Even months after Super Storm Sandy, power hadn’t been restored to all residents on the East Coast. That was one of the many events that brought a serious problem to light: Our infrastructure systems — the energy, water and communications networks we rely on and use every day — have not changed, in many ways, since they were originally designed, and they are not able to keep up with the demands of 21st century living. This was the discussion of the second plenary panel during the 2013 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference on Tuesday, April 16.
As Mike Langford, National President of the Utility Workers Union of America, explained, “Our infrastructure is at the end of its life. That is why our national infrastructure earned a grade of D+… Don’t we deserve an A+ water and energy system?”
Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency added, “The good news is that investing in our water infrastructure creates jobs. We owe it to future generations to ensure they have safe drinking water like we have had.”
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke about the importance of using pension funds to fund training programs to support training programs for workers. “We know that if we invest pension funds into infrastructure projects in a prudent, fiducially-sound way, retrofit and upgrade buildings to make them energy efficient, and create those type of jobs and training to allow current workers to upgrade their skills and create a new skill base for new workers, that is a win-win-win.”
Representative Stacey Abrams, Minority Leader of the Georgia House, shared the story of the Atlanta Green Beltway as an example of what can happen when infrastructure projects are done right. This project is re-using 22-miles of historic railroad corridors to connect 45 neighborhoods and provide a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit.
Eric Rodriguez, Vice President of Public Policy for the National Council of La Raza, spoke about the importance of building relationships and non-traditional partnerships in order to get these types of investments done. “We spend a lot of time talking to ourselves. Building relationships and agenda setting collaboratively takes time and energy, so it is easier to talk to ourselves. Building deeper, collaborative and authentic relationships on the local and national level is what is needed to win.”
Langford pushed conference attendees to be talk about the importance of investing in our nation’s infrastructure to those in their home communities. “Every person needs to be an ambassador for how these types of projects need to happen in their own communities. We need community involvement and education so we can get the investments that are good for workers and good for communities.”