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Labor-environment alliance still strong, getting major wins

President’s Column from the WSLC 2019 Legislative Report

On a beautiful, sunny afternoon in May, I stood behind Governor Jay Inslee as he signed some landmark climate and clean energy policies into law. I was proud to do so, alongside other representatives a labor and a diverse coalition of environmental and community organizations.

These new laws will not only kick-start a groundbreaking new phase in the campaign to address the climate crisis, decrease pollution and improve public health, they will promote family-wage jobs in Washington state.

The unions that comprise the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO understand that we urgently need cleaner air, water and energy. But we also understand that just as we need a healthier environment to sustain our planet, we need good jobs to sustain our families. We don’t have to choose one or the other, we can — and must — have both.

As we innovate and make progress toward achieving these shared goals with our environmental and community partners, we will continue to insist that this critical work also creates high-quality jobs.

And we will occasionally disagree. For example, the day after Gov. Inslee signed the package of climate bills, he announced that he was withdrawing his previous support for the Tacoma liquefied natural gas (LNG) and Kalama methanol projects. These two industrial projects are intended to reduce global greenhouse gases by replacing two far more dangerous and polluting sources of marine fuel and methanol. But the governor and some in the environmental community oppose all fossil fuels, even when there are no alternative renewable options to those projects.

Currently, ships delivering cargo to and from Puget Sound ports use harmful diesel-like bunker fuel. The WSLC believes this must end. Last year, delegates representing unions from across the state approved Resolution #16 affirming the WSLC’s “strong support for the utilization of LNG in the maritime industry as part of a just transition strategy.” They understand that the use of LNG over bunker fuel will reduce greenhouse emissions by more than 30 percent and particulate matter by more than 90 percent.

Also last year, WSLC delegates voted not to endorse Initiative 1631, a ballot measure proposing to charge some $1.3 billion in carbon pollution fees and investing that money in clean-energy infrastructure and a just transition for workers in fossil-fuel industries. Our vote to make no recommendation on I-1631—which voters rejected last fall—was a disappointment to some, inside and outside the labor movement.

But this disagreement has not affected the WSLC’s continued commitment to working with our environmental and community allies. Likewise, our support of the Tacoma and Kalama projects does not mean we have abandoned these partnerships.

For several years now, our state has debated solutions to the climate crisis. Legislators have written dozens of comprehensive climate bills and two statewide initiatives have gone to the ballot. Not all of these critically important efforts were the right answer or came at the right time. But each one has paved the path to the historic wins achieved in 2019.

Our work is not done.

The WSLC — and I, personally — remain committed to working with our partners to address the climate crisis and strengthen our economy.

Larry Brown is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. 



The WSLC 2019 Legislative Report includes many more articles on rest breaks for nurses and frontline caregivers, post-Janus collective bargaining laws, the state’s biennial budget, non-competition contracts, protecting immigrant workers, the new long-term care public benefit, building trades issues, and much more. Download the full 10-page PDF to read them all, or request the printed edition or call 206-281-8901 to order multiple copies.

The WSLC is the largest union organization in Washington state, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and councils with approximately 550,000 rank-and-file members. For more information, visit


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