Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

Workers Want a Green Economy, Not a Dirty Environment

Monday, June 5th, 2017

To justify withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, President Trump said during his press conference yesterday, “I was elected to represent the city of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” From terrible experience, Pittsburghers know about pollution.

Before Pittsburgh’s renaissance, the streetlights Downtown frequently glowed at noon to illuminate sidewalks through the darkness of smoke and soot belched from mills. White collar office workers changed grimy shirts midday. To the west 130 miles, the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned – several times.

Pollution sickened and killed. It triggered asthma and aggravated emphysema. In Donora, just south of Pittsburgh, an air inversion in 1948 trapped smog in the Monongahela River valley.  Poisonous steel mill and zinc plant emissions mixed with fog and formed a yellow earth-bound cloud so dense that driving was impossible. Within days, 20 people were dead. Within a month, another 50 of the town’s 14,000 residents succumbed.

Some viewed pollution as a blessing, a harbinger of jobs. Air that tasted of sulfur signified paychecks. For most, though, pollution was a curse. It meant scrubbing the grime off stoops daily. It meant children wheezing and gasping for air. It meant early death.

The preventable deaths are why my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), has fought against pollution for decades, long before scientists conclusively linked it to global climate change. That connection made combatting pollution even more urgent. It crystalized our obligation to save the planet for posterity. Signing the Paris Climate Accord last year committed the United States to preserving what we all share, the water and the air, for our children and their children. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement moves the United States, and the world, back in time to rivers so toxic they burn and air so noxious it poisons. Trump’s retreat makes America deadly again.

Don’t get me wrong. The USW supports job creation. But the union believes clean air pays; clear water provides work. Engineers design smokestack scrubbers, skilled mechanics construct them and still other workers install them. Additional workers install insulation and solar panels. Untold thousands labor to make the steel and other parts for wind turbine blades, towers and nacelles, fabricate the structures and erect them. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord diminishes these jobs and dispatches the innovators and manufacturers of clean technologies overseas where countries that continue to participate in the climate change agreement will nurture and grow them.

Eleven years ago, the USW joined with the Sierra Club to form the BlueGreen Alliance because USW members believe Americans deserve both a clean environment and good jobs. The USW believes Americans must have both. Or, in the end, they will have neither.

The Alliance, which now includes more than a dozen unions and environmental groups, has collaborated with industry leaders to find solutions to climate change in ways that create high -quality jobs.

It’s an easy sell to many corporate leaders. Shortly after the election last fall, hundreds of companies and investors, including the likes of Nike and Starbucks, signed a letter asking Trump to abandon his campaign rhetoric about withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

In April, more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, including giants Google, BP and Shell, also wrote Trump urging against reneging on nation’s climate commitment. They said that because the agreement requires action by all countries, it reduces the risk of competitive imbalances for U.S. companies that comply with environmental regulations.

More recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Trump that disavowing the accord would injure U.S. business, the economy and the environment. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told Trump that if he turned his back on the accord, Musk would resign from two White House advisory boards.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, also urged Trump to keep the United States’ commitments under the 195-nation pact, rather than joining Syria as an outlier. Syria and Nicaragua are the only non-signatory countries, but Nicaragua declined to sign because its leaders felt the accord was not strong enough.

The streetlights never switch on at noon in Pittsburgh anymore. The Cuyahoga River now supports fish that live only in clean water. Donora’s sole reminder of those dark days in October of 1948 is a Smog Museum.

But the United States remains the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter. It has an obligation to lead the world in combating climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on June 2, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers.

The Lesson of Pittsburgh for G-20: Manufacturing Matters

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

The revival of Pittsburgh, site of the G-20 summit this week, can provide valuable lessons for the world’s leaders. Among them: Manufacturing matters and poor trade policies hurt everyone.

Pittsburgh, G-20 and the New Economy: Lessons to Learn, Choices to Make,” a report released today by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), makes clear that the renaissance of Pittsburgh after the collapse of the steel industry was cut short because of the lack of a national industrial policy and the nation’s trade policies.

During a telephone news conference, CAF Co-Director Robert Borosage said some manufacturing jobs in Pittsburgh were replaced by high-end jobs in education or medicine.

But many were replaced by jobs in hotels and food services—jobs that never paid as well and proved even more vulnerable in the recent downturn. Some manufacturing jobs were never replaced at all. That helps explain why the city’s population is declining, especially among youth, who seek opportunity elsewhere.

That idea was echoed by more than 400 people who marched through the streets of Pittsburgh on Sept. 20 calling for an economic recovery that includes jobs for the unemployed.

The march set out from a local church where some 25 people slept overnight in tents to symbolize the poverty that lies behind the glitz of the renewed downtown Pittsburgh.

During the news conference today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said trade policies were at the core of the steel industry decline. He praised President Obama’s recent decision to provide relief to the domestic consumer tire industry in response to surging tire exports from China.

Obama’s action was significant, Brown said, because it is the first time a president has really enforced trade rules. He said he hopes it leads to even more complaints as U.S. industries see that their government cares about fair trade.

Brown added that the country “cannot tolerate” trade policies that spawn low wages and allow illegal trade subsidies in China and other countries to decimate our economy.

Economist Jeff Madrick of the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, said the nation’s manufacturing sector has been the victim of deliberate neglect by policymakers. It is clear, he said, that union manufacturing jobs pay better wages and have more benefits than service jobs.

The G-20 summit is a perfect time for U.S. officials to take a hard look at what has happened to workers over the past decades. For example, the median wage for males is less today than it was in the 1970s when you take inflation into account. And workers’ wages have not kept up with productivity for 25 years.

We need new policies to stimulate manufacturing. This [decline] has gone on too long.

The report specifically proposes an industrial policy that promotes manufacturing. Eric Lotke, author of the report, writes:

We need to dispel the notion that America has moved beyond the production of goods. From cars to computers to refrigerators, a country needs things. If we don’t make those things here, then someone else gets our money.

The report also says the experience with the steel industry in Pittsburgh should spawn new trade policies that reflect the truce functioning of the market. It cites Obama’s decision in the tire case as a first step in this new direction.

Read the CAF report here.

Lotke also says the G-20 summit provides an opportunity to examine American patterns of production and consumption. Even when the economy was growing, America ran a combined trade deficit and interest payments of more than $700 billion every year, he said.

We borrowed $2 billion every day to cover the difference. That might have worked well for the countries we bought and borrowed from—but it worked less well for America. It was never sustainable anyway.

As the G-20 leaders plan a recovery from the global downturn, they should not assume that the United States will remain the world’s consumer—spending more than we earn and paying for it with personal and national debt. The G-20 must chart the process by which the global economy that emerges from the crisis is more balanced, and less dependent on U.S. consumption. Growth must be sustainable in Pittsburgh as well as Beijing.

One avenue to create more manufacturing jobs is through the green revolution. Tomorrow, the Alliance for Climate Protection’s Repower America campaign, the USW and the Blue Green Alliance will conclude their Clean Energy Jobs Tour with a rally in Pittsburgh.

The Jobs Tour, a monthlong campaign with more than 50 events in 22 states, is highlighting how a transition to a clean-energy economy will create jobs while reducing harmful carbon pollution and breaking our dependence on foreign oil.

Says David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance:

We can create millions of jobs building the clean energy economy—whether it’s manufacturing the parts for windmills, building hybrid car batteries or weatherizing homes to make them more efficient. By transitioning to a clean-energy economy, we can revitalize America’s manufacturing sector and boost our economy for the long run by creating jobs here at home.

“Building a clean energy economy can revitalize American manufacturing, but only if we commit to using domestically produced components,” said USW President Leo Gerard.

In confronting the challenges of recession, global warming and energy independence, we have an opportunity to transform our economy and create good jobs that truly are Made in America.

About the Author James Parks: had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on September 22, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

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