Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) argued on Saturday that a rapid and dramatic transition to a clean-energy economy could boost the fortunes of labor unions, particularly those that represent building trades and manufacturing workers.
Inslee was one of 19 presidential candidates to speak at a presidential candidate forum hosted by the public-sector labor union AFSCME in Las Vegas.
HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel, who moderated the discussion alongside Jon Ralston of The Nevada Independent, asked Inslee to make the case to unions, including many in the building trades that have been skeptical of bold climate proposals like the Green New Deal. A group of those unions, many of which benefit from fossil-fuel industry jobs, penned a letter to lawmakers who introduced the Green New Deal resolution in March that denounced the proposal.
Inslee, who has laid out detailed policy proposals aimed at bridging the divide between climate activists and organized labor, began his response with a joke.
“Where perhaps [President Donald Trump] has his biggest failure is when he says wind turbines cause cancer. We Democrats know they cause jobs,” he said.
“We know that one of the greatest opportunities for good, clean-energy union jobs is in the clean energy economy,” Inslee added. “We know that we have no choice but to develop a clean energy economy; the science is clear in this regard. And when we do that, we’ve got to make sure the jobs are here, not just in China; make sure that they’re good-paying union jobs, not low-paying jobs; and make sure that we do it in a timely fashion, not too late.”
Inslee went on to tout his own plans to bolster the standing of labor unions, independent of climate policy. He would enact national legislation banning right-to-work laws, enable unions to achieve recognition through simple card check, and appoint a pro-union National Labor Relations Board.
Inslee recalled his time driving a concrete truck as a young man, and being struck by the fear that gripped a co-worker in his 50s when Inslee and other workers began discussing forming a union. The older co-worker worried that he would be fired and have trouble getting work again if he was even near discussion of a union drive.
“That has always stuck with me,” Inslee said.
“There is no working person in this country that ought to have that anxiety and fear about this right to be organized,” he continued. “And if I’m president of the United States, people are not going to be in fear, they’re going to be standing up on both legs with AFSCME making sure they have organized their rights.”