On a recent Zoom meeting with Napa Climate Now! about the future of energy and housing, it dawned on me that everyone on the screen was a new face. It was refreshing after a year of online calls with familiar folks, and even better because it meant there were all these people doing great things in Napa who were strangers to me. As the head of the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council, I was honored to be invited to join a group that typically runs on a separate track.
As we face new challenges with public health, housing, climate change and natural disasters, it is critical to include all sectors of our community. While construction workers aren’t the first people you think of with social justice, our core values of equal pay and rights are something all workers share.
Environmentalists can be seen as opponents to projects where our men and women work, but, in fact, we have similar values when it comes to working people. We all breathe the same air, live in the same neighborhoods, and contribute to raising the next generation.
Those shared realities inspired the Alameda and Contra Costa Labor Councils’ conference in July. This “Labor and Climate Convergence” brought together a mix of environmentalists and labor members to talk about issues we all face and combine our efforts to find solutions. Guest speakers and front-line workers shared their experiences in successful partnerships and talked about opportunities to team up in the future.
We hope this will be the first in series of discussions — eventually to include local elected officials and other regions. Napa is one of the Bay Area’s northern counties, but we live under the decisions of many Bay Area-wide agencies regarding transportation, housing, and climate change. From the Air Quality Management District to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Napa is more connected to the larger Bay Area than it may seem.
The conference’s timing was perfect, according to Carol Zabin Ph.D., a labor economist who directs UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Green Economy Program. Dr. Zabin spoke about the current leadership of Gavin Newsom as governor, and Joe Biden as president, and the opportunity to advance climate solutions during their terms. This means labor, as well as environmental preservation. All will have a seat at the table to confront the critical issues we share.
“It’s a deep and broad government intervention in the economy. That’s the only way it’s going to happen,” Zabin said. “Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”
Preserving a Future
The Labor and Climate Convergence conference emphasized the need to preserve good-paying jobs in industries as they change to become more environmentally friendly. As refineries change to alternative fuels, there must be a “just transition.”
When employers are selected to receive tax breaks or are considered for incentive programs, their history of treating workers and their business ethics should be considered.
JB Tengco, Vice President of State Affairs with the Blue Green Alliance (www.bluegreenalliance.org) highlighted the work of its group. Made up of groups like the Sierra Club, the BGA includes large unions too. In the AB5/Prop 22 ballot fights over job misclassification, for example, Mr. Tengco described getting enviros to back workers’ rights as an “easy sell.”
“We can put as many policies and goals that we want about cleaner cars on the road and trucks on the road, but unless we fundamentally address the business model of companies that misclassify workers, we won’t hit those goals.”
The Napa Working Families Coalition meets monthly to discuss these issues as they affect us locally. The group includes Progressive Women of Napa, housing advocates, representatives of state elected officials, labor groups, and business owners.
For five years, we have teamed up on critical issues: slowing down the Civic Center timeline to address housing and labor issues, promoting workers’ rights at a hearing on Project Labor Agreements before the Napa City Council, and reviewing the General Plan in Napa which will craft the city’s future.
Often, we are on opposite sides of a project or an election, but we look for core values and work to assure that city projects and general plans reflect them. In fact, the invitation to write this column is a tremendous step in bridging the gap between us. I look forward to future discussions with folks who will look more familiar the next time we are on a Zoom call.
Actions you can take to help
• Watch the entire conference: Contra Costa Central Labor Council’s YouTube page at youtu.be/fBI7m0zdQNk.
• Join the Napa Working Families Coalition via Zoom every second Wednesday at 10 a.m. Please contact Shirley Herbert with the Napa-Solano CLC at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
• Learn more about the Napa General Plan at www.cityofnapa.org/259/General-Plan
• Contribute your ideas for Plan Bay Area 2050: Plan Bay Area 2050 | Plan Bay Area
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Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Like, comment, and share our daily Facebook and Instagram posts @napaclimatenow ! or visit us at http://napa.350bayarea.org