It’s not a marriage proposal yet, say environmentalists and union folks, but after 20-some-odd years of fighting each other, the two factions in Missoula are at least flirting. They get silly-nervous even talking about it.
“The relationship is still very tender,” says Bryony Schwan, with Women’s Voices for the Earth. She’s had an interest in bringing the two groups together after hearing her fill of corporations telling workers that environmentalists were taking their jobs away.
“We just got so tired of this whole angle: jobs or the environment,” she says. “We can’t live without either.”
In 2001, the two camps met in Butte to discuss the federal Davis Bacon Act, a labor bill about wages, says Mark Anderlik, an organizer with Montana Community Labor Alliance. The groups drafted a letter to congressmen, he says.
“Putting all our names and organizations on one piece of paper was a pretty big step at the time,” says Anderlik.
The loosely organized Blue-Green movement has seen more recent collaboration, too. Home improvement chain Lowe’s, says Schwan, had considered contracting with a metal company with a bad labor record. The Blue-Greens jointly signed a letter welcoming Lowe’s into the community—and asking the company to at least pay union wages.
“They wouldn’t expect the environmental community to come out and say, ‘We want you to build this union,’” says Schwan. Lowe’s eventually contracted union labor from Missoula’s Quality Supply, Inc.
But not everyone is excited about the emerging Blue-Green flirtation.
“The extreme lefts have marginalized themselves,” says Dennis Daneke with Regional Council of Carpenters. “The extreme rights have marginalized themselves.”
But the conversation, at least, is alive. The Blue-Greens are currently watching the Rocky Mountain Lab. If it must expand, says Schwan, “you don’t want to skimp on your labor.” And the Blue-Greens anxiously await an EPA report on the Milltown dam cleanup, which is expected to commence in late March. They’ll approach companies bidding for contracts—Blues and Greens have spoken, separately, with Envirocon already—but right now their palms are still sweaty, and they hyperventilate around the details.
Daneke, for one, seems hopeful that whatever remediation companies are hired will at least pay union wages.
“If we’re successful with the dam,” says Daneke, “somebody’s going to go downtown and buy that new truck they need.”