LOS ANGELES — Blue-collar union workers in solidly Democratic California are rejecting “Green New Deal” politics, a possible preview of troubles for 2020 presidential hopefuls in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.
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 plan a major “Blue Collar Revolution” demonstration Saturday morning at the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco, which will be attended by 14 of the 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.
“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.
And California labor forces this weekend are also expected to also put their clout behind Rusty Hicks, who heads the Los Angeles Labor Federation — a candidate in a contentious race to chair the California Democratic Party. Hicks has signaled labor’s concerns by signing a letter opposing a move to ban a hazardous acid from refineries, saying it “will lead to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs for local people and cost our region millions of dollars in activity. We cannot dismiss these jobs or look at the women and as expendable: because they are not.”
“The Green New Deal may be the darling of the Democratic Party — but it really divides the Democrats on a fault line, which is more of the elites against the working class Democrats who are concerned about losing their jobs,” said Jessica Levinson, a member of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and a professor who teaches politics and ethics at Loyola Law School.
Lifelong union members “don’t necessarily want to be retrained’’ for other, greener work spots — “nor is it even possible,’’ says Levinson. She predicts with the 2020 election looming, Democratic leaders will have to wrestle with the fact that “unlike the Mueller report and impeachment and indictment — people vote on whether or not they’re going to lose their job.”
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.