Joseph B. (Joe) Uehlein is the former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department and former director of the AFL-CIO Center for Strategic Campaigns; he is a founder and board member of Ceres and a member of the National Advisory Board of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is now organizing the Labor Network for Sustainability dedicated to rallying trade unionists for economic, social and environmental sustainability.
He is also Solo artist and band leader (the U-Liners).
According to Uehlein;
- The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth. A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world.
- But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!” Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Reuther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off – to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls: “The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”
Uehlein was raised in Cleveland. It was a union town, and both his parents were trade unionists.
After high school he went to work in central Pennsylvania in an aluminum mill and when the mill was flooded out by hurricane Agnes He then got a job doing flood cleanup at Three Mile Island, which was under construction at the time, and joined the laborers union. At 19 or 20 he became a full-time shop steward on safety and health issues. The environmental movement was protesting the construction of the power plant.
- My local union had a bumper sticker that said, “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an environmentalist!” I objected, and I went to the local and said, really, you know, they’re not really our enemies. They’re protesting the construction of this power plant because it wasn’t built to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707. And the airport’s right there. So it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?”
- The same Industrial Union Department that had helped start Earth Day initiated perhaps the first labor-environmental coalition, called the OSHA Environmental Network. I was appointed its field director. We had active coalitions in 22 states with the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth and IUD member unions. At first, labor’s “job-protection heart” came to the fore: The United Mineworkers Union was afraid that the alliance might encourage limits on the high sulfur coal that caused acid rain, thereby threatening some miners’ jobs; it insisted that our environmental network be shut down.
- Later, encouraged by labor’s other “heart” in the form of unions that supported sulfur reduction, the Mineworkers negotiated an acid rain compromise agreement with Senator George Mitchell of Maine. When the UN Commission on Global Warming formed, I served as a representative of the IUD. Before every meeting that I went to I would be lobbied strongly by the Mineworkers and the IBEW on the one side to say kill what would become the Kyoto Treaty and then the Steelworkers who wanted to see the treaty enacted. In 1997 the AFL-CIO blasted the treaty and sent a high level representative to Kyoto to oppose it. So I resigned from the commission.
- I took on the assignment to organize labor’s role in the 1999 protests against the WTO in Seattle. As we were organizing, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney came out to address the Washington State AFL-CIO convention. I had been planning 15,000 people as a goal for labor’s piece. John made his speech and he said 50,000 people. As he came off the podium, I said, John, it’s 15,000, 15,000 is our goal. And he turned to me and he said Joe, it’s 50,000 now. We had more than sixty thousand people on the streets, perhaps forty thousand of them from labor. It was “Teamsters and turtles, together at last.” Stopping the WTO, and building the coalitions we built, was a culmination of all the things I believed in and all the things I had been working for. To me it represented the power we have when labor’s two hearts beat together – when we recognize that the real self-interest of workers and the labor movement is the same as the rest of the world’s: to fight for a sustainable future.
Uelien has37 years experience in all aspects of trade union work, including major focus in organizing, bargaining, strategic campaigns, coalition building, and art and activism. he is President of the Labor Heritage Foundation and a Board Member, Festive Revolution. he also serves on the Board of Directors, Global Labor Strategies.
Labor Heritage Foundation
National Jobs For All Coalition
In 2010, Joseph B. Uehlein, Pres., Labor Heritage Fdtn, & former Dir., Strategic Campaigns, AFL-CIO, was listed as serving on the advisory board of the Democratic Socialists of America dominated National Jobs For All Coalition.
- [https://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/earth-day-labor-and-me/, Talking Union, Earth Day, Labor and Me Posted on April 27, 2014 by paulgarver]
- [Democratic Left • Issue 6 1997. page 12]
- Board of Directors
- National Jobs For All Coalition: Who We Are (accessed on Nov. 16, 2010)