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Why Unions Are the Key to Passing a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizomodo, September 25, 2020

There’s a persistent conservative myth that the clean energy transition must come at the expense of employment. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. The Congressional resolution on a Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last February, includes a proposal guarantee employment to all those who want it. And increasingly, climate activists are focusing on the potential to create millions of good jobs in clean energy.

These pro-worker proposals—and the knowledge that it will take an economy-wide effort to kick fossil fuels and the curb to avert climate catastrophe—have won the platform support from swaths of the labor movement. Yet some powerful unions still oppose the sweeping proposal. The president of the AFL-CIO—the largest federation of unions in the U.S.—criticized the Green New Deal resolution, and heads of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Mine Workers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have outright opposed it. That poses a political roadblock to achieving the necessary transformation of the U.S. economy. 

“The Green New Deal movement needs broader support from the labor movement to be successful,” Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability and former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department, said. “As long as labor isn’t a central player in this movement, they will they have the power to block pretty much anything. on Capitol Hill. They contribute in electoral campaigns. They’re a very powerful force.”

Why Every Job in the Renewable Energy Industry Must Be a Union Job

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, September 3, 2020

The renewable energy industry in the United States is booming. Prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has put millions out of work, over 3 million people worked in clean energy — far more than those who worked in the fossil fuel industry. And though the decline of fossil fuel jobs appears unstoppable, the unions that represent those workers are very protective of their members’ jobs. Similarly, they’ve also been resistant to legislation like the Green New Deal, which would create more green jobs while also transitioning away from work in extractive industries. Environmental activists believe that green jobs are the future — for both workers and our world — but unionization rates in the renewable energy industry are extremely low. In order to get unions on board with green jobs, the environmental movement will have to fight for those jobs to be union. And unions will have to loosen their grip on fossil fuels in an effort to embrace renewables.

Fossil fuel jobs can pay well (both oil rig and refinery workers can take home around $100,000 per year), but due to automation and decreased demand, the number of jobs is shrinking. And so are the unions that represent them. At its peak, the United Mine Workers of America boasted 800,000 members, but hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off in the last few decades. Now UMWA is mostly a retirees’ organization and only organizes a few thousand workers in the manufacturing and health care industries, as well as workers across the Navajo Nation. When a union like UMWA hemorrhages members, many see it as an insular problem that doesn’t concern anybody else — environmentalists may even celebrate the closure of mines and refineries, potentially paying lip service to lost jobs, without doing much to create new ones.

“An injury to one is an injury to all” is not just a slogan in the labor movement because it sounds good, but because it’s true. When union density is low and unions are weak, the jobs that are created are more likely to have low pay, lack benefits, and be unsafe. And because union density in this country is already so low (33.6% in the public sector, 6.2% in the private), every time an employer of union labor outsources or shuts down, it affects not only those newly unemployed workers, but all workers, union and not. When oil refineries and other fossil fuel employers close their doors, union members and other workers lose their jobs. And while that may feel like a win for environmentalists, it’s also a loss for all working people, even those concerned about climate change. Unions are one of the only ways working people have power in this country — without them, there will be very few organizations equipped to fight for the programs and services we deserve, including ones that are tasked with fighting climate change. These kinds of contradictions have caused tension between both movements, and corroded trust between them. And while there have been some inroads made in the last few years — including unions endorsing the Green New Deal — there’s still a long way to go until unions eschew fossil fuels.

Energy Self-Reliant States 2020: Third Edition

By Maria McCoy and John Farrell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance, September 2020

If each U.S. state took full advantage of its renewable resources, how much electricity would it produce? How much of its own electricity consumption could renewable energy fulfill? Would in-state renewable generation be enough to charge electric vehicles and power electric heating, too? In 2010, ILSR published the first national overview of state renewable electricity potential with the second edition of Energy Self-Reliant States (ESRS). At the time, most states were setting ambitious goals to attain 25 percent renewable electricity.

Now, several states and over 100 U.S. cities have made truly ambitious commitments to 100 percent renewable power. Fortunately, this third edition finds a better technical outlook and a brighter economic picture than a decade ago. States have much better renewable energy resources than they thought. Also, the costs of renewable electricity sources, like wind and solar, have declined precipitously. The 20-year average cost (often called the “levelized cost”) of solar electricity has declined from around $0.200 per kilowatt-hour for small scale projects to $0.091 per kilowatt-hour. The decline is even more dramatic for utility-scale solar, with the levelized cost falling from $0.120 to about $0.037 per kilowatt-hour. Wind energy costs have declined by significant margins, as well, from around $0.13 to $0.04 per kilowatt-hour.

Clean energy is not only affordable, it is a big contributor to the U.S. economy. At the start of 2020, the clean energy industry employed 3.3 million people – that’s 40 percent of America’s energy workforce. The clean energy sector is strong and growing stronger; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that solar installers and wind technicians will be the fastest growing occupations in the next decade.

Read the text (PDF).

Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures

By Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty - The Prying Mantis, September 2020

In a Sierra Club commissioned report, PERI's Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty estimate the employment impacts of a $6 trillion, 10-year economic stimulus program designed by the Sierra Club and other civil society organizations. Pollin and Chakraborty estimate that spending at about $600 billion per year for 10 years would generate about 4.6 million jobs annually to upgrade American infrastructure, and another 4.5 million jobs annually to transition the country to a clean energy economy.

The report assumes the public investment in clean energy would be matched equally by another $300 billion per year in private sector clean energy investments. This would generate another 4.5 million jobs per year for 10 years.

Read the text (PDF).

CalPERS Continues to Invest in Coal

By Robert Dam and Vanessa Warheit - Fossil Free California, September 2020

This 14-page report shows that CalPERS continues to hold millions in coal producers that make the majority of their revenue from thermal coal. In fact, CalPERS even increased its investments in Exxaro, a company that qualified for divestment in 2017 but was retained by CalPERS because they said they were investing more in green energy. But Exxaro’s modest clean energy initiatives are dwarfed by its current coal operations in South Africa, and by its intent to seek permits for a six-fold expansion of its coal mining, which could be a tipping point for the climate.

In recognition of coal’s outsized contribution to human-caused climate change, in 2015 California passed a law – SB 185 – requiring CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from companies making 50% or more of their revenue from the mining of thermal coal.  A 50% share of revenue sets a very high bar that can be reached by only the small number of “pure-play” coal mining companies that remain in business.  Many investors, including BlackRock and the State of New York, define a “coal company” with a much lower threshold of 25% or even 10%.

If CalPERS coal holdings are analyzed more broadly, using the criteria of the Global Coal Exit List, it’s clear that CalPERS holds billions in coal – coal mining companies, coal-fired utilities, coal distribution and services, and large diversified companies with substantial coal operations. Instead of winding down its investments in coal, which was the intent of SB 185, CalPERS actually increased investments in coal by $1.5 billion dollars between 2018 and 2019, for a total of $6.5 billion throughout the whole coal value chain. 

CalPERS’ coal exclusion policy is weak compared to those of many other institutional investors. By failing to set a strong coal exclusion policy, CalPERS has already lost billions in absolute value on its coal investments, and the sector continues to decline. As New York State’s Tom DiNapoli said when he decided to divest 22 thermal coal companies, “After a thorough assessment, the fund has divested from 22 thermal coal mining companies that are not prepared to thrive, or even survive, in the low-carbon economy.”

Download (PDF).

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in Maine

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economic Research Institute, August 27, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in Maine, as with most everywhere else in the United States. This study proposes a recovery program for Maine that is capable of exerting an effective counterforce against the state’s economic collapse in the short run while also building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term recovery. Even under current pandemic conditions, we cannot forget that we have truly limited time to take decisive action around climate change. As we show, a robust climate stabilization project for Maine will also serve as a major engine of economic recovery and expanding opportunities throughout the state.

The study includes three sections:

  • 1. Economic Stimulus through Restoring Public Health;
  • 2. Clean Energy Investments, Public Infrastructure Investments, and Jobs; and
  • 3. Financing a Fair and Sustainable Recovery Program.

Young Workers and Just Transition

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 26, 2020

In case you missed it, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. Eastern, the Labor Network for Sustainability and friends hosted "Young Workers and Just Transition," the fourth in a series of webinars as part of the Just Transition Listening Project.

Moderated by Climate Justice Alliance Policy Coordinator, Anthony Rogers -Wright, the panel featured young workers in the labor and climate justice movements: 

  • Celina Barron, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 RENEW
  • Eboni Preston, Greening for Youth; Georgia NAACP, Labor and Industry Chair
  • Judy Twedt, United Auto Workers, Local 4121
  • Ryan Pollock, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520
  • Yolian Ogbu, This is Zero Hour

Watch this event now to glean insight into who the challenges these young movement leaders face when initiating dialog around transitioning to a sustainable economy that offers equitable and just opportunities for future workers. Also learn about LNS' Young Worker Project and to hear what's next:

Special thank you to the following on the Labor Network for Sustainability team: Joshua Dedmond, Veronica Wilson and Leo Blain; and Vivian Price, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, California State University Dominguez Hills for their organizing and technical support before and during this important conversation.

The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What's Stopping the AFL-CIO?

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, August 12, 2020

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO — all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D‑Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, ​“We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, ​“We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, ​“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

Equitable Access to Clean Energy Resilience

By various - The Climate Center, August 5, 2020

Featuring Janea Scott, California Energy Commission; Genevieve Shiroma, California Public Utilities Commission; Carmen Ramirez, Mayor Pro Tem of Oxnard; Ellie Cohen, The Climate Center and others about policies to support climate justice and community energy resilience in lower-income communities who suffer disproportionately from pollution and power outages.

This summit gave overview of what California is doing now for clean energy resilience and what new policies are needed to provide access to clean and reliable power for all. Mari Rose Taruc, Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign; Gabriela Orantes, North Bay Organizing Project; and Nayamin Martinez, Central California Environmental Justice Network discussed the issue of equitable access from an Environmental Justice perspective.

Mark Kyle, former Director of Government Affairs & Public Relations, Operating Engineers Local 3 and currently a North Bay attorney representing labor unions, nonprofits, and individuals; Jennifer Kropke, Workforce and Environmental Engagement for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 11, and Vivian Price, CSU Dominguez Hills & Labor Network for Sustainability talked about the Labor perspective.

Carolyn Glanton, Sonoma Clean Power; Sage Lang, Monterey Bay Community Power; Stephanie Chen, Senior Policy Counsel, MCE, and JP Ross, East Bay Community Energy discussed the work that Community Choice Agencies are doing to bring more energy resilience to lower-income communities.

Letter from USW Local 675 on Orphan Wells

By Philip Baker and David Campbell - United Steelworkers Local 675, August 5, 2020

We write to support an important economic recovery opportunity that will create jobs, provide tremendous health and environmental benefits to frontline communities, and advance a just transition away from fossil fuels: the accelerated remediation of oil and gas wells in California.

California law already requires that oil and gas operators fully fund the cost of oil and gas well remediation in California.

The job creation from this work is substantial. A recent national study estimated a total of 15.9 total jobs (direct, indirect, and induced) per million dollars spent.

Remediation of Oil and Gas Wells Must be Accelerated in Tandem with a Halt on Permitting New Wells and a Managed Phaseout of Oil and Gas Extraction.

Read the text (PDF).

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