5 Action Steps for the Department of Labor to Lead a National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

Originally published January 7, 2021

Biden must build his climate mobilization on a strong labor foundation. Growing the clean energy economy and strengthening workers rights go hand in hand. The Biden administration has a mandate to make historic climate investments and create millions of good-paying, union jobs in a clean energy economy. The Secretary of Labor must play a critical role in restoring workers rights and investing in America’s workforce for a clean energy economy.

Donald Trump built on decades of damage to lead the most anti-worker administration in recent memory. Mayor Walsh has much damage to undo and he should start by restoring collective bargaining and union rights, restoring overtime pay rules, and ensuring critical safety protections for essential workers. Mayor Walsh should also rescind Trump’s disastrous rules preventing retirement funds from divesting from fossil fuels. And in contrast to the anti-science Trump administration, the Labor Department should direct the Bureau of Labor Standards research department to study climate’s socio-economic impacts and contribute to a new national equity map.

The Labor Department should also make it easier than ever for Americans to start careers in the green economy. Mayor Walsh should focus on expanding training and apprenticeship programs for clean energy jobs, such as the Renewable Resources and Energy career track at Job Corps. And, the Secretary of Labor must ensure a just transition for workers and communities affected by fossil fuels. Walsh should work to deliver jobs, pensions, and healthcare for fossil fuel workers and commit to a Re-Power fund to support community driven solutions.

The Department of Labor must lead in an all-of-government climate mobilization by creating millions of good paying union jobs putting people to work creating more sustainable communities.

In order to realize Biden’s climate mandate, every federal agency must become a climate agency. The Department of Labor will be critical in this effort. Today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions that the next Department of Labor must deliver in the all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

The next Secretary must immediately focus on supporting workers and roll back the Trump administration’s unprecedented attacks on working families. DOL should prioritize raising the threshold below which workers are automatically entitled to overtime pay, ensuring that employers are accountable for workplace protections, and directing the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to protect essential workers from COVID-19. The next Secretary should also work with the National Labor Review Board to restore workers’ rights to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.

The next Secretary of Labor should implement a broad range of reforms to support workers transitioning into the clean economy. This should include increasing incentives for registered apprenticeship programs, growing the number of green industry-recognized apprenticeship programs and skill certifications, and expanding opportunities to train in the Renewable Resources and Energy career track at Job Corps centers. It should also involve fighting for additional resources to the Department of Indian and Native American Programs, targeting skills training grants (such as the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities initiative) toward green career paths in clean energy and public health, and emphasizing the dislocated coal worker grants program as a critical tool for DOL to help workers find careers in the clean transition.

A just transition means securing the benefits that fossil fuel workers and their families have earned. As the Obama-Biden administration did for Detroit when the auto industry was in turmoil, DOL must lead a task force developing strategies to ensure economic security for communities previously home to fossil fuel extraction sites and power plants. Former fossil fuel employees should see their pensions and healthcare protected, and have access to good jobs — including those in environmental remediation, plugging orphan wells and remediating abandoned mines. And they should benefit from community-driven workforce development and economic diversification under a Re-Power Fund. DOL is uniquely positioned to ease former fossil fuel workers into the clean economy, and the next Secretary must take up that responsibility on day one.

Housed under DOL, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the federal government’s principal research agency in the field of labor economics and statistics. BLS data and projections can provide invaluable insight into the green economy transition, and its researchers have already identified climate change as a potential shock to the global economy. The next Secretary should direct BLS to more regularly aggregate data and generate annual reports relating to the green economy transition. BLS should also track social indicators to feed into a new National Equity Map identifying environmental justice communities. By identifying economic vulnerabilities at the neighborhood level, BLS can contribute meaningfully to a nationwide analysis of cumulative environmental harms.

The next Secretary must rescind the recently promulgated rule barring retirement plan fiduciaries from considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in their investments. The rule is specifically designed to benefit fossil fuel interests, from which many funds have been divesting, in order to secure their fiscal health as well as a liveable planet. DOL should return to investors the power to take climate change and ESG concerns into account.

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