May 11, 2015
I’ve been a union member for over 25 years. I believe that continued investment in the renewable energy economy would make Oregon a national leader, adding new jobs that can’t be outsourced. Good, family-supporting jobs with benefits that would create prosperity now and for future generations.
As the Secretary-Treasurer for the Oregon AFL-CIO, I oversee our workforce training and green jobs/climate change issues, so I am deeply involved in the intersection between labor and clean energy jobs. We want to see the clean energy sector grow for the benefit of our members, and our state as whole.
Unions on the west coast have an interest in being part of the solution to the climate crisis – that’s evident in the work that’s being done in California, Washington and British Columbia, as well as Oregon. We want to be able eventually to look back and know we helped solve this problem. We actively collaborate with environmental and social justice organizations to push for clean energy initiatives that create jobs. We’re present when policies are developed and give input as to how these policies can be shaped with workers in mind, protecting existing family wage jobs while creating new job opportunities. And as we focus on creating a clean economy and investing in renewable energy, we highlight the need to retool and retrain our workforce for future opportunities.
Many people assume that clean energy jobs are only in construction, but the possibilities for clean energy job development are huge. Just think about how many good jobs we could create if we required the equipment and materials used to retrofit houses and build light rail, for example, to come from domestic manufacturers. Retrofitting buildings creates construction jobs. Training people to do this work creates education jobs. Staffing up regulatory agencies to support and monitor project development creates jobs. Even when we do outreach on a regional, state and local level to help communities understand new policies, we are creating jobs.
Union jobs enable workers to hold their heads high, be respected, and take advantage of health benefits and an adequate retirement plan. When workers are paid fair wages they feel more loyal to their employer; they work smarter and harder. We want the next wave of union jobs to be jobs that help build the clean energy economy.
We know climate change is real, and we believe that while it presents a significant threat to our way of life, it also presents a major economic opportunity. By focusing on developing an economy that provides good jobs, while providing a clean energy future, we can invest both in solving the climate crisis and creating a prosperous Oregon that can show other states the way.
Barbara Byrd is Secretary-Treasurer for the Oregon AFL-CIO