Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle

Source: By Sara Sorcher, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, March 15, 2019

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Green New Deal just got another opponent — and no, it’s not another Republican.

The national arm for labor unions is objecting to the ambitious new plan to combat climate change and could present a thorny problem for Democrats.

As my colleagues Colby Itkowitz, Dino Grandoni and Jeff Stein report, “support for the Green New Deal has become a benchmark for Democrats running for president. But the AFL-CIO throwing water on the plan complicates matters for Democrats who rely on labor support.

“Without the backing from unions or the business community, it will be a hard sell for Democrats to get it beyond grass-roots support.”

In a letter to the Green New Deal’s authors Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the group warned that the resolution could harm U.S. workers and “is not achievable or realistic.”

Members of the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee — Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — said they could not support a proposal that did not address their concerns.

“We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” they wrote, according to my colleagues.

“Their opposition highlights the new political fault lines forming over the controversial proposal that, as my colleagues note, “marries climate change and income inequality as one all-encompassing issue.”

As my colleagues note, the plan “calls for the federal government to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions with a ‘fair and just transition’ for all communities and workers, including by creating millions of high-wage jobs, health care and housing for all, a sustainable environment and enormous infrastructure investments.”

And “there has long been tension between the environmental and labor movements, two major parts of the broader Democratic coalition, over worries that rules meant to curb pollution can lead to job losses in regulated industries with high-quality, good-paying positions.”

Republicans seem to recognize they have an opening. “Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said Tuesday the Green New Deal risks alienating labor groups, giving Republicans an opportunity with voters who side with conservatives on issues such as gun control and abortion. Exit polling from the 2016 presidential election showed a sharp decline for Democrats in support among union households. ‘If Republicans play it smart and stop antagonizing labor, there’s a real opening for us,’ King said,” according to my colleagues.

And see this from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.):

 But Democrats are digging in their heels. Markey fired back on Twitter: “We will continue to work and partner w/ @AFLCIO, who is right to say that ‘doing nothing is not an option.’ But until Republicans say that climate change is real, caused by humans, and demands action now, the only people they are in agreement with are Big Oil and the Koch brothers.”

Some Democrats are acknowledging the concerns.

“Co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), acknowledged during a news conference Tuesday that labor groups have some worries with the Green New Deal.

‘Anything we move forward on, we have to be recognizing that people could lose jobs,’ Pocan said,” according to my colleagues.

One thing that’s clear: Labor wants to be consulted as the resolution proceeds.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters on Capitol Hill last week that labor was not consulted on the Green New Deal before it was released.

“Look, we need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly,” Trumka said, according to my colleagues. “But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: that by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”