. Rural folks with inner-city urban people. Small business with citizen groups. . . . As Jesse Jackson used to say, ‘We may not have all come over on the same boat, but we’re in the same boat now.’ That is a powerful political reality. People know our national leaders, corporate as well as political, have lost their way.

“You are the ones who will carry this forward to fruition. You are offering what Americans want – the chance to move forward together, uniting our energy needs with our middle class hopes and our demand for environmental stewardship.”

Following the speeches, the crowd of about 250 gathered in the parking lot of the St. Paul College to form the outline of a wind turbine.

For more information
Read the Green Jobs report and learn more at www.bluegreenalliance.org