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OR Watchdogs Work to Protect Jobs Under Western Climate Initiative

June 3, 2009

Portland, OR – Climate change has become an issue for working families in Oregon and throughout the West. This week, Western Climate Initiative (WCI) officials came to Portland to meet with union leaders and talk about ways to protect the environment while maintaining high-quality, living-wage jobs.

Oregon AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Barbara Byrd says WCI officials are showing interest in workers' concerns about possible job loss in a cap-and-trade system that could raise business costs. Another goal for labor is setting quality-assurance standards for the kinds of new, green jobs that will become available.

"We see a lot of potential for job creation, if this is done right. If there are labor standards in place, we'll be able to create new, green jobs that will be good jobs."

Union leaders are calling for requiring countries that produce goods for the United States' green economy to meet the same standards as U.S. companies, in order to keep U.S. jobs from ending up offshore. The Western Climate Initiative Framework released last year did not include any policy options for quality job creation or recommendations about how to keep U.S. jobs from disappearing into other countries. Officials with WCI are looking at tweaking that framework.

Greg Pallesen, vice-president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, says his union already has seen production move to China, where few environmental standards exist and paying workers a dollar an hour is accepted. He foresees more job losses and increased pollution in other countries unless those countries play by the same environmental rules as U.S.-based companies.

"If they're going to put standards on manufacturing, those same standards must be included in trade agreements. If we don't do that, we're simply going to make the pollution worse."

Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain wants to see the WCI acknowledge in its climate-change policies the danger of job loss, as well as include policy recommendations to make sure good jobs stay stateside.

"For example, those countries - let's say China, for instance - they wouldn't be able to ship goods into this country without paying some type of carbon tax to level the playing field for American workers. That's really important."

Ken Casarez, assistance regional manager with Laborers International Union of North America, says there are opportunities to protect working people and the planet, as well as establish a new career field: building new, energy-efficient buildings and retro-fitting older ones.

"This is long-term - 20, 50 years' worth of work - and this is really career-path stuff. That's why we want to get involved in it and make sure that people are trained properly."

Deb Courson, Public News Service - OR