Keynote Panel

Organizing a Just Transition off Fossil Fuels

What is a just transition?

As outlined by the Climate Justice Alliance, a "Just Transition is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. Just Transition describes both where we are going and how we get there."  Read more on the Climate Justice Alliance's website.

 Keynote Panelists:

Dr. Nicky Sheats

Nicky Sheats, Ph.D, MPP, Esq., is the director of the Center for the Urban Environment at the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean University, and has defined the primary mission of the Center as providing support for the environmental justice community on both the state and national level. Among the many issues Sheats is working on are particulate matter air pollution, climate change, cumulative impacts, developing legal strategies and increasing the capacity of the environmental justice community to address these and other issues. 

Sheats was a founding member of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA), the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum, the Environmental Justice and Science Initiative, the Building Equity and Alignment Initiative, the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, the Coalition for Healthy Ports and an informal environmental justice attorneys group. He has held leadership positions within these organizations as well as within the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy. 

Brooke Helmick

Brooke Helmick is the Law and Policy Program Manager for the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, an organization with deep roots and leadership in the local and national movement for environmental justice. In this role, she works to further education, advocacy, and policies that prioritize justice and equity for New Jersey's low-income communities and communities of color.  Prior to joining NJEJA, she worked as a Research Assistant for Princeton University Bridging Divides Initiative, as a Community Engagement Graduate Intern for All In Together, and as a Policy Fellow and Disability Rights Advocate for the Los Angeles City Civil, Human Rights, and Equity Department.

Cynthia Mellon

Cynthia Mellon coordinates the work on the false solution of geoengineering for the Climate Justice Alliance – a national coalition that links over 90 frontline communities across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Guam. She was formerly Environmental Justice Organizer for the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) in Newark, where she initiated programs that are still unfolding, including the organization’s work on urban agriculture. She has served as Co-Chair of the Newark Environmental Commission, where she played an active role in getting Newark’s Environmental Justice – Cumulative Impacts ordinance passed. She currently serves on the Steering Committee of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA). Increasingly, Cynthia is engaged in music and art as political practice. She is a member of the Jersey City-based group Segunda Quimbamba, which performs and teaches traditional Puerto Rican music and dance.

Todd Vachon

Todd Vachon, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations (LSER) and the Director of the Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Todd's latest book, Clean Air and Good Jobs: U.S. Labor and the Struggle for Climate Justice, about the emerging labor-climate movement within the U.S. labor movement, was released in early 2023. Todd will discuss the contours of the emerging labor–climate movement and demonstrate what can be envisioned and accomplished when climate justice is on labor’s agenda and unions work together with other social movements to formulate bold solutions to the climate crisis. 

Reynalda Cruz Perez

Reynalda Cruz Perez is an organizer with New Labor. She is from Mexico and came to the United States in 1991 and has three children. She has worked in several different industries including warehouses through temporary agencies and in restaurants and hotels. She has been a member of New Labor since 2007, having first gotten involved in the campaign for comprehensive immigration reform for everyone. She was also a part of the important winning campaign to pass a bill in the NJ legislature for driver’s licenses for all in NJ, regardless of immigration statutes. She’s also worked on campaigns to pass a bill for paid sick days, a bill against the epidemic of wage theft, and a $15 minimum wage.

She has been on staff as an organizer with New Labor since 2014 and continues to fight to improve the conditions of workers and to ensure that workers' voices are heard.

For the past several years she has been part of a campaign to pass a bill in the NJ legislature to protect temporary workers. In February 2023, the bill was passed and the law was passed and it went into effect on August 5, 2023. Now she is working on a campaign to educate law enforcement workers to know their rights. She is also an OSHA-certified trainer in general industry and in warehouse health and safety.