Now an International event, Earth Day has been celebrated since April 22, 1970 and its origins are here in the United States. In fact, this annual celebration wouldn’t exist without legendary UAW leader Walter Reuther.
In 1970, environmental protection was gaining momentum as an urgent national issue. Nationwide environmental teach-ins were held in the spring and, with the help of activist Denis Hayes, who coined the name “Earth Day,” more than 20 million people marched in support of protecting the earth from environmental destruction. UAW President Walter Reuther took notice and pledged the UAW’s financial and membership support for the first Earth Day.
President Reuther had already spoken out in favor of environmental protection. At the UAW’s convention in Atlantic City that year, he told UAW members the environment is not a faraway place with scenic beauty only for vacationers but home to all of mankind, including union women and men. The auto industry and all polluting industries, he said, have forced humans to take concrete steps to prevent irreversible damage. That includes using the UAW’s collective bargaining power to get companies to change their environmental practices.
Reuther pledged member support for Earth Day and environmental protection. He also became a key organizer and financial backer of that first Earth Day. “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!” said Hayes.
Reuther died in a plane crash just three weeks after that first Earth Day, but his commitment and vision for environmental protection lives on as the UAW and industry work together for the environment and good jobs for working men and women.
In recent years, the automotive industry has made significant progress in addressing environmental impacts through improved vehicle efficiency. UAW members are proud to be a part of this progress by building more efficient vehicles across the fleet – whether it is the Chevy Bolt EV built in Lake Orion, Michigan; the Jeep Wrangler PHEV built in Toledo, Ohio; the Ford Escape PHEV to be built in Louisville, Kentucky; or the wide range of more fuel-efficient ICE and hybrid vehicles. As the industry invests in advanced technologies, UAW members look forward to the opportunity to build these cutting-edge vehicles and components. With the right approach, we can create a win-win situation for workers and the environment – by investing in cleaner vehicles built in the U.S. by union workers.
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