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How Unions Will Save Our Planet

Unions are years ahead in the fight to stop climate change and in creating sustainable cities.

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The Freedom Tower and the Oculus are two examples of union-built green buildings with high LEED ratings. Many climate and planning experts believe that cities are our best chance to survive climate change.

Ready for some happy news about climate change? Construction unions have positioned themselves to help stem the advance of global warming and control its effects going forward.


But first, the sobering part.


Climate change is happening right now, not in some distant decade. It. Is. Here. Now.


We humans have done most of this to ourselves. The pollutants released by our industrialized practices have caused greenhouse gases to warm our atmosphere, causing many unpleasant and often lethal results, like glacial melting, forest fires, extreme heat, flooding, species die-offs and much more.


But scientists are telling us it’s not too late to mitigate these harms. If we act with speed and effectiveness, we can stem the warming and adjust to a new and livable environment.


Construction unions have indeed acted with speed and effectiveness and are ready to make a big impact in the battle to save our environment. Here’s how.

We Must Rethink Our Cities

Construction unions are positioned to help stem the advance of global warming and control its effects going forward.

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By rethinking how we build and maintain our buildings we can convert our cities from a source of greenhouse gases to a model for climate-friendly sustainable living.

The world’s cities have been major contributors to those atmospheric greenhouse gases. But with the advent of certain new technologies cities can not only end the release of many of those harmful pollutants, but they can become centers of cleaner living that form a model for our future lives. In fact, many civic and climate leaders believe that cities are our best hope to survive climate change.


Fixing our cities requires much more than replacing gas-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles. It means erecting new-technology “green buildings.”


According to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) which maintains an environment-impact rating system for commercial and residential structures, a “green building” is one that is designed, constructed, and operated to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts, preserve precious natural resources, and improve our quality of life. 


There are several features that make a building “green,” including: 

  • Efficient use of energy, water, and other resources

  • Use of renewable energy, such as solar energy

  • Pollution and waste reduction measures, and the enabling of re-use and recycling

  • Good indoor environmental air quality

  • Use of materials that are non-toxic, ethical, and sustainable

  • Consideration of the environment in design, construction, and operation

  • Consideration of the quality of life of occupants in design, construction, and operation

  • A design that enables adaptation to a changing environment

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The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) maintains an environment-impact rating system for commercial and residential structures.

Any building can be “green,” but it’s especially imperative that the largest buildings we construct—because of their out-sized impact on our world—bear these important new characteristics.


Green building construction requires new types of materials and training to deal with, install and maintain these materials and technologies. Construction unions have been at work learning and perfecting the safe management, installation, and upkeep of green tech.


Preparing for a New World: New York Unions Lead

In New York City, few events highlighted the effects of our changing climate more than Hurricane Sandy, which shocked with brute force winds and record-setting floods. In the storm’s immediate aftermath a collection of New York unions responded to the trauma by developing a serious plan to address climate change centered on working people. They created Climate Jobs NY to focus on the projects that both labor unions and environmentalists could get behind. “The labor movement and environmental community agree on probably 90% of things,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.


Climate Jobs NY now boasts an ambitious platform that includes the expansion of mass transit, construction of high-speed rail, 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2025, and the retrofitting of all public schools. All of these important environmental efforts will be brought to fruition by highly trained union personnel who are now expert in new green technologies.

New York now has nearly 3,000 commercial buildings that are LEED certified, totaling more than 519 million square feet of LEED certified green building space.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy a collection of New York unions responded to the trauma by developing a serious plan to address climate change centered on working people.

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IBEW and Net-Zero Energy Training

Also, in New York the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) trains members to be "Total Energy Solution Providers" — skilled in the most advanced energy efficiency, renewable energy, and smart grid technologies. In 2015 IBEW opened the Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute to train union members in demand response, grid reliability technology, utility-scale battery storage, advanced building and lighting controls and plug load strategies.


"The electrical industry is currently undergoing a revolution due to improved energy efficiency practices, integration of renewable energy on the grid and developing clean technologies," said James Willson, a union executive director. Unions are “at the center of this revolution and will transform the way buildings use, produce, store and sell energy."


Iron Workers Feed The Renewal

This green union revolution is not only happening in cities, it’s occurring in places that feed the cities too. Union ironworkers have been standing up wind turbines for decades. The Iron Workers International Union ( and the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) – now require wind turbine training programs for their members to achieve certification in key renewable energy construction skills.

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LIUNA and Renewable Energy

The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) is perhaps the most concise example of the overall impact green jobs and unionization will have on America. LIUNA has been working in renewable energy for over a decade, building systems across the United States and Canada. Members are now helping build green buildings as well as solar, wind, and geothermal power plants across the US. As a result, membership is growing. Some new members will be working inside a union for the first time and will be able to triple their pay, secure healthcare benefits and gain access to the union’s free job training programs.


The green building revolution will bring better health to our cities and our environment, and will create better lives for the union members who have gained union-sponsored expertise in new technologies. The green revolution will indeed be unionized.


When looking for real estate in New York City, always ask your salesperson, “Is this a union building?” Because union-built matters.

Jessic Beebe
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