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We Need Jobs and the Environment

By Bob Shimabukuro, PSARA Eexcutive Board member and Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate 

We need to find jobs, we need to find ways in which low-income families and communities of color can participate in the soon to be “smart (meaning computer controlled and dependent) economy,” and we need to do it soon. This appears to be the immediate response to PSARA’s “Jobs & the Environment, NOT Jobs vs. the Environment” Forum held July 16 at the Central Area Senior Center.

Panelists at the forum included Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council; Kathleen Ridihalgh, Northwest Regional Director of Sierra Club; Michael Woo, Executive Director of Got Green; and Barbara Hins-Turner, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy

The forum provided a venue for PSARA members and their respective communities to discuss the issues which will guide our international economies during the next century: jobs and the environment, especially global warming/climate change.

Panelists Jeff Johnson, Kathleen Ridihalgh, and Barbara Hins-Turner discussed their roles in bringing together the Labor, Environmentalist, Business, Government and Education/Job Training interests so that everyone’s input is at the table in discussions around the new technology, global warming and possible new fields of employment that might open up.

Michael Woo spoke to a different but closely related issue;: namely, who’s not at the table. Woo pointed out what should be familiar to all: Those who are ignored and left behind now, are those who will be ignored and left behind even more in the new smart economies. The only way to change that is to mobilize people, which is what Got Green is doing.

The City of Seattle’s contracts currently have no provisions to employ or train local residents on public works jobs. Got Green is working to change that. Hiring out-of-work community members makes sense. People don’t have to travel very far, hence a smaller carbon footprint. It also means that some of the City’s funds go directly back into the community.

In April, Mayor McGinn agreed to support local hiring, Shortly after that he agreed to have community negotiators at the table, with building trades union leaders and minority contractors, to negotiate over jobs on the Elliott Bay Seawall.

These short-lived victories turned sour when the city dictated the size and composition of the community seats, and a gag order on discussing content of the negotiations.

Said Woo,

Our take-away from the Seawall negotiations was that our community is strongest when we can have the debate about jobs out in the open, in a public arena, not behind closed doors. From that point forward Got Green held fast to the notion that a city-wide ordinance for Targeted Local Hire was the way to go.” 

(For more information, see story of Targeted Local Hire from the “Got Green’s Annual Organizing Report 2012: the Year of Emerging Leaders” handed out at the forum.)

PSARA members apparently felt the same way. In the small group discussions that followed the panel presentation, PSARA members expressed that supporting Got Green was important. They also welcomed the coalition building of labor and environmental groups by Ridihalgh and Johnson. Questions posed to Hins-Turner indicated that many members were not aware of the job training program partnering corporations, utility companies, universities, community colleges, organized labor, government.

Members also expressed a sense of urgency about these issues, given the recent global warming/climate change news.

(A report from the Environmental Committee will be in the September issue of the Retiree Advocate)

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