Leaders Promote Green Jobs, Workers’ Rights

By Toni Vranjes

March 21, 2012

Environmentalists and organized labor are trying to dispel the notion that they’re at odds with each other. In fact, they have many common goals, such as creating “green jobs” and protecting workers’ rights.

That was the message from the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference, held last week in Los Angeles. At the event, leaders and activists shared ideas for advancing those mutual goals. The conference was presented by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, which focuses on jobs that solve environmental challenges.

Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa speaks at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in Los Angeles.

Among the speakers at the opening session was Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, who called for greater rights for workers. Hoffa discussed efforts to improve conditions for truck drivers and for workers in the waste and recycling industries.

One key issue is the misclassification of Los Angeles port truck drivers, according to Hoffa. About 10,000 truck drivers are considered independent contractors, but he says they should be classified as employees.

Under a provision of the Port of Los Angeles Clean Truck Program, companies would have been required to hire truck drivers as employees. The clause would have made it easier to ensure that trucking companies pay the costs of truck maintenance. Although a federal court struck down the provision last year, Hoffa isn’t giving up.

“We are going to fix the misclassification problem here in California,” he said.

Southern California resident Karla Campos discusses her experiences as a sorter at a recycling center.

Later, Southern California resident Karla Campos recalled her time working at a waste and recycling center. Until recently, Campos sorted items at a local facility, and she’s trying to bring attention to conditions in the industry. She told the audience that sorting is “something most people would not want to do.”

Sorters work in unsafe conditions, without proper training or equipment, she said. While on the job, they handle dead animals, toxic chemicals, dangerous weapons, and dirty needles.

Campos reported the situation to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. However, her employer retaliated against her, she claims. She recently fell and broke her tailbone, and the company fired her soon afterwards, she said.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa touts green initiatives at the conference.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed concern about reports of worker abuse. He said the nation needs bold and innovative policies for creating green jobs — and those jobs need to be “good” and “decent.”

At the conference, Villaraigosa praised the city’s cutting-edge green initiatives. For instance, he touted the port’s Clean Truck Program, which replaced polluting trucks with cleaner vehicles. The program has dramatically reduced emissions of sulfur oxides, diesel particulates, and nitrogen oxides.

“Residents of Wilmington and San Pedro are breathing easier,” said Villaraigosa, referring to port districts of Los Angeles.

The mayor also expressed support for efforts to increase recycling, and he noted the work of a local coalition that is advancing the cause.

Currently, recycling at businesses and apartment complexes is largely voluntary. The Don’t Waste L.A. coalition is promoting a plan to restructure the system in order to increase recycling rates.

These types of green programs are significant not only for Los Angeles residents, but also for people in the rest of the nation, according to Villaraigosa. That’s because the city’s actions have far-reaching effects.

“As L.A. goes, so goes the state and the nation,” he said.

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