Last week Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis was in the Twin Cities to meet with representatives from a wide range of groups about creating green jobs in the state of Minnesota. Several elected officials, environmental organizations, labor groups, green business and others were present at a roundtable with the Secretary, hosted by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, to discuss the GreenPOWER program, and the pros and cons of green business and the job market here in Minnesota.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and others raised their concerns about growing disparities in unemployment between whites and blacks in the Twin Cities – Minnesota has the second greatest racial disparity when it comes to unemployment in the United States. There has been some progress, but we still have a way to go concerning equity. The Secretary stated that the green business movement must be strong enough to lift all boats, and that it must not leave anybody behind; that we can fight pollution and poverty at the same time.
In order for us to be able to reduce this racial divide while creating good green jobs we have to make sure there is access at all levels. We need all folks at the policy table and access to training and job markets, and we must do the outreach to make this happen. Local business leaders were at the roundtable sharing their stories, such as Shayna Berkowitz, who started a local green business converting hybrid cars into plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. As a business owner, she recently hired a young African-American trainee from the program to work for her company – they both shared their inspirational story about how this green movement can include and change the lives of all.
When the environmental justice movement got started folks didn’t seem to recognize the need for an inclusive green economy. Last week there were leaders at all levels at this roundtable discussing the need and making sure it was recognized as the priority it is. It was inspiring to see how a couple of years can make a difference. We still have a way to go, but with the work of our local community and leaders we are heading in the right direction.
To get involved with the North Star Chapter’s Environmental Justice program, email Karen Monahan, Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer.