Imagine labor, business and government representatives all working together towards a common goal — to develop a sustainable, clean energy economy that will create quality green jobs while simultaneously alleviating our dependence of fossil fuels. If this sounds unlikely to you, then you’ve obviously never been to our ‘Building Workforce Partnerships’ conference.
This year’s conference, held in San Diego, was bigger and more diverse than ever before, with more than 400 participants from across the country and across the workforce spectrum – union leaders and management, conservationists and workforce development professionals, government officials and regular working folks.
To kick off the conference, Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect and author of the new book A Presidency in Peril joined Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute in a comprehensive discussion of all of the factors that have contributed to the Great Recession, what’s being done to get us out, and what still needs to happen before we can achieve sustainable economic recovery. Click here for more highlights from the morning session.
During lunch, Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes, Tom Croft, author of Up From Wall Street, and Michael Peck of Gamesa (a wind energy company) spoke about their experiences working together to build good, green jobs in Massachusetts. Peck shared how Gamesa (the only wind power facility in America with a volunteer collective bargaining agreement) has benefitted from having a unionized workforce.
At Gamesa, we have a “round table” relationship with the Steelworkers – there are no two sides to the table, and all ideas are treated equally. The union has really opened doors for us. They’ve helped us come up with new ways to improve quality, ensure safety, and hold on to staff during the recession.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor Sandi Vito, Michigan Chief Workforce Officer Andy Levin and Bruce Herman of the New York State Department of Labor lead an in-depth conversation on Workforce Investment Act training programs, and offered insights and best practices for workforce training during tough economic times.
The Workforce Investment Act was designed to address regional labor market demands, but in practice, it didn’t always do that. So Pennsylvania has created industry partnerships where business leaders, workers and those on the supply chain come together to define current and future workforce needs.
That evening during dinner, Boston College Professor Lisa Dodson shared stories from her new book, The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy, which looks a variety of examples of what every day people are doing to combat the economic injustices they witness against the working poor.
Too many are working hard and living poor because of low wages, and the government isn’t doing enough to help them. But every day, modern-day Robin Hoods are performing acts of 'economic disobedience', doing what they can to help the working poor get by and care for their families.
Yesterday, the morning roundtable discussion focused on developing regional strategies to create green jobs in clean energy development, retrofitting and energy efficiency. The diverse panel included Kate Gordon of the Center for American Progress, Northeastern University law professor and author Joan Fitzgerald, Amy Hanauer of Policy Matters Ohio and Joel Yudken of High Road Strategies, LLC. Each of the panelists had a unique perspective, but they all underscored the need for federal action to implement regional strategies.
In just about every industry in green economy- wind, solar, etc – we are lagging far behind other countries. We’re trying to play catch-up – the stimulus package and energy policy mean we’re investing in green jobs more than before, but it’s not enough. The only way green jobs are going to happen is with really strong policies on both the state and national levels.
The lunch program kicked off with a special appearance by Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates, who talked about what the Labor Department is doing to help people get trained, find jobs and make sure those jobs are good and safe high road careers. She also shared her hopes for the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.
I hope and believe that the new Workforce Investment Act will include a better link between workforce development and economic development. It’s incredibly important to have equal parts of both – otherwise, you wind up training people for jobs that are short-term, or nonexistent.
The conference concluded with a round table discussion on building a high road jobs recovery centered around green jobs, featuring Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins of Green For All, and Laura N. Chick, the inspector general of the state of California.
Green jobs do not always mean good jobs. Just calling it a ‘green job’ doesn’t automatically make it a quality, high-road career. Working folks deserve a new kind of opportunity, the kind where they don’t have to choose between their job, their health, their family or the environment. That’s the promise of green jobs.