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Monday, March 16, 2009

Going Green AND Blue on St. Patty’s Day

By Guest bloggers, Margrete Strand Rangnes and Karin Lee with Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program

Most people don’t know it, but back in the day, St. Patrick’s signature color actually used to be blue. This St. Patty’s Day, when you wear your green, don’t forget to think about our nation’s workers, and the wearing o’ the blue too!

The buzz these days seems all to be about the green: green jobs, green buildings, green cars (green beers, anyone?).

Amidst the difficult economic times, the greening of our economy provides us with a tremendous opportunity to rebuild our nation around green jobs that will address not only the climate crisis and unemployment, but also deeply rooted social problems of poverty and inequality.

One way to ensure that these green jobs will also be good family-supporting jobs is to allow workers a democratic chance to form unions. That’s why the Sierra Club supports the Employee Free Choice Act.

In recent years, flawed trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have enabled companies to relocate to countries with weak or non-existent protections for workers and the environment, and have led to the hemorrhage of more than 1.5 million jobs. With a global recession and U.S. unemployment at over 8%, now is not the time to weaken the focus on creating a strong middle-class in America. On the contrary, given the current economic crisis, it is more important than ever to focus on farsighted policies that will staunch this outward flow and strengthen the American workforce. Investing in the green energy economy can maintain and create millions of jobs, right here at home. The challenge is to make sure that these are good jobs, with decent wages and benefits.

The Employee Free Choice Act would level the playing field and give workers a fair and direct path to form unions without the fear of being fired, help employees secure a contract with their employer in a reasonable period of time, and toughen penalties against corporations who violate their workers’ rights.

Workers serve as our front line of defense against hazardous pollution, chemical spills and other accidents that can devastate communities. Union workers are better trained to know about important health and safety risks and have greater protections if they blow the whistle on hazards and accidents in the workplace.

However, the current labor law system makes it difficult for workers to form unions. Employees who try to form unions are routinely harassed, and often even fired. Among private sector employers whose workers try to form unions, 25% have illegally fired at least one worker for union activity.

The emerging green economy holds great promise to build the American middle-class. One way to ensure that it benefits the many rather than the few is by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

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