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Alex Colvin speaks at the formal launch of the Climate Jobs Institute.

Climate Jobs Institute Milestone Marked

Union jobs or a clean environment – for many years, you could have either, but you couldn’t have both, and that has changed, thanks to the Climate Jobs Institute at the ILR School.

In opening remarks at an event celebrating the institute’s formal launch, Alexander Colvin, Ph.D., ’99, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and Martin F. Scheinman ’75, M.S. ’76, Professor of Conflict Resolution, set the stage with those remarks Jan. 25.

Nearly 200 people in government, labor, academia, business and other sectors joined him in lauding the institute’s groundbreaking work in organizing coalitions around creating good jobs that seek to improve equity for people historically denied opportunity.

The Climate Jobs Institute has developed best practices for linking clean energy careers with social justice, Colvin said, and lifted the false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment that was disempowering to unions and workers.

“We have freed unions from the corner they were pushed into,” he said. Instead, the institute’s research, policy creation and outreach protect and grow new jobs while also helping build a more equitable economy.

By deepening and expanding its work, the institute has increased support for climate jobs with environmental activists and others, and has engaged with Cornell students to join in the work, Colvin said.

New York state is a national leader in creating good union jobs that address climate change and help reverse historical wrongs, he said, thanking partners who have rallied to help incubate a jobs transition that many people considered impossible.

New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said, “This institute is a critical partner in New York’s nation-leading effort to address climate change.”

ILR and partners made tremendous progress in the past 10 years in advancing climate jobs, and union labor will be at the heart of the transition to more climate jobs, she said. Reardon graduated from ILR’s Union Leadership Institute and is a fellow of ILR’s Worker Institute.

Guiding the nation’s transition to a clean economy and climate jobs – “The village is right here,” she said at the event, held in ILR’s Manhattan offices.

Climate Jobs Institute Director Lara Skinner also talked about why the institute is critical to the transition. She noted that good jobs are hard to come by in the U.S., especially if you’re a woman, a person of color, an immigrant, have a disability or are involved in the justice system. “Much of the social safety net is tied to employment. If you lose your job, you can lose your health care, retirement benefits, and the roof over your head,” she said. “That’s why making this transition to a low-carbon, climate-friendly economy is extremely difficult for many workers, union members and communities.”

“There is no “just transition” if there aren’t good jobs to transition to. Too many of the new jobs in the clean energy economy, often performed by immigrants and people of color, especially in the residential sector, are not high-road, high-quality, union careers that will sustain families and communities, she said. “And what became very clear is that addressing climate change could create enormous opportunities for working people, but only if labor was at the table and leading on developing solutions.”

The climate jobs work of ILR is “dedicated to finding solutions to the climate crisis that are rooted in science, good union jobs, confronting all forms of inequality and building a strong, fair economy. Our program has helped the labor movement, legislators, the environmental movement, and industry leaders navigate this historic transition.”

The Climate Jobs Institute is part of ILR’s Center for Applied Research on Work. It is the academic partner of the Climate Jobs National Resource Center, a co-sponsor of Wednesday’s celebration along with Climate Jobs New York. The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability provided funding for some of ILR’s initial climate jobs work.

The institute has worked with labor coalitions and others for more than 10 years on research and policy that helps create jobs aligned with climate targets and advance economic, racial and gender equity. Labor coalitions in Maine, Rhode Island, Illinois, Texas, New York state and New York City have adopted plans developed by the institute.

In addition to Colvin, Reardon and Skinner, speakers at the Wednesday launch event included: state Sen. Jessica Ramos; state Assembly member LaToya Joyner; New York Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon; New York State Energy Research and Development Authority President Doreen Harris; Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council; New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez.

Also, Breakthrough Energy Vice President Aliya Haq; Mike Fishman, president and executive director of the Climate Jobs National Resource Center; Worker Institute Executive Director Patricia Campos-Medina; union leaders and members, and representatives from climate jobs coalitions; climate activists, environmental and environmental justice advocates, and policymakers.

View the event here and read more about the Climate Jobs Institute launch:

ILR Climate Jobs Institute Launches

Climate Jobs Institute Celebrated