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This Labor Day, unions are leading on climate action


(Sept. 4, 2023) — From rising temperatures to worsening wildfires across the state, the climate crisis is having a direct impact on Washington’s communities. While it is impacting all of us, it is especially hard on communities of color and rural areas. At the same time, economic inequality is making it harder for working families in those communities to make ends meet.

That’s why a wide group of labor unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers across Washington have formed the Climate Jobs Washington coalition to advance a plan to build a strong clean energy economy that prioritizes the needs of workers and their families. As we celebrate Labor Day, our state’s labor movement is confident that we can tackle both climate breakdown and inequality.

The clean energy economy presents a unique opportunity to create good-paying union jobs and strengthen labor and equity standards for all workers across our state. In order to tackle climate chaos and inequality, we need to build on our momentum and expand access to union climate careers for women, communities of color and rural communities.

Our state is known for its natural beauty and resources. We are also seen as a leader in clean energy initiatives. But we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to protecting our climate, and we know we can make more progress if workers’ voices are at the table. If Washington’s leaders are serious about creating a clean energy economy that works for everyone, then they need to prioritize the people who are building it.

Working with researchers from the Climate Jobs Institute at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, our coalition has released the report, “Climate Jobs Roadmap for Washington: A Worker-Centered Approach to a Clean Energy Future.” This report outlines 20 key recommendations, including making Washington state a premier solar and wind refurbishing and recycling hub for the west, positioning our state as a national leader in sustainable aviation fuel production, making Washington’s public schools and buildings carbon-free and healthy by 2030, committing to 100% electric school buses and EV public infrastructure buildout by 2030, and reaching 100% in-state net-zero energy by 2045.

The report also highlights how we can make climate investments to maximize high-quality manufacturing jobs by ensuring strong labor standards.

New federal incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act are already delivering a serious boost to all types of clean energy, from solar and wind energy to green hydrogen. Many of these incentives are tied directly to strong labor standards that will make sure the workers on those projects are paid fairly and benefit from high-quality apprenticeship programs.

Unions are ready to step up and get the job done right. That’s why hundreds of delegates representing unions across the state voted to approve a resolution last month supporting good union jobs in clean energy at the 2023 Convention of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Our apprenticeship and training programs ensure quality work from a skilled and experienced workforce. Workers in Washington deserve respect and dignity. That means family-supporting wages and benefits, retirement security and safety measures.

On Labor Day, as we celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers, let’s commit to our future achievements. We can build a new clean energy economy with strong labor standards that create more local jobs and strengthen our local economies, while at the same time, we are ensuring we are doing our part to protect clean air and water for future generations.


April Sims, a Tacoma native, is president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Mark Riker is executive secretary of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council. Jon Holden is president of the International Association of Machinists District Council 751. This opinion column first appeared in The (Tacoma) News Tribune and is posted here with the authors’ permission.

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