Trumka: Fight Climate Change the Right Way

Originally posted on the AFL-CIO site.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the Global Climate Action Summit

Good morning and thank you to Governor (Jerry) Brown for inviting me here to say a few words on behalf of the 12.5 million working women and men who belong to the 55 unions of the AFL-CIO.

I am a coal miner by trade. That might seem unusual at a summit like this. But I learned something about science in the mine. When the boss told us to ignore the deadly hazards of the job…that sagging timber over our heads…that Black Lung cough…science told us the truth. And today, again, science tells us the truth: Climate change threatens our workers, our jobs and our economy.

That’s why the labor movement supports bold, comprehensive action to fight climate change.

That’s why we support continued progress on vehicle tailpipe standards, and why we passed a strong climate resolution at our last convention.

That’s why we continue to support the Paris Agreement.

Make no mistake, this is a tough issue for us. But, in the labor movement, we’re used to tough issues and hard choices. We’re prepared to do the right thing for our people and our planet. And we know that this fight can–and must–be about investing in a better, more inclusive, more just future…about creating good jobs and good lives for working families.  

So I would ask each of you: does your plan for fighting climate change ask more from sick, retired coal miners than it does from you and your family? If it does, then you need to think again.  

Climate strategies that leave coal miners’ pension funds bankrupt, power plant workers unemployed, construction workers making less than they do now…plans that devastate communities today, while offering vague promises about the future…they are more than unjust…they fundamentally undermine the power of the political coalition needed to address the climate crisis.

Our enemies use these plans to divide us. They point to them to feed a politics of division and fear that threatens our entire democracy.

I understand that many are frustrated with the pace of action on climate change. But simply demanding that plants, industries and projects be stopped or shut down, with no plan for the people who are put out of work…no call for shared sacrifice…and no dialogue or solidarity with those whose lives and communities are dependent on carbon-based fuels…that poisons the well politically and slows meaningful action on climate policy. It is not good enough to simply call for an end to carbon emissions—we have a responsibility to think thoughtfully and strategically about how to actually make that change.

As a labor movement, we are ready to move faster. What does that require? People like you sitting down with people like me to figure out how we fund the investments in technology, workers and communities that can build a sustainable economy of broadly shared prosperity.

California is showing us the way forward. Under Governor Brown’s leadership, unions, employers and government have come together to fight climate change and create good jobs by attaching labor standards to climate policies.

In the San Joaquin Valley alone, right in California oil country, there have been over 4,000 megawatts worth of new clean energy projects in the past two decades. Fifteen million job-hours of union work, at union wages and with union benefits, made that possible.  And new paid sick leave and workers’ compensation laws, combined with strong collective bargaining agreements helped keep our members healthy and safe in the process. That’s what it looks like when we partner to fight against climate change and for good jobs.

This is a remarkable time for collective action. Teachers from West Virginia to Arizona…workers in transportation, journalism, energy and more are coming together for a voice on the job. The popularity of unions recently hit a 15-year high. And we’re just getting started. We can bring this energy and momentum to the fight against climate change.

Let’s join together. Let’s get the job done. And let’s do it the right way. Thank you very much.

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