Environmentalists, building trades not on same page — creating California Democratic Party fractures

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ibew local 18
Image from the IBEW Local 18 website

Tensions between blue collar unions — especially representing construction workers — and environmentalists are creating fractures within the Democratic Party in California, Politico reports.

.The political news website reports that when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched his “Green New Deal LA” plan last month amid cheers from environmentalists, hundreds of jeans-wearing, tattooed union members outside the event chanted “Garcetti’s gotta go” and denounced the move as a betrayal. The Garcetti protest was followed by disputes in the state capital this month over a large buffer zone that would block new oil and gas wells, as well as a massive hydro project near Joshua Tree.

Robbie Hunter, president of the state Building and Construction Trades Council — which represents more than 400,000 workers — says that dozens of his members were planning a  “Blue Collar Revolution” demonstration at the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco, attended by more than a dozen Democratic presidential contenders and 5,000 delegates and guests.

The effort aims to send a message that the party is in danger of eroding a critical base if it continues to back the Green New Deal resolution being pushed in Washington, D.C. by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her allies. Hunter argues the measure’s goals could endanger thousands of jobs in the Southern California oil industry alone, Politico reported.

“All it does is do what the Democratic Party seems to be very good at lately — which is export our jobs, while doing nothing for the end game, which is the environmental,’’ Hunter said.

While there’s no chance that President Donald Trump will take California, pushing too far on the Green New Deal could “make it difficult for Democrats to recapture crucial Western states” like Colorado and Nevada — both won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 — “and it would certainly be an issue in states like Pennsylvania,” said Jack Pitney, a veteran California political analyst and political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

He says there’s a “cautionary tale” for Democrats, who should remember that “West Virginia, until 2000, was considered solidly blue.” Republican strategist Karl Rove, working for candidate George W. Bush, pushed the fact “that the Democratic nominee was Al Gore, author of ‘Earth in the Balance,’’’ a fact that didn’t sit well with coal miners, Pitney recalls.

“So yes, this is a real hazard for Democrats, something that somebody from a state with extractive industries may want to recognize,’’ he said.

In Los Angeles, Garcetti’s plan establishes a wide range of environmental goals, including an 80 percent renewable energy supply by 2036 and making every building emissions-free by 2050.

Unions argue that Garcetti hasn’t considered his plan’s effect on jobs. They say reducing in-state petroleum production and refining will simply shift Los Angeles to imported supplies, while forcing workers too old for retraining into retirement.

“(Garcetti’s) got the big corporations with him, and he’s not thinking of the effects on the common people,’’ said Paul Valdez, 58, a third-generation building trades worker from Thousand Oaks. “If they start taking away our jobs, who’s going to pay our bills?”

Brian D’Arcy, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 18 in Los Angeles, says that Garcetti’s move is just the latest on the environmental front that’s pushing his members toward the GOP — and into the arms of Trump, who effectively wooed blue-collar Rust Belt workers on his way to a 2016 presidential win.

“I’m getting hate mail and blowback from our workers, saying the Democratic Party is doing nothing for us,’’ Politico quotes D’Arcy as saying, sitting surrounded by his union members in a hall in Los Angeles as they prepared to protest on the streets. Asked if members might gravitate toward Trump, D’Arcy sighed and said, “It’s already happening.”

He said he has heard from scores of members who are so angered about the issue they are considering sitting out the election — or even casting a ballot for Trump.

While most political observers say the state is unlikely to shift red, Garcetti told POLITICO he is keenly aware of the concerns. “I never dismiss people’s fears — I think they come from a real place and a word of warning,’’ he said. But, he insisted, “I have deep confidence that those fears are not only unfounded, but it’s the opposite … there is so much to gain.”

Though he’s offered few specifics on some 400,000 new jobs he says would result from shifting to carbon-free technologies, Garcetti says his goal is to “take the skills that (workers) have and to be able to bring them into greener, more renewable jobs.”

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