According to Maine labor unions, climate change is not only a problem for society but also presents opportunities to address inequality, strengthen the workforce, and so forth.
Unions including the Maine AFL-CIO, electrical workers and teachers will announce Tuesday that they are forming the Maine Labor Climate Council to ensure that union workers play a key role in the work of preparing the state for climate change – and staving off some of the more drastic impacts of a warming planet – while creating a more diverse workforce.
“We really feel that the labor movement has to have a role in this,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO.
The new council, which includes representatives from around 15 Maine unions will focus on the work necessary to address climate change and adapt to a warming planet.
For instance, a report prepared by the Worker Institute at Cornell University says Maine will need at least 25,000 electric vehicle charging stations for the state to meet its goal of 219,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030 – including an all-electric fleet of state vehicles.
According to the report, installing and maintaining these charging stations will create dozens more jobs. It recommends that the state establish labor agreements that guarantee those jobs are unionized, and give an advantage to Maine-based companies who manufacture and service charging station.
The report stated that the creation of new industries could also help address the state’s employment inequality by ensuring that companies hire a diverse workforce.
The report examined the economic sectors most susceptible to climate change and mitigation efforts. It also looked at the impact of federal infrastructure spending on job creation, forecasts for job creation, and the status of state legislation regarding a variety topics, such as income inequality and offshore power generation.
There are many ways to reduce carbon emissions or at least limit global warming. These include switching to electric school buses and public buses, as well as bringing high-speed rail to Maine. Also, new construction must be more efficient and less costly.
The report stated that if all of the recommendations were implemented, it could create 200,000 jobs in the state over two decades. However, the authors acknowledge that they set ambitious goals. These include a significant increase of renewable energy development, building thousands of energy-efficient affordable housing units, and retrofitting existing homes to use fewer energy.
Schlobohm indicated that the AFL-CIO backs a bill currently before Congress that would help establish and sustain apprenticeship programs in order to increase the pool of workers and set prevailing wage levels to ensure new jobs pay well.
The involvement of the teachers’ union, he said, would help efforts to create healthy and safe schools that draw on solar energy, which would save money and create good jobs.
Schlobohm stated that unions believe that support at the federal level will help them in Maine because President Biden is a pro-union president who supports efforts to address climate changes.
Andy O’Brien, communications manager of the Maine AFL-CIO, said the effort can help create a stronger economy and reverse the trend of a shrinking middle class.
“We built a pretty strong middle class going back to the ’50s and ’60s when we built up our manufacturing base,” O’Brien said. “This is kind of rebuilding that strong workforce making family-sustaining wages.”
Schlobohm said the council will work with legislators and policy makers to ensure that labor’s voice is heard in the transition to clean energy jobs.