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United Way Blog

AFL-CIO & Community Partners Committed to Equity, Climate Resilience & Good Jobs

Globally, the building and construction sectors have long been critiqued for their lack of diversity, particularly concerning the underrepresentation of people of color (POC) and women. A University of Westminster study of the construction of the Heathrow Terminal 5 suggests that "the construction industry remains a predominantly white, male, able-bodied enclave, despite all the efforts made to make it inclusive." In the United States, these disparities stem from systemic barriers such as transportation and housing affordability issues, along with deep-seated institutional racism and sexism, and have led to unprecedented labor shortages. The sector's historical nepotism exacerbates these challenges, often referred to disparagingly as the "good old boys club." 

The AFL-CIO has taken a significant step toward rectifying these inequities. Last week, they hosted the first Climate, Equity, and Jobs Convening Kickoff, a strategic effort to leverage the Biden-Harris administration's historic investments in building a green economy, focusing on clean energy jobs that promise economic equity and sustainability. 

The convening highlighted the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized workers, a reality that amplifies the urgency of the AFL-CIO's mission. Union members directly affected by climate phenomena, along with Biden administration representatives and leaders from racial justice, environmental justice groups, and faith organizations, and community partners like United Way  came together to discuss and devise strategies that tackle these pressing issues. 

The convening also included a panel discussion with Global faith leader, Bishop Carroll - Vice President of Policy & Legislative Affairs from the NAACP, Patrice Willoughby - and United Way Worldwide's own Rachel Small, Senior VP of Government Partnerships. They discussed the importance of centering equity in all of their work including disaster relief response efforts. "We've had a longtime robust partnership with the AFL-CIO and organized labor - 82 years. We are also excited to share that United Way Worldwide is part of the Power Forward Coalition, one of the awardees of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, in partnership with organized Labor and others. Our work is around electrifying houses primarily in lower income communities. Being here today is inspiring me even more and we are proud to be partnering in this critical work to build equity in communities," Rachel said. 

The AFL-CIO, with a firm commitment, has outlined a robust strategy for integrating environmental and racial justice into the labor movement. This strategy includes engaging with community and justice organizations to advance equitable solutions to pollution and climate challenges, advocating for long-term investments in climate adaptation and resilience, and ensuring these investments result in equitable job opportunities. The AFL-CIO and its affiliates are resolute in their intent to dismantle the barriers that have kept women and POC out of lucrative union jobs, particularly in sectors poised for growth through green investments. The AFL-CIO's resolution, passed in 2022 during their convention—Resolution 5— laid out a clear four-point plan which includes fighting for investment in communities that are often sidelined in economic planning, particularly those dependent on fossil fuel jobs at risk of obsolescence. 

This approach is a call to arms for the labor movement to evolve into a modern force that advocates for workers' rights in traditional senses and actively participates in creating a sustainable and just world. The AFL-CIO's efforts mark a historical pivot where the labor movement supports and leads on environmental sustainability issues and racial and economic justice. 

The Earth Day convening is just the beginning. It set the stage for future discussions and, more importantly, for actionable strategies that combine labor rights with climate resilience. This synergy is crucial as we face increasingly severe climate conditions that threaten not just the environment but also the very fabric of our workforce. 

By focusing on creating pathways for underrepresented groups into the green economy, the AFL-CIO is not only tackling immediate labor needs. Still, it also paves the way for a more inclusive and sustainable future. This strategy ensures that as we transition to a cleaner economy, we are also building a more equitable society where everyone, regardless of race or gender, has access to good jobs that contribute to and benefit from a sustainable environment. This proactive stance at the intersection of labor rights and climate justice demonstrates that the fight for economic equity and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive but are indeed complementary facets of the modern labor movement's evolving role in society.