Check out this coverage by Sammy Roth in the LA Times about our coalition!

“Norman Rogers has worked at the West Coast’s largest oil refinery for nearly a quarter-century”…

Rogers is a vice president at United Steelworkers Local 675, whose thousands of members include Rogers and his colleagues at the Marathon oil refinery near the Los Angeles port. Local 675 is one of more than a dozen labor unions launching a new political coalition Tuesday that will lobby California to help fossil fuel workers transition to clean energy jobs — and push state officials to protect those workers from extreme heat and other dangers of global warming.

“The writing is on the wall about what’s going to happen next,” Rogers told me, referring to the inevitability of fossil fuel jobs going away. “We’re either going to be proactive about it, or we’re going to get run over by it.”

The unions behind California Labor for Climate Jobs represent teachers, utility workers, farmworkers, janitors and more. They’re calling their initial policy platform the California Workers’ Climate Bill of Rights. It urges policymakers to invest in safety nets for oil and gas industry employees, including healthcare coverage and relocation, and to fund training programs that prepare those employees for similarly well-paying union jobs in climate-friendly fields.

The workers’ bill of rights also urges state officials to protect indoor and outdoor workers from deadly heat and lung-scarring wildfire smoke — threats that are getting worse and worse as temperatures rise with the burning of fossil fuels.

“We’re looking at a huge restructuring of the economy — probably the biggest since World War II,” said Kathryn Lybarger, a gardener at UC Berkeley and president of AFSCME Local 3299, which is also part of the new coalition. “We’ve got to make sure that as we shift to a low-carbon economy, that the jobs and those rights and protections are just as good.”

These types of proposals aren’t exactly new.

I wrote two years ago about an academic report — endorsed and funded by many of the same unions — finding that California could provide an equitable transition to fossil fuel workers at a cost of $470 million a year, or just 0.02% of the state’s expected gross domestic product. There have been increasingly loud calls for state lawmakers to safeguard workers from extreme heat.

But the new coalition arrives on the political landscape amid continued sparring over how to build a clean energy future that works for everyone.

As I’ve written in recent weeks, there’s no shortage of well-meaning people who understand the severity of the climate crisis but are convinced that certain climate solutions do more harm than good. Some critics say sprawling solar energy farms can disrupt sensitive desert landscapes, while others argue that rooftop solar incentives are driving up electricity rates.

The long-simmering tension between fossil fuel workers and environmental activists is another example of that sparring.

I saw it firsthand last week, while writing about billions of dollars in federal funding for clean-burning hydrogen fuel. Many union groups celebrated, seeing the money as a great tool for transitioning fossil fuel workers to well-paying jobs that match their skill sets. Many environmental justice activists, meanwhile, protested bitterly, seeing hydrogen as more often than not a false climate solution that will lead to continued air pollution in low-income communities of color.

I asked Ari Eisenstadt, energy equity manager for the California Environmental Justice Alliance, whether groups such as his need to be more sympathetic to fossil fuel workers. He acknowledged the importance for high-paying jobs but also noted that the low- income communities of color his group defends are “almost always made up of the same people as labor communities.”

What’s the point, he asked, of throwing those families an economic lifeline while continuing to foul their air?

“You can’t have a lifeline if you’re dead because you have cancer from air pollution,” he said.

Just about everyone agrees that climate activists and organized labor are better off working together — an approach exemplified by the national BlueGreen Alliance. Although the new California coalition is made up exclusively of unions, it’s taking a similarly inclusive approach: Keep fighting for good jobs, but pair that with a push for renewable energy. Make strong wages and a healthy climate part of the same campaign.

The challenge is working through issues where climate activists and labor unions fiercely disagree.

Take rooftop solar: When I asked Lybarger if there are clean energy jobs that the new coalition considers insufficiently well-paid or lacking in opportunity, she pointed to the largely non-union rooftop solar industry. It’s a longstanding point of contention that prompted labor unions to take part in a successful campaign to slash financial incentives for rooftop solar in California.

Like everything else in life that matters, resolving these tensions won’t be easy. Especially not at the rapid pace necessary to slash planet-warming pollution and prevent heat waves, fires and storms from getting far deadlier and more destructive.

But at least there are people trying. At least we can all play our small roles.