THE BLOG
09/11/2014 12:22 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

The Teamsters of New York Are Speaking Out About Climate Change

ASSOCIATED PRESS

This month, world leaders will descend on New York for a major United Nations climate summit. Like summits of the past, you will hear that "this time" our leaders must act - but you will be hearing it from some unexpected places.

The climate movement has grown. For years, many of us in labor sat back while environmentalists fought for a safe planet for the rest of us.

For me, it brings to mind an old union saying: "stand together - or fall apart." More and more, I see the climate fight as my fight, too. Many of my union brothers and sisters feel the same. Drought, rising sea levels, and superstorms like Hurricane Sandy have shown us that climate change is here, and the people hit hardest are workers.

Doing something about it is not all about sacrifice. Building a clean energy economy and making our communities and infrastructure more resilient give us the opportunity to rebuild our economy. As rising temperatures have attacked our environment, our economy has lost good jobs and replaced them with poverty jobs. The two problems are connected - each stemming from policies that put profit ahead of people - and the solution is the same.

The UN summit will bring together political, business, and community leaders so they can begin hashing out a plan to combat climate change.

The growing climate movement is ready to show our leaders that Americans want them to take bold action. Our support can allow them to step up and face this challenge with the confidence that the public is behind them.

As a Teamster, I have always fought tooth-and-nail for our members in the workplace, but more and more I have seen that we need allies outside the traditional labor movement to win the most important fights. I have found strong friends in the environmental movement and we are working together to protect workers and the environment at the same time.

In Los Angeles, the Teamsters won a new policy that will drastically reduce the number of miles driven by garbage trucks while also improving the working conditions and environmental standards to which garbage haulers are held. By more efficiently distributing customers, trucks no longer have to crisscross the city. This helps to alleviate traffic, greatly reduces wear and tear on roads, and most importantly cuts down on the pollution risk of those who live close to the roads.

We are working with community groups for the same change here in New York. It means that my members will be safer at work and will have cleaner air to breathe at home.

It's an unfortunate fact that the poorest Americans are those most hurt by the impacts of pollution from cars and trucks and who are least capable of withstanding the extreme weather impacts of climate change. I grew up in the South Bronx, breathing that air and seeing what it did to my family and neighbors. By promoting environmental justice, we're fighting for working families.

That is why you will see Teamsters speaking out in the lead-up to the climate summit. Action on climate change reduces the risk to those suffering from higher food prices due to the drought. It reduces the risk to those living in areas potentially impacted by bigger storms, as we experienced during Sandy. And it reduces the burden placed on our children, who will be tasked with cleaning up the atmospheric mess we leave behind.

Teamsters have a big role to play in combating and preparing for climate change. Here in New York, I will continue to partner with our employers and City Hall to make our vehicles more efficient. When the next Sandy hits - and we all know it's when, not if - the Teamsters at NYCHA and the Department of Sanitation will be there again to lead the recovery.

That is not to say that labor has reached consensus on this problem. We still debate what our role is on environmental issues and how to address the jobs crisis. Working people have the most to gain from a climate solution, and I think including unions in the conversation will ensure that the solution puts the needs of the neediest first.

It's the Teamsters' job to carry the heavy loads. So I'm proud to stand up, march, and carry this message of environmental justice and economic prosperity through action on climate change. I hope other New Yorkers who have never considered themselves "environmentalists" will join us. Every additional voice is one step closer to a safe, bright and clean energy powered future.

When the path ahead is uncertain, leaders look to their constituents for support. It's time we step up and show them which way to go.

And if they need help bearing the weight of leadership, they'll know they have Teamsters helping carrying the load.

This post is part of a month-long series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with a variety of events being held in September recognizing the threats posed by climate change. Those events include the UN's Climate Summit 2014 (to be held Sept. 23, 2014, at UN headquarters in New York) and Climate Week NYC (Sept. 22-28, 2014, throughout New York City). To see all the posts in the series, read here.