Building tradespeople are the green job specialists

Thursday, June 14, 2012

DESPITE INCESSANT ATTEMPTS IN the mainstream media to pit workers against environmentalists and to insist that Canada has to choose between full employment OR environmental sanity, members of the BC Building Trades are key activists in an organization that argues just the opposite. Green Jobs BC (, founded in 2010, insists that the province can reduce the volume of climate changing CO2 it puts into the air while at the same time creating well-paying union jobs across the economy—“green jobs.”

BCBT tradespeople are green job specialists in British ColumbiaJust ask Lee Loftus, president of the Building Trades Council and business manager of the Insulators Local 118. The local union’s website proclaims “Green Jobs, Great Jobs—Insulators Local 118, Energy Conservation Specialists.”

“Building tradespeople are the green jobs specialists,” Loftus said. “Green jobs aren’t a fad. They’re here to stay. Some of our members don’t realize they are already doing green jobs. We need to be the guardians of those jobs and protect them. Building trades workers should feel proud of our significant role in sustainability.”

One of Loftus’s partners in building bridges between labour and environmental groups is Darryl Walker, president of the BC Government and Service Employees Union. Walker said that his union has been concerned about addressing the environmental crisis for at least 20 years.

“In 1999, our new president George Heyman asked me to take a role in this work. We were part of the Labour Environmental Alliance Society when May Burrows organized it. Our whole approach was ‘Let’s not fight with each other. Let’s do something about global warming together.’ We wanted to find ways to push the envelope on warming and create new green jobs.”

The 2010 founding conference of Green Jobs BC created “lots of positive energy,” he said, and arranged for some ongoing funding. The 201 conference, held in February, examined energy issues, transportation and retrofitting of older buildings to make them more sustainable. Green jobs have to genuinely contribute to climate change solutions to deserve the name, Loftus said. “As long as everything is done to the lowest bid, what you get can be a piece of crap,” he told Tradetalk. “It kills us as tradespeople to see Platinum LEEDS
[Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] designation on buildings that don’t have proper mechanical engineering. We need complete systems, not just optics.”

The Insulators went to the media to force contractors at the Olympic Village to go back and re-open walls that had been closed in before proper insulation work could be done on hot and cold water pipes. Loftus is optimistic that B.C. cities are gradually implementing better standards that will insure that building trades workers will be allowed to do their best “green” work in new construction and in retrofits. His union had already met with over 30 municipal administrations in the province to discuss green jobs and sustainable construction regulations.

Loftus and Walker credited BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair for his role in promoting Green Jobs BC. Sinclair said that organization, with funding for the next three years, is now in a position to build trust and vision. “We have to reject the false paradigm that divides environmentalists and workers,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll disagree, of course, but we have lots of common ground and room for shared work.

“We all have to be winners in our own right. That means making sure there are decent jobs [and] there are transitions. And when we make the tough choices, all interests will be considered,” Sinclair told the Tyee in 2007. “We’re creating the big tent necessary to solve this big problem,” Sinclair said. “Green Jobs BC is involving youth and business groups as well as labour and environmentalists. This is a long-term project, but it is built on the vision that a better world is not only possible but absolutely necessary.”

Building trades workers in BC and Yukon can be assured that their council and member unions are playing an important role in creating that big tent.

Writer Tom Sandborn welcomes your feedback and story tips at [email protected]

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