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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Unions, activists discuss Green Policy at Climate Summit

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido.
Candis Tolliver, 32 BJ Political Director.


Union leaders and climate activists joined at a virtual summit sponsored by Climate Jobs NY to discuss and share policy ideas to build a clean energy economy while creating strong union jobs. More than 1,900 registered, while an additional 2,500 viewed the conference on Facebook Live.

The Sept. 22 conference, “Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit 2020,” brought together a disparate group of labor leaders, policymakers, scientists, along with environmental justice advocates and clean-energy developers.

The international summit discussed how climate change and inequality are linked, and how to take advantage of this unique moment during the coronavirus pandemic and the all-important 2020 election to develop opportunities for bold action and create new climate-friendly industries.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido was an integral part of the discussions, leading an important panel on Climate Change, Racial Justice, and Economic Justice.

The panelists included John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council in Ontario, Canada; Candis Tolliver, Political Director, 32BJ SEIU; and Larry Williams Jr., Labor and Coal Coordinator for the Economic Justice Program at the Sierra Club.

Garrido addressed the economic impact of the pandemic, particularly with public workers — possibly at risk of layoffs — in the forefront of developing environmentally-friendly structural changes spurred by the passage of Green New Deal initiatives by the New York City Council in 2019.

“Much of our work is in the Department of Design and Construction. Also, the School Construction Authority has done an environmental retrofitting of solar panels, including fitting schools with water retention systems, and the Parks Department is doing incredible work in stopping erosion of some of the shoreline in New York City,” Garrido said. “However, the consequences due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic has had an impact on their work.”

Larry Williams Jr., Labor and Coal Coordinator, Economic Justice Program at the Sierra Club.
John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council in Canada.

Cartwright linked the issues involving COVID-19 to the role of frontline workers during the pandemic. “In Canada, we talk about frontline people in healthcare, but we also talk about childcare workers,” he said. “Wealth creation is not just about private sector generating widgets or putting up buildings, it’s about our social capital and the wealth we create together for a more prosperous society. A number of people have said, ‘if you want to win this fight, it’s got to be bottom up.’”

Candis Tolliver of 32BJ SEIU spoke about the importance of how climate change and the environmental impact have deeply impacted communities of color.

“We cannot discuss climate change without bringing up inequality and the deeper consequences on Black and brown communities,” she said.

The Sierra Club’s Larry Williams Jr. talked about how environmental groups have become more inclusive, listening to the voices of people of color in addressing the vital need to bring minorities into positions of policy and leadership in their organizations.

“We are being heard in addressing the linkage between racial inequality and the impact climate change has on our communities,” Williams said.

At the end of the summit, Garrido presented the Build Back Better Award to several elected officials, union leaders, and climate activists for their leadership on building a sustainable future with good union jobs. Honored were U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (NY); Nella Pineda-Marcon, Registered Nurse and Board Member of the New York State Nurses Association; John Samuelson, Transit Workers Union President; and Gina McCarthy, President and CEO, National Resources Defense Council.

In his remarks, Garrido summed up the issues discussed at the conference. “We talked about the inextricable link between climate change and inequality, and the fact that we must take on both at the same time,” he said.

“The conference brought out three fundamental points: First, labor playing a leading role on climate means we can push with bold climate actions. Two, there is an opportunity to build new industries and create new union jobs; and three, a just transition from fossil fuel for workers and their communities requires having labor at the table, plain and simple,” Garrido said.