UAW considers potential of ‘green’ manufacturing at Ranger plant

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As rumors swirl surrounding Ford’s intentions for the Ranger plant in Highland Park, members of UAW Local 879 are continuing work to ensure that the property remains sustainable — both economically and environmentally — long after the American auto maker moves out.

And that doesn’t mean erection of high-end condominiums.

Rather, making the Ranger plant sustainable could mean transforming it into a manufacturer of environment-friendly products, like wind turbines or mass-transit vehicles. Or it could mean using the energy of the nearby Mississippi River to fuel the plant’s operations.

At this point, Local 879 member Lynn Hinkle says, sustainability could mean any number of different things. That’s what makes it such a promising prospect for union members.

“We’re continuing to pursue ‘green’ manufacturing,” Hinkle told delegates to the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly at its Sept. 13 meeting. The proposal was also the subject of a Labor Speakers Club program Monday night.

“We’re doing a feasibility study on manufacturing ‘green’ products at the Ford plant. We’re saying, ‘Let’s go out and get a relationship with a truly responsible corporate partner.’”

Local 879 also is working to reenergize the labor movement’s coalition with environmental groups – the so-called “blue-green alliance.”

“Labor is not being vocal enough in the effort to improve the environment,” Hinkle said. “You can’t have a sustainable environment without sustainable living conditions. In order to have one, you must have the other.”

Hinkle spoke to the Assembly on the same night delegates voted to endorse his local’s work to plan the Minnesota Labor and Sustainability Conference, which it will host in St. Paul on Jan. 19 and 20 of next year. Hinkle said he hopes the conference, open to all workers, unionists and small farmers, will strengthen bonds between labor and environmental activists.

“I’m real excited about the reception we’ve gotten for the conference,” he said. “People in the labor movement and environmental movement seem really thirsty and really anxious for this type of coalition to reemerge in the state and link up with what’s going on elsewhere in the country.”

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