Unions and environmentalists unite for climate justice

New Yorkers won a victory for climate justice on June 1, 2016 when the Assembly passed the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act (A.10342). Earlier that day, nurses rallied with our partners from NY Renews, a climate justice coalition that NYSNA members helped to form back in December. Our coalition includes more than 70 community, environmental, labor, social justice, and political organizations, including 1199SEIU and the Working Families Party. NY Renews drafted the legislation, which ThinkProgress called “the most ambitious climate bill in the nation,” and then lobbied to make it an Assembly priority and ensure passage in this year’s session.

Common goals

At the press conference following the vote, NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said, “Our coalition reflects an unprecedented level of unity between environmentalists and labor unions as we embrace our common goals of protecting the planet for future generations and ensuring that workers have good jobs.”

The bill provides a framework for meeting environmental goals put forward by Governor Cuomo, including generating 100 percent of the state’s energy needs through renewable sources by 2050. It also sets intermediate targets for the percent of electricity generated from renewable sources at 27 percent by next year, 30 percent by 2020, forty percent by 2025, and 50 percent by 2030.

The bill focuses on both green jobs and environmental justice with provisions for ensuring a just transition for workers in carbon-based energy production and for supporting low-income communities of color disproportionately hurt by climate change.

Next year: NYS Senate

Newsday reports that “Provisions of the bill would favor hiring unionized companies paying… the prevailing wage… on construction projects and in training workers for new careers in the renewable energy field.”

The Assembly’s 96 to 43 vote was a strong endorsement for the bill and positions it for review and passage by the NYS Senate next session. Senator Diane Savino (D-23) is the bill’s Senate sponsor and by the time the session ended on June 16, the Senate version (S.08005) had 31 co-sponsors — just one short of the 32 needed for passage.

The Assembly’s vote followed the April release of an important new report by the National Science and Technology Council and the U.S. Global Change Research Program that presents a comprehensive and evidence-based estimation of observed and projected climate change related health impacts in the United States. “The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment” documents how climate change is affecting public health, highlights social and environmental disparities that make some communities particularly vulnerable to climate change, and confirms it is a significant threat to the health of all Americans (and indeed all world citizens).

Need to act now

Following the Assembly vote, Steve Englebright (D-4), the bill’s sponsor, said, “New Yorkers have witnessed firsthand the devastating loss of life, homes and livelihoods caused by Superstorm Sandy and tropical storms Irene and Lee. These storms… and threats to public health all point to the undeniable fact that climate change is happening now, not in some distant future.”

NYSNA members, along with our NY Renews partners, are committed to hit the ground running when the legislature reconvenes in the fall. We remain steadfast in our commitment to take on the climate crisis and protect our planet in ways that provide good jobs for communities that need them.

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