On Earth Day, celebrating AFSCME members in green jobs

Every year on April 22 — Earth Day — communities across the globe celebrate our environment and commit to making it healthy for future generations.

This Earth Day, I’m thinking about the 50,000 AFSCME members who work in green jobs, protecting and caring for our planet. Whether they’re leading nature walks in our county or state parks, making public buildings more energy efficient and resilient to climate disasters, or making sure our waterways are clean, AFSCME members are at the heart of healthy communities.

Recently, I visited one of my favorite green spaces in Washington, D.C., Rock Creek Park. I met Shaun Abell, an arborist for the federal government and a steward of Local 626 (District Council 20). Shaun talked about his work in a way that made me rethink the role of forests in our ecosystem. He said arborists provide health care to trees so that they will survive for decades to come.

AFSCME members like Shaun help preserve our environment and quality of life. Every time we enjoy a picnic in our neighborhood park, turn on the tap, or hop on public transportation, public service workers make it possible. 

Public service workers are on the front lines of the climate crisis. Nurses and other health care workers face higher rates of childhood asthma due to increased air pollution. County highway crews repair roads after severe storm damage. And firefighters face extreme temperatures and treacherous conditions to save our forests.

State and local communities are hit hard by climate disasters. But increasingly, it is states that are taking the lead on mitigating the risk of these disasters and building greater climate resilience.

In the fight for our planet’s very survival, we must mobilize for an urgent response. This Earth Day let’s recommit to building a greener future. Let’s demand long-term investment to meet the challenges of climate change, help modernize our energy systems, and invest in public services like water, sustainable agriculture and transportation.

Let’s put the priority on workers as we support a green economy. We can make sure that workers displaced by technology developments receive the training they need to keep their jobs or transition into other union jobs. At AFSCME’s 43rd International Convention, delegates passed a resolution to “support educational efforts about the threats of climate change and its associated economic, social, and political costs so that we may be part of the solution in protecting workers.”

We are making huge progress with investments in green infrastructure and public services. President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill made the largest investment in American history in public transit, waterways and more. Let’s keep the pressure on our federal, state and local elected officials to continue to pass meaningful climate legislation.

As I discussed with Shaun, climate change is a crisis that requires individual and collective action. We are all impacted by climate change, and that means we can all be part of the solution. Together we can push on to a cleaner, greener future.