Inclusivity is key to achieving climate justice

Two local labor leaders reflect on Labor Network for Sustainability convergence


Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, with activists from Central Florida Jobs with Justice Denise Diaz, Chris Furino, and Carlos Torrealba at this year’s Convergence.

CHICAGO (July 22, 2019) — Earlier this month, local farmworker organizer Edgar Franks and academic worker Judy Twedt joined more than 250 other union leaders and activists for the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) two-day convergence in Chicago. The focus this year: labor’s role in the Green New Deal. Workers came from all across the country and from diverse trades and professions, creating a fertile space for conversations about strategies to build a resilient, equitable, clean energy future —  conversations that are absolutely critical if we are going to tackle the climate crisis inclusively, together.

Here are their reflections.


The Green New Deal presents a framework for us to work with to improve the health of Mother Earth and also to restructure our economy so that we are no longer dependent on fossil fuel extraction for our energy and the corporations that dictate our lives.

As worker unions and organizations we must also be thinking about the role we will play in the Green New Deal. Will we stand by and let corporate executives and politicians write the new rules or will we propose a bold new vision that centers frontline communities and workers? With the recent attacks on unions, and with Trump dividing labor unions, it is clear that now is not a time to be on the defensive. In the tradition of Tony Mazzocchi, we must reclaim and define what a Just Transition means to workers.

The reflections I take from the Labor Network for Sustainability is that we have a long way to go to reach a unified vision. Unions must get involved in community matters where our friends and families live. We must be present and in solidarity with communities that are under attack by police violence and ICE detentions and deportations. We need to give space to Indigenous people, black and people of color, and LGBTQ folks. This will make the worker movement stronger and more representative of our changing world.

A Green New Deal challenge is to think beyond just contracts and workplace rights. We must change the systems that are in place that has kept capitalism intact and put us at this moment of ecological and economic crisis.

LNS is a critical space for us to have many us these conversations and layout a strategy for workers and community.


As a union climate scientist, it’s my job to look at hard data from satellites, weather stations, ice cores and computer models. It tells us, without doubt, that we are exiting the stable climate in which we have evolved over thousands of years, and entering a hot new climate with more deadly heat waves, droughts, floods, ocean acidification, wildfires, and infectious diseases. It is truly a crisis of planetary proportion. And the fossil fuel companies responsible for this crisis are not backing down in their attempt to pit us against one another to hoard their profits.

But the climate crisis is not unstoppable, and as the problem grows and becomes more urgent, so is the level of collective action, and especially the number of courageous and determined youth leaders like Greta Thunberg and Seattle-based Jamie Margolin, speaking up and organizing for their generation. I was honored to represent my union and meet with workers and organizers from across the country to build a vision for a more just and equitable clean energy future.

The convergence opened with Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA; Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America; and Maria Castaneda, Secretary Treasurer of 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East, each sharing stories of their unique ways in which they are affected by the climate crisis. Mine workers fear for their jobs, pensions, and communities as more coal companies declare bankruptcy and leave workers in the dust. Flight attendants lose work due to the increase in clear air turbulence and extreme weather. Health care workers see the debilitating impacts of extreme heat, air pollution and environmental contamination in the lives of their families, communities, and patients every day.

And the convergence ended with the People of Color Caucus formally calling on our movement, and the Labor Network for Sustainability, to elevate the voices of young leaders, LGBTQ+, people of color and women, and to explicitly recognize the role of racism and corporate corruption in the climate crisis. And they are absolutely right. We need a movement strong enough to overcome assaults from the most powerful corporations on earth, a cross-sector movement that resists division and uplifts one another. And for that, we need to practice feminist, anti-racist organizing so that we are inclusive from the ground up, so that we build the climate justice movement in right relationship with one another.

Edgar Franks is an organizer for Familias Unidas por la Justicia.

Judy Twedt is an academic worker, board member of UAW 4121, and founding member of the MLK Labor Climate Caucus.

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