"Labor Network for Sustainability" Launches at AFSCME

Council 36 hosted nearly 75  activists from a cross section of Los Angeles unions on Saturday, at a first-of-its-kind Labor Network for Sustainability "convergence" designed to focus attention on climate change and what organized labor can - and should - do about it. 

Packing the hall were diverse unions representing nurses, telecommunications workers, oil refinery workers, plumbers and pipe fitters, and countless others.

It was an unprecedented event, with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor's Political Director Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi welcoming the crowd. He recalled personal stories of his childhood in a working class neighborhood of LA, "where every kid on the block had an inhaler, so I wanted one too," because of high rates of air pollution-causing asthma. 

Also among participants was actor Ed Begley, an envrionmentalist and member of the Screen Actors Guild, who spoke at a reception the evening before; SEIU International's Jon Barton, who directs the union's Climate and Environmental Justice division; Dave Campbell, Executive Director of the United Steel Workers in Carson, Ron Miller, President of the Building Trades, the local AFSCME Retiree Chapter's Executive Board; and envornmental justice leaders from Southeast LA-based organizations. 

The convergence launches a longer-term project to create a new environmentally conscious labor movement and above all, a pragmatic "just transition" for working people who are now gainfully employed in the fossil fuel industries, so that they are assured of retraining and good jobs as California transitions to carbon-free energy sources. The enthusiasm in the room was palpable, and virtually every hand went up when event organizers asked who would commit to meeting on a regular basis from now on.