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“Green Collar Jobs” Featured Topic at Summit’s Opening Session

By Debra DeHaney-Howard
November 19, 2007

Conference President Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer led the opening plenary session on “green collar” jobs, emphasizing that “mayors see how the greening of our cities and nation can provide new pathways out of poverty for so many disadvantaged Americans.”

“Green jobs show the public that climate protection is about growing the economy, while greening America, and these are jobs that can’t be outsourced,” Palmer said. “Through our work on climate protection, we have an opportunity to not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but to also create a new workforce — a green-collar, domestic workforce — where green jobs remain in our communities,” he added.

Palmer’s message linking green jobs and economic opportunity was echoed by other speakers throughout the session, which included Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Apollo Alliance President Jerome Ringo and Van Jones, President of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Speaking to new energy technology, Palmer said that “sustained investments in new energy technology lead to improvements in buildings, appliances and fixtures that will require us to transition from a blue-collar environment to a green collar environment. You can’t outsource putting solar panels on a roof.”

Discussing Trenton’s Green Initiative, which is built around green collar jobs and careers, Palmer described his program as a public-private partnership that will take specific action steps for “not only making the City of Trenton a green and sustainable community, but also developing and achieving long-range climate protection goals that will ultimately reduce the city’s climate footprint.”

An important part of the Trenton Green Initiative, he explained, is the green collar careers program, which is designed to work with the private sector in developing these new jobs and training programs for Trenton residents. “Our focus on ‘green collar’ careers anticipates a green market sector, where the potential for jobs and business development becomes an important component of Trenton’s development strategy.”

“The nation must continue to work on ways to stop squandering our resources, to practice energy conservation, to use renewable fuels, and to develop green collar careers in America’s cities,” he added.

Ringo Sets Forth a Broader Vision

Ringo, who leads the Apollo Alliance, a diverse coalition of labor, business, environmental groups, and others, offered his vision on the challenges posed by global climate change and the unprecedented opportunity to create millions of good green collar jobs by confronting this challenge. Citing a recent report by his organization, Ringo said, “a public investment of $30 billion per year over ten years could generate three million good, new, clean energy jobs.”

He discussed the Apollo Alliance for Good Jobs and Clean Energy — a broader national consortium of unions, environmental organizations, businesses and social justice advocates — and its goal of creating three million new jobs to free the United States from foreign-oil dependence within 10 years. Ringo explained that such an effort could include retooling factories to create wind turbine technology, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans to retrofit energy-inefficient buildings and building a new generation of public transit systems.

“The American people know our dependence on foreign oil is dangerous. It’s time for our policymakers to make a true commitment to energy independence for the United States. The research and development of these new technologies will create good jobs at a time when traditional factories are closing down across the country,” he said.

Ringo, reinforced by other speakers throughout the Summit, urged the federal government to exercise greater leadership to take advantage of this opportunity. “The federal government must again lead the charge by making the investments that will create the tools for change. The work of saving the environment will be the work of business and the people who work for business, and that is an opportunity, not a danger. We can create new jobs, and they can be good jobs that provide the means to live and give working people of every stripe a real stake in change,” he said.

The Apollo Alliance has called for a national commitment equivalent to putting a man on the moon. “Our leaders need the vision, investment and political will to make energy independence a reality,” he said.

Oakland’s Green Jobs Corps

As a lifetime resident of Oakland (CA), Jones saw the potential Oakland had in becoming a model city for tying together a green economy with green collar jobs. “We need to connect people with the jobs that most need doing. There is an added bonus found in creating a strong, green collar workforce — these energy'saving, air-quality-improving, carbon-cutting jobs can do more than just save the planet or help avoid oil wars in the future,” Jones said.

“For tens of thousands of Americans who are falling behind in the global job market, these work opportunities can also create green pathways out of poverty,” he said.

Jones reminded the participants of the vast employment and economic opportunities that lie ahead if the nation fully commits to a greener economy. “We are going to have to put people to work in this country weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, and constructing wind farms…these green collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college. If you teach a kid to put up solar panels, he’s on course to be an electrician. That’s a green pathway out of poverty. It’s good for the environment and it’s good for a kid’s long-term career,” he said.

Discussing a key green job training program in his community, Jones said that the “Oakland Green Jobs Corps is the first step towards making Oakland a global green city that has our young people actively engaged in greening the economy, rebooting and retrofitting Oakland. When a country has to get off of its basic energy source — oil — and come up with something completely new, that is a huge opportunity. It’s not just an opportunity for people who are concerned about clean air and global warming; it is just a big opportunity for creating jobs.”

Green Job Corps is a partnership between labor unions, the community colleges and the City of Oakland. “Through the Green Jobs Corps program, the young adult community will not only get training for careers in green development but also gain life skills, literacy and vocational training. By uniting the environmental and urban youth movements it simultaneously benefits the climate and will help to propel Oakland residents out of poverty,” Jones said.

Dellums Seeks Green Future for Oakland

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums told the Summit participants that the City of Oakland is located near some of the “finest, most technologically innovative colleges and universities in the country” and because of this Oakland can be a model city for the green industry. “Greening Oakland is an investment of a lifetime, an investment in our children and in our city’s future, and making Oakland a sustainable green city is a priority, just like creating green collar jobs,” he said.

Dellums also reminded the audience that green collar jobs offer living wages and upward mobility for Oakland residents, pointing out that the city has committed financial resources to the Oakland Green Job Corps. “It is imperative to further explore public-private partnerships and federal funding to support initiatives that continue the important progress our city has made in recent years,” he said.

“This is a global issue that local leaders throughout the world need to address. We need to think globally and act locally. Oakland has been a strong leader in efforts to improve and sustain a livable community for our residents, and I am honored to represent our city, as mayors from all over the country sit down and determine ways we can continue this important work,” he said.

He also highlighted some of the green initiatives under way in Oakland, including the Oakland Green Job Corps; a zero-waste policy designed to cut the city’s waste disposal by 90 percent; and efforts to reduce emissions at the Port of Oakland.

“While the City of Oakland has made significant strides towards climate protection, we are also facing the tough issues of poverty, crime and education. We have to find ways to further green the city, while working to turn the tide of the undereducated and underemployed,” said Dellums. He added that “one solution includes merging these issues and bringing our entire community along in this green movement by better funding environmental workforce development and providing more opportunities for youth in this field.”

Barrett Touts Milwaukee’s Green Initiative

Stating that “greening” Milwaukee was one of his top priorities when he was first elected, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett emphasized that “there are opportunities to link our actions to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants while building a strong new green economy. There are many opportunities in the green sector for economic growth.”

“When I became Mayor, I brought together a broad coalition representing the housing industry, businesses, non-profit groups and others to work with me on developing recommendations for Milwaukee’s green energy plan. The recommendations that were considered, including Milwaukee’s home retrofitting program, are the results of the work by the eighty-member green team and serve as the cornerstone Milwaukee’s Green Initiative,” he said.

Barrett outlined a number of Milwaukee’s green initiatives, which include improving energy efficiency in city buildings and traffic lighting systems, improving the efficiency of the city vehicle fleet and providing new transportation options for city residents. He also created an Office of Environmental Sustainability to implement policies that improve and strengthen Milwaukee’s environmental health.

Barrett indicated that one of the major goals of Milwaukee’s green initiative is to retrofit a majority of Milwaukee’s building stock, stating, “This building initiative will meet many of the city’s environmental, social and economic goals, while at the same time improve energy efficiency in Milwaukee’s homes, with many that are over fifty years old.” Barrett explained that this initiative will “create jobs and job training programs for Milwaukee residents that extend beyond the residential retrofit program to other energy efficiency work.”