Strange Bedfellows

Labor unions and environmental organizations are unlikely allies in the quest for a greener America. Historically, the two viewed each other with skepticism, if not downright hostility. Unions feared the environmentalists' clean-up measures would close plants and eliminate jobs. Environmentalists berated unions for backing job-creating but Earth-destroying proposals, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

But in the past few years, the two sides have found common ground. In 2006, the 1.2-million-member United Steelworkers Union (USW) joined forces with the Sierra Club, the nation's largest grassroots environmental organization, to form the Blue-Green Alliance.

While the Blue-Green Alliance focuses on the positive message of developing green jobs in America, the organization doesn't rule out battles with corporations over pollution issues. Last year, for example, as part of the Alliance's campaign against DuPont's use of the chemical PFOA, the USW and the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club organized workers and nearby residents concerned about the PFOA found in the water around a DuPont plant.

But to Foster, the bigger issue is positioning the U.S. chemical industry to remain competitive in a green future. The auto industry, he says, suffered economic losses and had to shed jobs because it did not remain competitive on fuel efficiency. With Europe leading the way in raising environmental standards for the chemical industry, he thinks chemical companies also could be left behind.

"It's going to happen. The question is what are the details going to be," Smith says. "On the business-labor side, they realize the best move is to get together with environmental groups and try to guide policy changes that are better for them. So the alliances make a lot of sense."

Senior Editor

Mary Swanton

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