Unions help create vision of a greener post-pandemic job market for New York

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Union construction jobs play a critical role in a new vision for a post-pandemic New York economy released on Oct. 20, 2020.
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com via USA TODAY NETWORK and Reuters

As New York City continues its slow economic recovery from COVID-19, activists and labor leaders believe the key toward accelerating the healing process is a massive investment in the green economy.

Such a vision was outlined Tuesday during a digital press conference on the release of the report, “An Equitable Recovery for NYC: Creating 100,000 Climate Jobs for Frontline Communities of Color.” The Climate Works for All Coalition, which includes labor unions, community and environmental justice organizations, authored the report which sets out a road map for the city to boost its own economy while also helping to end inequality.

That means jobs — 100,000 “good union” positions, according to the report — that will help build a New York that meets climate goals for the year 2050, while also lifting low-income New Yorkers out of poverty.

“Across our city, the highest rates of job loss and death from COVID-19 are in low-income communities and communities of color,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN NY. “These are the same communities living on the front lines of climate change. The Climate and Community Stimulus Platform tackles the need for a plan to put 100,000 people back to work with good union jobs while meeting New York City’s climate goals. We have a limited time to not only rebuild our economy but build it back better.”

Among the plan’s supporters is Pat Kane, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, which represents nurses who have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic hard from the very beginning. Kane said advancing the plan forward will help not just improve the overall economy but also make the city a cleaner place to live. 

“We know that exposure to pollution, and pollution-related health conditions like asthma, make people more susceptible to COVID-19.  Almost 33,000 people have died from the coronavirus in New York so far,” Kane said. “We need to be able to definitively say once and for all that climate change is a public health crisis and that systemic racism is as well.  Nurses know that a green economy that works for all of us is critical to the future of our planet and a just society.”

A number of City Council members threw their support to the plan, including Queens’ Costa Constantinides, Manhattan’s Carlina Rivera, Ydanis Rodriguez and Ben Kallos, Brooklyn’s Brad Lander and Justin Brannan, and Brooklyn/Queens’ Antonio Reynoso.

The report calls for more than $16 billion in green energy investment in New York City over the next three years. The biggest chunk of spending, about $7 billion, would go toward improvements to housing infrastructure — meaning building new affordable and public housing across the city. 

Investing in housing construction alone would create in excess of 42,000 jobs, according to the report.

The plan also calls for $3 billion of investment toward new climate resiliency projects designed to protect the city from major storms and coastal flooding, and another $3 billion toward the creation of new green manufacturing hubs. 

Other ideas in the report include expanding retrofitting for buildings to accommodate solar power; expanding the city’s bike lane network; expanding the city’s organic recycling program; creating new commercial waste zones; and investing in job education focused on the climate industry.