Working on it

Pub date April 5, 2011
SectionGreen City

GREEN ISSUE With the recession fast seeping into the everyday fabric of American life (or at least Monday through Friday’s fabric), the enthusiasm that the term “green jobs” generates can be well understood. But can we really call a $10 hourly pay rate for installing solar panels sustainable? And what would be the bigger of the two triumphs: creating a carbon-free country or a more equitable nation? With partnerships springing up across the country like the Blue Green Alliance, created by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, maybe the two goals aren’t so separate after all. Here are some West Coast organizations fighting to make sure that the environmentally-friendly jobs that do exist — and have yet to be created — pay a decent wage.



Created by the long-time civil rights champions at the Ella Baker Center and other community partners, this program recruits poor young adults to a 38-week course of study that recognizes what it takes to break the cycle of unemployment. Participants begin with classes in basic job skills, literacy, and substance abuse counseling, then continue on to classes at Laney College in basic construction skills, eco-literacy, and specialized green building practices. At graduation, participants are hooked up with well-paying jobs in the green construction sector or traditional building trade union apprenticeships — where their newfound environment-saving skills will make them leaders in the years to come.



Pray for change — or change the way you pray? Created 10 years ago in SF, CIPL, whose work has since spread to 38 state affiliates, aides faith communities of all denominations in greening their place of worship. Greatest hits include installing a geothermal heating system in a Berkeley synagogue, work on First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco, and tricking out a Bayview-Hunters Point church with solar panels on the congregation’s extremely limited budget. Workers hired to make the holy places sing a song of sustainability are usually sourced from organizations like Richmond Build, which provides training to many people living in public housing and with criminal records.



Apollo Alliance, another nationwide coalition-building organization that got its start in SF, is making green jobs happen in Los Angeles — with or without federal dollars. The group sponsored the city’s Green Retrofit and Workforce ordinance, which required that municipal buildings achieve LEED certification at the silver level or higher, prioritizing updates on the buildings that were near areas with low income and high unemployment rates. Linked directly to workforce training programs, the ordinance is already under attack in Washington by H.R.1, a bill that would strip its funding. But L.A. is making the first move on the threat — the city is hoping to fund the successful program through energy conservation bonds.



Erstwhile Obama appointee, environmental rock star, and Ella Baker Center founder Van Jones started this organization in 2008 to place the war on poverty at the heart of the sustainability movement. Sure, with offices around the country, it’s not exactly local. But the group plays an important role supporting nationwide policies that will make green jobs fair and just for workers. Plus, it led the charge against last year’s Prop. 23 challenge to the growth of green technologies, taking to the road in a bus that interviewed community members and green energy experts in 10 Californian cities. Plus, it kicked ass with a media campaign smart enough to best the bummers at PG&E and other public utilities.