WASHINGTON - Truck-driver Porfirio Diaz brought the 3,500 delegates at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs national conference here to their feet May 5 with his harrowing story of the struggle he and his fellow drivers are waging for union rights and clean air in the Port of Oakland in California.
Diaz was hired 25 years ago as a teamster transporting cargo containers to and from the port, a good union job with living wages and benefits. Then the stevedoring company decreed that the drivers are "independents" paid by the load with no union or health and welfare benefits.
He is not paid when waiting in line to pick up a container nor does he receive overtime pay. He must pay for fuel and maintenance. "Sometimes I work 70 hours a week and after covering my expenses, I come home with $500," he said. His son suffers acute asthma aggravated by smog generated by the idling trucks in the port. The family fell behind on their mortgage and lost their home in foreclosure.
He told the conference that with help from the labor and environmental movement, the drivers are struggling to pass legislation to win back the benefits they lost and force the companies to reduce port pollution. The crowd was on its feet and Teamster union members led them in chanting, "Good jobs, clean air!"
The conference May 4-6 sponsored by the Blue-Green Alliance was nearly twice as large as last year's gathering. The alliance was founded by the Sierra Club, the Communications Workers of America and the United Steelworkers and now unites more than two dozen unions and environmental organizations.
Speaker after speaker called on Congress and the Obama administration to create millions of new jobs in industries that reduce greenhouse emissions.
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard cited the explosion at an oil refinery in Anacortes, Wash., that killed six workers, the Massey Energy mine blast that killed 29, and now the explosion of BP's offshore rig that killed 11 and is spewing millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf. It shows, he said, "that the labor and environmental issues are connected in many ways."
"Our generation is going to be the one to leave the worst mess in history or ... the most opportunity in history," he said.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also reminded the delegates of BP's oil well explosion.
"Never before has the need been so urgent to produce clean energy, to use energy more efficiently, to prevent climate change and to protect our natural environment," said Trumka, a former coal miner. "And not since the Great Depression have so many Americans needed new and better jobs with secure benefits," jobs, he said, "that can't be off-shored, downsized or downgraded to part time positions."
Trumka argued that the nation needs coal, oil, nuclear, hydroelectric and wind and solar power but with strict regulations to reduce or eliminate release of carbon dioxide and other gases. He called for insulating existing buildings, a project that save energy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. "Tens of thousands of miles of new high-voltage transmission are needed to bring solar, wind, and geothermal power and biofuels," he said.
"It's great news that the Obama administration is providing $8 billion in high-speed rail that will save or create tens of thousands of jobs," Trumka said, but he added, "These jobs need to be American jobs ... high skill, high wage jobs with safe conditions ... and the right to be free from discrimination and the right to form and join unions."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House-approved Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act will "create 1.7 million jobs, reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and cut the pollution that causes global warming."
She declared, "This legislation is an opportunity to transform our economy and create jobs that cannot be shipped overseas ... It will promote new, clean energy technology - made in America by American workers."
"The House has acted," Pelosi said. "We hope the Senate will act soon." She received a standing ovation.
On the final day, the conference recessed and participants went to Capitol Hill to lobby their senators and representatives for comprehensive clean energy and climate change legislation and for legislation to create millions of jobs.
Photo: SmartRoofs, LLC, a subsidiary of Sustainable South Bronx, and Sarah Lawrence College co-hosted Green Jobs Now on October 4, 2008. Attendees installed a 1,000 sq ft green roof atop a dormitory. (Hillary Birch Vanaria/http://www.flickr.com/photos/green4all/CC BY 2.0) /