USW, Sierra Club ally in support of good jobs and a clean environment

The United Steelworkers (USW) and the Sierra Club are working together in support of good jobs, a clean environment and a safer world under the Blue-Green Alliance they formed.

By Ken Schnepf, managing editor

The United Steelworkers (USW) and the Sierra Club are out to show the world it’s worth being green. The two groups are working together in support of good jobs, a clean environment and a safer world under the Blue-Green Alliance they formed on June 7.

“This alliance will focus its resources on those issues which have the greatest potential to unite the American people in pursuit of a global economy that is more just and equitable and founded on the principles of environmental and economic sustainability,” says the joint resolution signed by Leo Gerard, the USW’s president and Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director.

“We’ve become convinced that in a global economy, the companies that survive will develop sustainable environmental policies,” says David Foster, the Alliance’s first executive director, with headquarters at USW’s District #11 offices in Minneapolis. “It’s more than just an ethical point of view. It is the only way to have a viable, sustainable environment. You can’t have good jobs and a dirty environment. It’s both. It goes hand-in-hand.”

Foster is the former USW District #11 director. Alliance organizers will be housed throughout the country at offices donated by the USW. The two groups have a lot of resources to place behind the effort. The USW has 850,000 members in the U.S. and the Sierra Club boasts 800,000.

The purpose is to raise public policy awareness on issues such as renewable energy, job creation, energy efficiency, the economy and the environment, explains Foster. For example, the alliance will support trade policies that raise labor and environmental standards by creating a level playing field with other countries, and developing a viable chemical security act to reduce toxic chemicals in the workplace and protect against the threat of terrorism.

The alliance’s services are available to individual companies that have no affiliation with the USW, says Foster. Services include plant tours to suggest ways of making practices at the facility more environmentally friendly or sending out guest speakers to explain the economic benefits of an energy-efficient plant.

Over the past six months, the alliance has raised nearly $1 million from outside organizations, according to Foster. In addition to its headquarters, the alliance has offices operating in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington.

While the USW nationwide alliance with the Sierra Club is relatively new, they’ve been partners for several years and  involved in various issues in 15 states. Some of the joint activities are:

A coalition consisting of the Steelworkers, Sierra Club, and other major environmental groups in February filed a petition to have PFOA, a Teflon-related substance, listed as "a chemical that is known to the state to cause cancer" under California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986

In Iowa, the alliance currently focuses on trade, energy, transportation, toxics and protecting wild areas. In 2005, Sierra Club and USW were among the sponsors of "Stop Outsourcing Our Future," a series of town hall meetings “for people concerned about good jobs, the environment, and a healthy future for their community.”

The Sierra Club and other environmental allies in 2005 supported striking members of the United Steelworkers (USW) at the ASARCO copper smelter in Hayden — one the biggest polluters in Arizona.

Since 2004, Sierra Club and the Steelworkers jointly intervened in clean air permit proceedings to call for improvements at the Rocky Mountain Steel Mill in Pueblo, Colo.

Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita , the Steelworkers and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice teamed up to address toxic soil, one of New Orleans' most pressing yet unaddressed problems. Currently, residential properties throughout New Orleans are contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic — some samples of which were 40 times greater than the permitted level — making it unsafe for residents to return to their homes.

The New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) is a 15-year-old statewide labor environmental alliance that includes the Sierra Club and the Steelworkers. The organization’s program includes a campaign to pass mandatory chemical security regulations — and both USW and Sierra Club are primary partners.

Those interested in assistance from the alliance can call Foster at (612) 623-8003.

E-mail Managing Editor Ken Schnepf at kschnepf@putman.net.

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