By Rick Bloomingdale and Frank Snyder
As an election more important than any other approaches, Pennsylvania is faced not just with questions about who we will elect, but what we stand for. Labor unions have been front and center of our national conversation on jobs and energy. But when it comes to energy and our environment, labor unions have too often been misunderstood and mischaracterized.
Pennsylvania has the most diverse energy production portfolio in the country, and we are the only energy exporter in our region.
We have renewables and coal, nuclear, and natural gas. Across the state, tens of thousands of workers are directly employed in the energy sector. The jobs and large projects that come from our energy resources and infrastructure have revitalized communities that have spent decades struggling to recover from deindustrialization and the outsourcing of jobs.
In an Aug. 18 Capital-Star op-Ed, state Rep, Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, criticized the labor movement’s positions on energy policy, and specifically our support of a recently enacted petrochemical tax credit bill.
Furthermore, he criticized the bill’s bipartisan nature. The fact that a piece of legislation passed the state House and Senate, with protections for workers and prevailing wages, with significant support on both sides of the aisle, is a notable achievement. It’s rare — especially in Harrisburg.
If we are to make the changes we need, then we need more collaboration and bipartisanship, not politicians driving the conversation away from taking action. The litmus test for progress cannot be ideological purity.
Environmental sustainability cannot be economically unsustainable. To combat and reverse climate change, we need to evolve how we produce energy, expand efficiency for usage and conservation, and clean up our atmosphere through carbon capture and sequestration. There is no single solution.
It is a false choice to believe that energy policy in Pennsylvania is an “either/or” proposition. We need real dialogue that understands energy jobs and environmental concerns are not mutually exclusive.
We need solutions to curb and reverse climate change, modernize our infrastructure, and set our course for the 21st century. We need good union jobs that pay well with benefits and treat workers with dignity. As of today, too many jobs don’t pay well, don’t have security or benefits, and don’t recognize the dignity of working people.
Labor unions are democratic representatives of workers not just in the workplace, but in the broader economy. We know that the world faces extraordinary challenges from climate change and the multiple crises in public health, the economy, and systemic racism.
The way we meet this moment and transition our economy in response to climate change is a critical test of our ability to come together and marshal all of our best ideas about the future. Too often, politicians and policymakers are keen to reference “just transitions” for workers, while workers themselves are excluded from the conversation.
Unions have always fought for workers’ seat at the table and a say in their labor and working conditions. If there is one thing the labor movement knows best, it is the vital importance of economic justice, and there is no justice in pitting one group of workers against another.
We have a voice. We have questions, concerns, and more than a century of broken promises made to workers. We will build the future of green, but we want a say in how we get there.
We want to reduce carbon in our atmosphere and protect clean water and air. We want to preserve today’s jobs and bring the jobs of the future. We want an energy supply and grid that is efficient and secure from foreign interest. We want affordable utilities for consumers. We want good jobs that support families, lift people out of poverty, and bring hope to communities.
There are a lot of things that we can do right now to begin moving our economy toward an environmentally and economically sustainable future.
Division is not the solution. Painting unions and workers as the barriers to progress is not the solution to advancing environmental protections. Working together, we can have a significant positive impact on the lives, livelihoods, and landscapes across our Commonwealth and country. It starts with dialogue and an election.
Rick Bloomingdale is president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. Frank Snyder is the secretary-treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. They write from Philadelphia.