On Earth Day 2021, we’d like to lift up the work of SEIU 503 members to make environmental justice a majority priority for our union. Climate change is a worldwide crisis and sometimes it’s difficult to see what impact we can make as individuals, a union, a state, or even a country. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for a global solution: we must act now and use whatever power we have to make an impact where we can. Our union represents more than 72,000 workers in Oregon and SEIU has over 2 million members across the nation. There’s real power there.
In Oregon and nationally, we’ve been putting our power behind environmental issues. A couple of years back, we started an ad hoc climate change committee for our members to have a venue to engage in environmental issues. The work of this group led to SEIU 503 becoming the first major labor union in our state to endorse the Oregon Green New Deal as well as pass a resolution at the 2020 General Council to establish a permanent standing Climate Justice Committee. The Climate Justice Committee leads our union’s efforts to take immediate, bold action – internally and outside of our union – to address climate change with a focus on good, union jobs and protecting those most impacted — our poor, rural, and Black and brown communities.
In just the short period of time that we’ve begun to focus on environmental issues, we’ve seen and helped encourage a transition from fighting climate change to championing climate justice. We recognize that environmental advocacy and racial equity go hand-in-hand. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are more likely to experience the impacts of climate change and less likely to have a platform to let their voices be heard. Rural communities are also on the frontlines of the impacts of climate change. It will take all of us working together to provide the clean, healthy future our children and their children deserve.
The Climate Justice Committee’s top priority for 2021 is spearheading our union’s legislative advocacy for a slate of environmental justice and jobs bills at the Oregon Legislature. These bills reflect the intersection of environmental and racial justice as well as the input of SEIU 503 and other labor unions. We are making sure that green jobs need to be good, union jobs.
On this Earth Day, we have an opportunity to dream big. The THRIVE Act will be introduced on April 26th to push for bold, economy-wide action on climate jobs and justice. Please take a few minutes to call your Congressperson today and tell them to support the THRIVE Act.
Following the legislative session, our focus will shift more inward and examine ways that we as a union and as union members can make an impact. The work of the Climate Justice Committee extends well beyond the dedicated core of members who are active in the Committee. We drive our advocacy as well as identify steps we will take internally to become a greener, cleaner, more sustainable organization. Achieving climate justice will take all of us. And that means you, too! If you would like to become more involved, please reach out to staff advisor Jay Parasco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: SEIU 503 President Mike Powers, SEIU 503 Climate Justice Committee Co-Chairs Twila Jacobsen and Lois Yoshishige.