Tom Conway Jr., 30, of Kouts, Ind., is the regional program manager of the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of labor unions and environmental groups. “We want to grow the clean-energy economy in the United States,” he said. | Photo provided
AT A GLANCE
For more information about the BlueGreen Alliance and its Jobs21! campaign, visit the web site www.bluegreenalliance.org.
Updated: November 9, 2011 11:17AM
“... When environmentalists stand up for workers’ safety and health, and when workers stand up for the health of the environment, we can win the victories that will build a new green economy for ourselves, our children and our environment ... .”
— BlueGreen Alliance
Tom Conway Jr. lives in Kouts with his wife, Sarah, and their children, ages 12 and 4.
Conway, 30, is the regional program manager of the BlueGreen Alliance; his office is in the farthest south of the twin towers in Merrillville, near the Radisson Hotel.
Conway is the son of Tom Conway Sr., international vice president of the United Steelworkers, and is the son-in-law of Jim Hitz, former executive director of Taltree Arboretum.
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Lived in Kouts your entire life?
“No, my parents lived in Portage until I was in the sixth grade. Their home in Kouts was a little south of town, near the Kankakee River.”
Must have been near Baum’s Bridge.
“We were about a mile away. My brothers and I did a lot of camping along the Kankakee River. We were all Boy Scouts; my dad was a Scout master.”
“Hiking and raising my kids.”
Tell me about the BlueGreen Alliance.
“The BGA is a partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations. It has been around since 2006 and was started by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club. There are now 10 unions in the BGA and four environmental organizations.”
Which unions other than the Steelworkers?
“The Communications Workers of America, Service Employees International Union, Laborers International Union of North America, Utility Workers Union of America, American Federation of Teachers, Amalgamated Transit Union, Sheet Metal Workers International Association, and the United Auto Workers.”
“The National Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the National Wildlife Federation.
How many members make up this unique partnership?
“Almost 9 million.”
The BGA’s goal?
“We’re in pursuit of good jobs, a clean environment and a green economy. Right now, we’re really focused on what’s going on as far as federal legislation. The country is in dire need of jobs. Job creation will solve the other problems we are spending way too much time arguing about.”
“Deficit ceilings and budget shortfalls. With a solid tax base and a lot of good job creation going on in this country, those problems become moot to a certain extent.”
Who would have thought hard hats and tree-huggers could be on the same page?
“For years, there was this misnomer that labor unions and environmental organizations were against each other, that the environmentalists were always trying to put everybody out of work, and labor was only interested in jobs and not protecting the environment. That’s not true.
“We like to say at the BGA, ‘We’re either going to have good jobs and a clean environment or we’re going to have neither.’”
What kinds of good jobs?
“In areas such as clean energy and energy efficiency. When you drive to Indianapolis via Interstate 65, you’ll see one of the biggest wind farms in the country.”
White and Benton counties.
“Unfortunately, a lot of those wind turbines came from overseas. You can talk to Steelworkers who have seen them unloaded at the Port of Indiana.”
And some of those millworkers’ buddies are laid off.
“Exactly. We want to grow the clean-energy economy in the United States.”
Tom, someone told me that some outfit has been cranking out wind turbines; I believe it was in Iowa or Wisconsin.
“We’re getting better about it; I think we’re making about 60 percent of them now. A lot of that comes from President Obama’s stimulus package; he put a lot of money into clean energy.
“Those are the kinds of things we need to keep growing; we have a long way to go. Countries like Sweden and Denmark got a big head start on us.”
How about China?
“China is throwing money into clean energy and energy efficiency hand-over-fist. The hard truth is, China is investing money wisely; they are moving forward. On the other hand, we’re fighting about paying unemployment benefits and cutting Social Security and Medicare. This tit-for-tat fighting and politicking isn’t getting us anywhere.”
Wind turbines and solar panels are but the tip of the iceberg.
“We can create millions of jobs just by updating our infrastructure in this country. I think the highest grade we received on our infrastructure report card from the Army Corps of Engineers was a C-minus — we’re crumbling.”
“We could put a lot of laborers, sheet-metal workers and Steelworkers back to work by rebuilding our infrastructure and making America more competitive.”
I realize you’re a little too young, but have you ever thought of running for president of the United States in a few years?
“These are things on which we can reach bipartisan support.”
Tell me about the latest campaign involving BGA.
“That would be Jobs21!; the 21 stands for good jobs for the 21st century. We’re focused on clean energy and revitalizing manufacturing in the United States.
“We’re going to be organizing events here in Northwest Indiana. People need to know how to install clean-energy technology in their homes and make money off of it.”
Tom, that would be great if all the John and Jane Does go green, but what about big industry?
“It’s easy to look at the mills, and say, ‘Going green in the steel mills is a joke.’ But, at Indiana Harbor East and West (ArcelorMittal), they combined a heat and power installation and created waste-heat recovery. The equivalent amount of power that is captured from one blast furnace is enough to power like 30,000 homes.”
“Jeff, I want people to know that the BGA’s Jobs21! campaign is a solid plan that could grow certain key industry sectors in the United States. This is what we need right now in our national and political dialogue: Where and how do we create these jobs in responsible ways?”
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There is an effort in this country to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency. Conway is too young to remember what the sky looked like while driving along Cline Avenue or U.S. 20 before the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970.
But, like his father in Pittsburgh, Tom Conway Jr. is a fighter, and you best believe he’ll stand up to those who would turn back the clock.