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Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA)

Utility Workers Union and UCS estimate costs to transition U.S. coal miners and power plant workers in joint report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 12, 2021

Hard on the heels of the April statement by the United Mine Workers Union, Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) jointly released a report with the Union of Concerned Scientists on May 4: Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape. This report is described as “a call to action for thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support for coal-dependent workers and communities across the nation.” The report estimates that in 2019, there were 52,804 workers in coal mining and 37,071 people employed at coal-fired power plants – and that eventually all will lose their jobs as coal gives way to cleaner energy sources. Like the United Mine Workers, the report acknowledges that the energy shift is already underway, and “rather than offer false hope for reinvigorated coal markets, we must acknowledge that thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support are critical to honoring the workers and communities that have sacrificed so much to build this country.”

Specifically, the report calls for a minimum level of support for workers of five years of wage replacement, health coverage, continued employer contributions to retirement funds or pension plans, and tuition and job placement assistance. The cost estimates of such supports are pegged at $33 billion over 25 years and $83 billion over 15 years —and do not factor in additional costs such as health benefits for workers suffering black lung disease, or mine clean-up costs. The report states: “we must ensure that coal companies and utilities are held liable for the costs to the greatest extent possible before saddling taxpayers with the bill.” Neither do the cost estimates include the recognized needs for community supports such as programs to diversify the economies, or support to ensure that essential services such as fire, police and education are supported, despite the diminished tax base. 

The report points to the precedents set by Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities ( 2018), the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment (2019), as well as the New Mexico Energy Transition Act 2019 and the Colorado Just Transition Action Plan in 2020. The 12-page report, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape was accompanied by a Technical Report, and summarized in a UCS Blog which highlights the situation in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. A 2018 report from UCS Soot to Solar also examined Illinois.

New Analysis Estimates an Equitable Energy Economy will Require $33 Billion to $83 Billion Investment in Workers

By staff - Utility Workers Union of America, May 4, 2021

As the Biden administration considers federal resources for coal workers and their communities, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urge a set of comprehensive supports estimated to cost between $33 billion over 25 years to $83 billion over 15 years. The analysis, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape, underscores that a fair and equitable shift to a low-carbon economy requires intentional, robust, and sustained investments in coal workers, their families, and their communities.

Coal-fired electricity is down to 20 percent today from about half of the nation’s electricity generation a decade ago. With more closures on the horizon, a sustained and comprehensive set of supports is needed to ensure individuals who have powered America for generations can stay in their communities, prepare for new careers with family-sustaining wages, and can retire with dignity.

“For decades, the coal industry has simply locked its doors and forgotten the individuals and communities who rely on the coal industry and who exist in almost every state across the country,” said UWUA President James Slevin. “Approaching these closures with the right set of economic supports offers a better alternative to the chaos and devastation we’re seeing today.”

Recognizing coal and mining facilities often directly employ hundreds of individuals and many more indirectly across several counties, the economic and social infrastructure of a region undergoes lasting changes when facilities close.

“The economic upheaval resulting from the dramatic job losses in the coal industry over the last decade has uprooted families, deepened economic anxiety, and left community leaders scrambling to keep schools open and social services in place,” said report co-author Jeremy Richardson, a UCS senior energy analyst who comes from a family of coal miners. “But solutions are readily available with forward-looking and visionary action by policymakers.”

Just Transition: Joint Proposal of PG&E, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, IBEW Local 1245, et. al. to Retire Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

By Various - June 20, 2016

This document is an example of an actual "Just Transition" agreement hammered out through negotiations after years of organizing by environmental organizations and dialog with unions. While it's no doubt far from perfect, it still represents a starting point for similar campaigns elsewhere, and like a union contract, it's the product of negotiations following struggle. To secure better deals, the unions and ecological movements need to keep organizing and building their collective power.

Read the report (PDF).

(Working Paper #4) Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation

Press Release - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 24, 2015

Unions welcome new report highlighting the need to ‘reclaim’ and democratize the energy system and to promote publicly owned renewable power

Globally, the energy system is failing to protect workers and communities.  Airborne and water pollution levels are out of control, especially in Asia. Energy-related emissions continue to rise as more fossil-based power comes on line. Union leaders say the struggle for democratic control of electrical power generation is central to the struggle for a healthier, safer and fairer world. A major scale-up of publicly owned but democratically controlled renewable power is required. Public renewable power will make it possible to conserve energy, control and then reduce demand, and begin to make transport as well as electrical power less dependent on fossil fuels. A truly “just transition” for workers and communities will require re-asserting the public good over private greed.

A new Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) working paper titled Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation shows how “another energy is possible, and absolutely necessary.” It succinctly explains the failure of profit-driven approaches to either emissions reductions or controlling energy demand. The TUED paper, published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York Office, examines the actual and potential content behind the term energy democracy in order to help unions get a better grasp of what is happening now and what could happen in the future. It discusses the major “fronts” on which the struggle for democratic control of power generation is currently expressing itself: cooperatives in the renewable energy sector and their potential contribution to energy democracy, as well as recent attempts to reclaim electrical power generation at the municipal level. The 4-part paper also examines the historical experience of the “public works” approach to energy transition during the New Deal in the United States and, in particular, the Rural Electrification Administration—a model of state-cooperative interaction and partnership replicated successfully in numerous countries during the post-World War II period. It proposes that a “Renewable Energy Administration” is needed today.

Unions and social movements have the power to help create a new energy system, one that will be located at the heart of a new political economy grounded in equity, true sustainability, and economic democracy. This paper, co-authored by Sean Sweeney (Murphy Institute, CUNY) Kylie Benton-Connell (New School for Social Research) and Lara Skinner (Worker Institute at Cornell) explores concrete possibilities for moving toward this goal.

According to Sweeney, the coordinator of TUED, “The paper is not a blueprint. It shows what is happening, and also what needs to happen in order to reduce emissions and pollution in a way that shifts power toward workers and communities. Its main message is, if we want to control atmospheric warming and to protect our common home, then we have to get serious about reclaiming and democratizing energy.  Unions in different countries and from all sectors are increasingly aware of the need to do this.”

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