Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Training Workers for The Green Jobs of Today and Tomorrow

July 8th, 2009 | Jason Lefkowitz

You’ve probably heard lots of buzz about “green jobs” lately. But, you may have wondered, what does all that buzz translate to in the real world? How is the green jobs movement affecting real people and real communities? And are new green jobs being created in ways that make them good jobs — jobs that can help a worker achieve the American Dream — too?

Here’s a good story that answers all those questions: Seattle NPR affiliate KPLU reports on how Washington state has allocated nearly $15 million of the Federal stimulus money they received to create good jobs “weatherizing” buildings to make them more energy efficient — and how the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA, a CtW affiliate) has created a training program to provide its workers with the skills they need to fill those jobs:

Inside an old home in west Seattle, 23-year-old Joseph Cortez is cutting insulation as an instructor looks on. He gets praise for catching on quickly. He’s a trainee with the Laborers International Union of North America. His new position is part of a demonstration project, meant to show what the federal government’s five billion dollars in stimulus spending for weatherization can do. The union says their training program could create thousands of high-quality jobs and upgrade millions of homes in Washington State alone.

Cortez is newly married and has a child on the way, so he’s grateful for the prospect of union career, specializing in green building.

“Not a job paying minimum wage,” he says, “but a job that’s paying $20 an hour, so that we can live comfortably and have a great success in our lives.”

Washington passed a law in May that guarantees access to these jobs for low-income and disadvantaged populations. Cortez fits the demographic. The union plans to train hundreds more this summer.

And the program isn’t just benefiting people like Cortez. The retrofitting of the single mom’s home where he’s working is being done at no cost to her – $3,500 worth of work, which will also save her an estimated $350 a year in heating costs.

LIUNA’s not just training workers for green jobs in Washington state, either. Green for All reported a few months back on LIUNA’s weatherization training work on the other side of the nation, in Newark, New Jersey:

On a snow covered street in a suburb of brick houses in Newark, a sea of green hard hats filled the street to celebrate the first house “weatherized” as part of this new pilot program…

Laborers Local 55 will train the first class of 25 Newark residents in green construction techniques this winter. The weatherization work on homes will continue through January, and the laborers will earn accreditation while being paid union rates, with health benefits.

Ray Pachino, Vice-president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, spoke of the immediate benefits of weatherization:

“In our training center, where we had some of these workers training on Saturday, they put some of their newly learned skills to work and did some insulating around the building, especially in the garage area. We got a call this morning that the temperature in the garage was ten degrees warmer with the thermostat ten degrees lower.

So it works! It does work.”

From coast to coast, there’s lots of work to be get our economy ready for the energy challenges of the 21st Century — and the working men and women of LIUNA are leading the way.

Jason Lefkowitz: Jason A. Lefkowitz is the Online Campaigns Organizer for Change to Win (http://www.changetowin.org/), a partnership of seven unions and six million workers united together to restore the American Dream for everybody. He built his first Web site in 1995 and has been building online communities professionally since 1998. To read more of his work, visit the Change to Win blog, CtW Connect, at http://www.changetowin.org/connect .

This article was originally posted at CtW Connect on July 1, 2009. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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