What Would the Green Response to COVID-19 Look Like?

July 1, 2020

Share this article

(This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread economic distress, with over 45 million unemployment claims as of June 18. As the country heads toward a recession, the federal response has thus far been woefully inadequate. Though the CARES Act is the largest stimulus bill ever signed, unsurprisingly, its $500 billion in payouts to large corporations have not stopped tens of millions of people from losing their jobs. Even after the pandemic, economists say jobs will not simply re-appear once the economy “re-opens.”

In response to the dire short and long term jobs outlook, climate scholars and organizations are arguing that the Green New Deal – the shift of the country’s economy from fossil fuels towards renewable energy – is the policy we need to get people back to work. It is an opportunity to employ millions in the building of a new green infrastructure.

“It’s hard to imagine a more compelling case for a Green New Deal, the only economic stimulus package that meets the urgency of this moment,” the Sunrise Movement says in their statement on COVID-19, endorsed by the Labor Network for Sustainability. “Instead of responding the same way they did in 2008, with corporate bailouts that left millions unemployed and homeless, the government should be investing massively in public health infrastructure, guaranteeing federal jobs to all workers displaced, and employing millions to transform our energy, transportation, and food systems toward renewable energies that stabilize both our economy and our climate.”

One of the major tenets of the Green New Deal is the Federal Jobs Guarantee that would provide a good paying job to any person who wants one. However, the ability to employ people on demand on the national or state level does not currently exist. In order to create this infrastructure, scholars suggest creating jobs programs to answer the short-term public health demands of the COVID-19 crisis. The programs to get people to work could then be expanded as part of a national jobs guarantee in the shift to renewable energy.

“We need to put people who are being laid off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic to work wherever they can be safely deployed to help strengthen public health programs, tutor homebound students, prepare and deliver meals to the sick, elderly, and vulnerable, and provide other essential services on an emergency basis,” said Jeremy Brecher, the Labor Network for Sustainability Research and Policy Director. “That initial emergency response should become the basis of a Green Work Program (GWP) designed to provide work for all who need it in the aftermath of the coronavirus. The GWP should be expanded and made permanent as part of the broader Green New Deal plan to address climate change and inequality,” Brecher continued.

Post-pandemic, the jobs program could be used to place formerly out-of- work people in “shovel-ready” jobs – those that are already available, but need funding and labor, such as coastline restoration, urban gardening, and tree planting. Should the nation properly fund a transition away from fossil fuels, more jobs would become available in building out new electric grids and retro-fitting buildings.

However, while the COVID-19 pandemic presents the opportunity to get people back to work towards a new green economy, government leaders have thus far lacked the political will to do so. APWU members are encouraged to join the Labor Network for Sustainability and organize at work and in the community to advocate for a Green New Deal. For more information on how to get involved in the fight against climate change, email Vice President Debby Szeredy at dszeredy@apwu.org.

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.