As the economy creates for climate-friendly jobs, advocates are calling for worker safety to be a priority.

As the economy creates more climate-friendly jobs, advocates are calling for worker health and safety to become a bigger priority.

As our nation moves toward greener power sources like solar and wind, “no worker or community should be roadkill on the path to a better future.”

Those are word from Joseph Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, who spoke during a Tuesday Annual Meeting session on “Green jobs and dirty work: Climate change strategies for workers.” Uehlein gave examples of how labor unions are working with public and private enterprise to preserve communities and transition workers after coal-fired and nuclear power plants shut down.

“And traditional unions aren’t the only ones,” Uehlein said. “Some workers don’t fit into the collective bargaining model. We see worker centers popping up around the country as another labor movement that’s generating innovative solutions.”

Moderated by Bob Perkowitz of EcoAmerica, the session also featured Anna Fendley of United Steelworkers and Charlotte Brody, a registered nurse with the BlueGreen Alliance.

“We have to address the economic impacts of climate change on workers,” said Fendley. “The United Steelworkers union first recognized that climate change is the defining environmental crisis of our time back in 1990. In 2005, we joined with the Sierra Club to found the BlueGreen Alliance to ensure that we’re creating jobs in the green economy that are good for the environment and good for workers. Unions have a role to play.”

According to Fendley: “Industrial workers understand that climate change is real, that we are moving toward a cleaner energy generation. We just need to help them make a just transition from here to there. And make the jobs they get safe for them to do.”

The United Nations defines green jobs as those that contribute to preserving or restoring environmental quality, while also meeting longstanding demands and goals of the labor movement, such as adequate wages, safe working conditions and workers’ rights. But as the panelists noted, “green” jobs are not always “clean” jobs. There’s still work to be done to hold green energy companies responsible for the safety of their workers. Already, nearly 1 million Americans are working near- or full-time in the energy efficiency, solar, wind and alternative vehicles sectors. This is almost five times the current employment in the fossil fuel electric industry, which includes coal, gas and oil workers.

“Clean energy jobs can be safer than fossil fuel jobs, but that has to be negotiated the way it has by unions and companies in the fossil fuel industry for 50 years,” said Brody, who offered multiple examples of green jobs in which worker safety is an afterthought. “We can do better.”

All of the panelists discussed the AFL-CIO’s recent and historic passage of its first-ever resolution on climate change, which was spurred by the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

“Unions have participated in climate talks with the UN for decades. But this resolution opens the space to really talk about climate change,” Uehlein told attendees. “This is official policy that allows us to push the U.S. to honor its commitments, to encourage industry to work for the environment and to create safe, well-paying jobs so American workers aren’t left behind in the new economy.”