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Biden Promised “Good-Paying Union Jobs,” But It Will Take Organizing to Get Them

By Leanna First-Arai - Truthout, September 27, 2022

Since the historic and controversial Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law in August, the economy has begun showing early signs of shifting and recalibrating beneath our feet. Honda Motor Company and LG Energy Solution have announced plans for a lithium ion battery plant, with their sights on Ohio; hiring has ticked up at a small business in Texas that builds wind and solar power plants; and the state of Connecticut is soliciting applications for millions in funding for community-led climate adaptation plans in anticipation of IRA funds to come, plus funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law signed last year. The IRA set aside $369 billion in climate and energy spending, which researchers estimate will translate to 9 million jobs over the next decade.

But as cities, states, nonprofits, industry groups and corporations all scramble to sweep up a slice of that funding, the degree to which these jobs will live up to being the Biden administration’s promise of “good-paying union jobs” remains to be seen. So too does whether and how those positions will be made available to the frontline and fenceline communities of color that have suffered the most from decades of disinvestment, pollution and manipulation at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, as well as to those working in the industry itself.

“Having that stuff in the federal bill is great, but unless we are organizing to bring these things into reality, it’s not going to happen,” said Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO at a Climate Jobs Summit earlier this month. Levy warned that Republican-led state officials and contractors could be wary over accepting clean energy grants and tax breaks from the federal government, given the labor protections and training stipulations the money is contingent upon.

Birkenhead RMT members stage 48 hour strike at Ørsted wind farm base

By Helen Wilkie - Birkenhead News, September 26, 2022

On Saturday (24 September) workers at the Ørsted site in Kings Wharf, Birkenhead, completed the first of two 48-hour strikes over a 3.5% pay offer from the Danish company, which in April this year reported profits of £664 million.

The riverfront site employs 19 highly skilled technicians, all of whom completed their apprenticeships locally or with the armed forces. Two crew boats, Braver and Boarder sail from Seacombe to the Burbo Bank wind farms every day to ensure the turbines are maintained and remain operational.

In addition to the pay dispute, the 96 nationwide RMT members are unhappy that management walked away from talks to sign a collective bargaining agreement at the last minute, and instead entered into an agreement with a different union with no workplace presence.

In a separate trade dispute with Ørsted Energy, RMT members have also voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over the victimisation of a fellow worker at the Barrow in Furness site.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, “The obscene profits being made at Orsted show that this dispute could be settled if the company sat down with the union and negotiated in good faith. 

“Instead, they are trying to shut out the RMT and our members will not stand for it.

“Orsted workers take pride in the vital work they do but they will not be made poorer by a company that could give them a cost of living pay rise tomorrow.”

A second round of strike action will commence on Friday 30 September.

Ørsted have been approached for comment.

Good jobs and a Just Transition into wind technology

By staff - IndustriALL, June 16, 2022

On 7 June, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), LO Norway and IndustriALL held a second workshop on wind technology as part of the Just Transition and the energy sector initiative. The initiative provides a platform for unions around the world to exchange information on energy transition technologies and the jobs, skills, markets, investments, and emissions related to them.

Workers want good jobs and just transition in the energy sector. This workshop looked at offshore and onshore wind technology, which employers and government see as a potential pathway for oil and gas companies to diversify their assets and bring down emissions. The information is not always easy to get but unions want to see how many jobs there are, when they will come, what kind of jobs they will be, what kinds of skills workers will need for these jobs, and the transition that workers will be faced with.

To get a better view of what the future holds, participants looked at the value chains of oil and gas, and onshore and offshore wind, breaking both value chains down to production, processing, distribution, and end-use (upstream, midstream, downstream).

Union-Made Offshore Wind: AFL-CIO 2022 Convention

Texas Democrats, unions call on Interior to protect workers’ rights in offshore wind leasing

By Zack Budryk - The Hill, June 2, 2022

A coalition of Texas unions and members of Congress is calling on the Biden administration to ensure workers’ rights are protected in the buildout of offshore wind infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico. 

In a letter sent out Thursday morning, Democratic Reps. Al Green, Lloyd Doggett, Sylvia Garcia, Marc Veasey, Veronica Escobar, Vicente Gonzalez, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Joaquin Castro, who all represent districts in Texas, called on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to ensure that Gulf-based wind power projects are built by union labor.

The representatives noted that due to organizing obstacles at the state level, union membership among workers is about one-third the national rate in Texas.

In the letter, the members called on BOEM to ensure that leasing terms for wind projects in the Gulf include a requirement for a project labor agreement (PLA), or a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement between construction unions and contractors. 

The members also called for the use of a community workforce agreement, a PLA with a goal of hiring low-income workers for construction projects. 

The letter follows a public comment submitted in February by the Texas Climate Jobs Project, a coalition of labor unions in the Lone Star State that aims to bridge the gap between addressing climate change and the needs of workers. The group cites what it says is endemic wage theft in the construction business in Texas, and called on BOEM to incorporate local working conditions into its environmental analysis. 

“What we’re asking for is when they do issue those leases, that those leases have requirements in there for job quality, for the ability of workers to come together … and community benefits so that even as we build this renewable capacity, we’re making sure that working people, and people who have historically been disadvantaged by the way energy has been produced in Texas, have a real seat at the table,” Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, said in an interview with The Hill Wednesday. 

Levy described offshore wind as the ideal project to assuage what he said was unease among parts of organized labor about renewable energy’s effect on jobs. 

Unions Making a Green New Deal from Below: Part 1

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

While Washington struggles over job and climate programs, unions around the country are making their own climate-protecting, justice-promoting jobs programs.

While unions have been divided on the Green New Deal as a national policy platform, many national and local unions have initiated projects that embody the principles and goals of the Green New Deal in their own industries and locations. Indeed, some unions have been implementing the principles of the Green New Deal since long before the Green New Deal hit the headlines, developing projects that help protect the climate while creating good jobs and reducing racial, economic, and social injustice.

Even some of the unions that have been most dubious about climate protection policies are getting on the clean energy jobs bandwagon. The United Mine Workers announced in March that it will partner with energy startup SPARKZ to build an electric battery factory in West Virginia in 2022 that will employ 350 workers. The UMWA will recruit and train dislocated miners to be the factory’s first production workers. According to UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer Brian Sanson, “We need good, union jobs in the coalfields no matter what industry they are in. This is a start toward putting the tens of thousands of already-dislocated coal miners to work in decent jobs in the communities where they live.”[1]

Climate-Safe Energy Production–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2022

Climate-safe energy is being produced locally all over the country in ways that also produce jobs and increase racial, social, and economic justice – fulfilling the basic principles of the Green New Deal.

Protecting the climate requires meeting the original Green New Deal proposal’s goal of 100% of national power generation from renewable sources within ten years.[1] That requires greatly expanding climate-safe sources of energy. It involves an unprecedented transformation of the energy system, and that requires national investment and planning. But much of the transformation will actually be composed of local building blocks – and those can begin right now. Indeed, hundreds of local initiatives around the country, ranging from community solar to municipal ownership to local microgrids, are already expanding renewable energy production.

Sunlight, Jobs, and Justice

Solar gardens are sprouting up all over Denver.

On November 3, 2020, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 2A, the Climate Protection Fund, to raise approximately $40 million per year dedicated to climate action. As stated in the ballot measure, the intent of this fund is to “fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and adapt to climate change. Funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under-resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change.”[2]

Community solar gardens use photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce electricity from sunlight for an entire neighborhood. Now such solar gardens are dotting sites owned and financed by the City of Denver, including rooftops, parking lots, and vacant lands. The power generated from the solar gardens will be shared between city facilities, income-qualified residents, and publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations.

In accord with the principles of the Green New Deal, Denver’s solar garden program has a strong justice dimension. Since Denver owns the project, it can set its own standards. Ten percent of the energy generated by the solar gardens is allocated to low-income housing through the Denver Housing Authority. An additional 10 percent will be allocated to low-income households through Energy Outreach Colorado, and will be exempt from subscription fees. A paid workforce training program available to Denver residents will provide 10 percent of the city and county’s solar workforce.

The solar gardens are designed to contribute to the goal of Denver’s “80 x 50 Climate Action Plan” to transition Denver to 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal buildings by 2025; achieve 100 percent community-wide renewable electricity by 2030; and reduce Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent, as compared to a 2005 baseline, by 2050.[3]

Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island

By Lara Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Avalon Hoek Spaans, Hunter Moskowitz, and Anita Raman - The Worker Institute and The ILR School, January 2022

A new report released today by climate and labor experts at Cornell University in collaboration with the Climate Jobs Rhode Island Coalition outlines a comprehensive climate jobs action plan to put Rhode Island on the path to building an equitable and resilient clean-energy economy.

The report lays out a series of wide-ranging policy recommendations to transition the Ocean State’s building, school, energy, transportation, and adaptation sectors to renewable energy with the strongest labor and equity standards. Core provisions of the plan include decarbonizing the state’s K-12 public school buildings, installing 900 MW of solar energy statewide, 1,300 MW of offshore wind energy, and modernizing the state’s electrical grid by 2030. 

“Rhode Island is in a unique position as a state, in 2019 it had the lowest energy consumption per capita across all the United States. Rhode Island can use climate change as an opportunity to eliminate carbon emissions, increase equity, and create high-quality jobs that support working families and frontline communities,” says Avalon Hoek Spaans, Research and Policy Development Extension Associate for the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

The Worker Institute’s Labor Leading on Climate Initiative in partnership with the Climate Jobs National Resource Center, and Climate Jobs Rhode Island, began a comprehensive research, educational, and policy process in early 2021 to develop an implementation framework to drastically reduce emissions in the state while creating high-quality union family sustaining jobs.

Over the past year, the Labor Leading on Climate team has conducted outreach to numerous leaders of the labor and environmental movements as well as policymakers and experts in the climate, energy, and labor fields to better understand the challenges and opportunities that climate change and climate mitigation and adaptation presents to Rhode Island workers and unions.

“With Rhode Island on the frontlines of the climate crisis, it will take bold, ambitious action to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution to the levels that science demands. Fortunately, tackling climate change is also an opportunity to address the other crises Rhode Island is facing: inequality and pandemic recovery,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

“As a small state with one of the lowest emissions in the country, Rhode Island can be innovative and efficient, employing cutting-edge approaches to reverse climate change and inequality. Rhode Island has the potential to be the first state in the country to fully decarbonize and build out a net zero economy with high-quality union jobs. This would make Rhode Island's economy stronger, fairer, and more inclusive,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

Read the text (PDF).

Climate Ventures Conversations: Bruce Wilson from Iron & Earth

Wind and solar companies perform poorly re labour and human rights

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 17, 2021

On November 1, the Centre for Business and Human Rights Resource Centre released the 2nd edition of its report: the Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark 2021 Report. Although the report notes some improvements from the inaugural 2020 edition, the Centre states that the “ overall results remain profoundly concerning, with companies scoring an average of just 28%.” In the past 10 years, the Centre has recorded over 200 allegations linked to renewable energy projects, including land and water grabs, violation of the rights of Indigenous nations, and the denial of workers’ rights to decent work and a living wage. Only 2 companies in the survey guaranteed the right to a living wage.

The wind and solar sectors accounted for 44% of the total allegations of abuse. The Key Findings for the Wind and Solar sectors report includes analysis, and makes recommendations for corporations and investors. For corporations, the key recommendation is: “Set a clear and urgent goal to implement human rights and environmental due diligence in operations and supply chains, alongside access to remedy, with special emphasis on land and Indigenous rights risks.”

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