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Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

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The Biden Climate Plan: Part 1: What It Proposes

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 1, 2020

This commentary by Jeremy Brecher analyzes Joe Biden’s “Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice” released in August. The following commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle,” will consider the struggles that are likely to emerge over what parts of the plan can and should be implemented. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

A Just Transition for Labor: What Will it Take?

By Carol Zabin, Shrayas Jatkar, and Mark Kyle - The Climate Center, November 19, 2020

The science is clear on climate change: we must rapidly phase out fossils fuels. But tens of thousands of workers have jobs in fossil fuel and related industries. How do we secure a just transition that guarantees good jobs with benefits for these workers in the new clean energy economy? Carol Zabin (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) is a labor economist who recently completed a comprehensive report for the California legislature called Putting California on the High Road to answer that question. We also heard from Shrayas Jatkar, a Policy Specialist at the California Workforce Development Board, the state agency charged with implementing the report’s findings, and labor attorney Mark Kyle.

Please read the executive summary of Zabin’s report and The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California platform before joining this deep-dive discussion and bring your questions.

Ørsted and U.S. Building Trades reach a national agreement for workforce planning in Offshore Wind

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 19, 2020

A November 18  press release from the North America Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Ørsted Offshore North America  announces a “Landmark MOU for U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Transition” , which “represents a transformative moment for organized labor and the clean energy industry. This framework sets a model for labor-management cooperation and workforce development in the budding offshore wind industry.”

According to the NABTU  press release, “The partnership will create a national agreement designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the 14 U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.”    The newly-announced MOU is based on the model of an agreement developed by the Rhode Island Building Trades for the Block Island Wind Farm project – the first offshore wind installation in the U.S. which came online in December 2016, and is now operated by Ørsted .

No text of the new agreement is available yet, but the press release specifies:

“As part of this national framework, Ørsted, along with their partners, will work together with the building trades’ unions to identify the skills necessary to accelerate an offshore wind construction workforce. The groups will match those needs against the available workforce, timelines, scopes of work, and certification requirements to fulfill Ørsted’s pipeline of projects down the East Coast, creating expansive job opportunities in a brand-new American industry for years to come and raising economics for a just transition in the renewable sector…..Ørsted and NABTU, along with their affiliates and state and local councils, have agreed to work together on long-term strategic plans for the balanced and sustainable development of Ørsted’s offshore wind projects.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Ørsted Sign Landmark MOU for U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Transition

By Lauren Burm - Ørsted Offshore North America and Betsy Barrett - North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), November 18, 2020

Ørsted, the global leader in offshore wind development, announced today a landmark initiative with North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), the labor organization representing more than 3 million skilled craft professionals. The partnership will create a national agreement designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the 14 U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.

Ørsted’s agreement with NABTU represents a transformative moment for organized labor and the clean energy industry. This framework sets a model for labor-management cooperation and workforce development in the budding offshore wind industry. There are currently 15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development in the U.S. According to a report released by the American Wind Energy Association, if fully built, these leases would support up to 30 GW of offshore wind capacity – representing an estimated 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output within the next decade.

“Today’s agreement expands career pathways of opportunities for our members to flourish in this transition,” said Sean McGarvey, President of NABTU. “Our highly trained men and women professionals have the best craft skills in the world, and now will gain new experience in deep-water ocean work. Our agreement is based on a successful model developed by the Rhode Island Building Trades for the Block Island Wind Farm project. We commend Ørsted for coming to the table to work in partnership with us and our membership, and we also thank AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler for her help and support throughout the process.”

Ørsted has the largest footprint of any offshore wind developer operating in U.S. waters, having been awarded 2.9GW of power contracts up and down the Eastern seaboard from Rhode Island to Maryland. This announcement underscores the company’s desire to solidify offshore wind’s position as an incubator for union green-collar job creation and innovation.

“Ørsted believes the best workers are always the best-trained workers, and we are proud to have earned a strong record of working with skilled union labor to build the country’s first offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm, where more than 300 union workers were employed,” said David Hardy, CEO of Ørsted Offshore North America. “We appreciate NABTU’s cooperation and the collaborative approach our union partners have brought to this endeavor and look forward to learning from and working with them on this groundbreaking partnership.”

As part of this national framework, Ørsted, along with their partners, will work together with the building trades’ unions to identify the skills necessary to accelerate an offshore wind construction workforce. The groups will match those needs against the available workforce, timelines, scopes of work, and certification requirements to fulfill Ørsted’s pipeline of projects down the East Coast, creating expansive job opportunities in a brand-new American industry for years to come and raising economics for a just transition in the renewable sector.

Ørsted and NABTU, along with their affiliates and state and local councils, have agreed to work together on long-term strategic plans for the balanced and sustainable development of Ørsted’s offshore wind projects. This planning effort will help ensure that site and state-specific programming will be ready when federal permits are obtained, and construction begins.

These are the green jobs of the future, and this framework demonstrates that just transition can be accomplished through prioritization of workforce training and middle-class labor standards with family-sustaining wages, healthcare benefits, and pension security. Ørsted remains fully committed to coordinating with local unions and NABTU councils to create a consistent workforce pipeline and cohesive network to lead an effective just transition into the vast and complex nature of offshore wind development in the United States.

Greenpeace USA’s Just Recovery Agenda: A Pathway to a New Economy

By Ryan Schleeter, Amy Moas, Ph.D., and Tim Donaghy, Ph.D. - Greenpeace, November 17, 2020

The economy we have today works for the 1%, not the 99%. The devastation wrought by COVID-19 in the United States—the death, anxiety, isolation, and instability—is the direct result of a system designed to concentrate power in the hands of a few. People are suffering and dying not only because of the virus, but because of the longstanding inequality and racism it has laid bare. This is the same system that has landed us in a climate and extinction crisis in which our very life support system—our planet—is under attack.

As we chart the course toward recovery, we must also confront these social, environmental, and economic injustices at their roots. The centuries-long era of racial capitalism[1]—the system under which wealthy white elites and massive corporations have controlled and exploited land, communities, and cultures to acquire power—must end.

Going back to normal is not an option. The past was not only unjust and inequitable, it was unstable. What we knew as “normal” was a crisis. We must reimagine the systems our country is built on from the ground up. We envision a world where everyone has a good life, where our fundamental needs are met, and where people everywhere have what they need to thrive.

Read the text (PDF).

Costs and job impacts of Green Recovery and Just Transition programs for Ohio, Pennsylvania

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 2, 2020

Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for Ohio: Job Creation, Economic Recovery, and Long-Term Sustainability was published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) in October, written by Robert Pollin and co-authors Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk. To achieve a 50 percent reduction relative to 2008 emissions by 2030, the authors propose public and private investment programs, and then estimate the job creation benefits to 2030. “Our annual average job estimates for 2021 – 2030 include: 165,000 jobs per year through $21 billion in spending on energy efficiency and clean renewable energy; 30,000 jobs per year through investing $3.5 billion in manufacturing and public infrastructure. 43,000 jobs per year through investing $3.5 billion in land restoration and agriculture. The total employment creation through clean energy, manufacturing/infrastructure and land restoration/agriculture will total to about 235,000 jobs. “ 

There are almost 50,000 workers currently working in the Ohio fossil fuel and bioenergy industries, with an estimated 1,000 per year who will be displaced through declining fossil fuel demand. As he has before, Pollin advocates for a Just Transition program which includes: Pension guarantees; Retraining; Re-employment for displaced workers through an employment guarantee, with 100 percent wage insurance; Relocation support; and full just transition support for older workers who choose to work past age 65. The report estimates the average costs of supporting approximately 1,000 workers per year in such transition programs will amount to approximately $145 million per year (or $145,000 per worker).

Sharing the Benefits With Workers: A Decent Jobs Agenda for the Renewable Energy Industry

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions, November 2020

Driven by the imperative of climate change, rapid technological development and ageing fossil fuel generation, global energy markets are changing rapidly.

Australia is not immune to these changes. Our electricity and gas markets and networks are undergoing a dramatic and at times chaotic transformation with no enduring overarching national planning, policy or coordination. Despite this the renewable energy industry has experienced rapid growth over the past decade, to the point where the ABS estimates it employed nearly 27,000 Australians in 2018/19. This growth in renewable energy jobs is being replicated globally and is predicted to accelerate over coming years due to declining renewable energy technology costs, converging global efforts to slow global warming and the retirement of ageing fossil fuel plant. The future competitiveness of energy-intensive industries such as mining, metals smelting, recycling and manufacturing is also increasingly dependent upon having access to low emissions, low cost electricity.

Section 2 of this ACTU report briefly summarises the extent and types of employment in Australia’s renewable energy sector, and the characteristics of those jobs. It explores the industry’s growth prospects and the current status of deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy technologies. The changing drivers for new investment in renewable energy projects are discussed including the growing influence of voluntary purchasers of, and investors in, renewable energy who will be looking to ensure renewable energy projects deliver maximum community benefits and good quality jobs.

Section 3 outlines why unions have had concerns about the quality of renewable energy jobs and why the industry needs to pay more attention to this aspect of its social licence. In large part the union movement’s experience has been that many new renewable energy jobs have been short-term, insecure and poorly paid, compared with the permanent, secure, well-paid and unionised jobs in coal, oil and gas that often underpin regional economies. It explores some of the structural and operational challenges that need to be overcome to make the renewable energy industry an industry of choice for workers. Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.

Section 4 provides some examples of both best and worst cases of labour standards in the industry and highlights some issues particular to the small scale solar industry.

The report concludes in section 5 with an agenda developed by Australian unions to improve the quality and security of jobs in the renewable energy sector so that a low carbon future delivers secure and sought-after jobs for the current and future generations of Australian workers. This best practice agenda, if adopted, will establish Australia’s renewable energy industry on solid foundations to support the growth and competitiveness of the industry and will ensure the benefits of renewable energy projects are more fully shared with workers, their families and communities through guaranteed local jobs and stronger employment conditions.

Australian unions are ready and willing to work in partnership with Australia’s renewable energy industry, governments and the energy sector to ensure a successful energy transition that creates good quality jobs across the country and a bright future for the industry. We look forward to working with the renewables industry, renewable energy purchasers and investors and governments to achieve this vision.

Read the text (PDF).

After the Hazelwood coal fired power station closure: Latrobe Valley regional transition policies and outcomes 2017-2020

By John Wiseman, Annabelle Workman, Sebastian Fastenrath, and Frank Jotzo - Crawford School of Public Policy, November 2020

This paper reviews and evaluates key policy initiatives and strategies designed to strengthen regional economic, social and environmental outcomes in the Latrobe Valley (Victoria, Australia) in the three years following the closure of the Hazelwood power station. Prior to its sudden closure in March 2017, Hazelwood was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. The debate over the future of Hazelwood became an icon in the nation’s ongoing political struggle over climate and energy policy.

Employment and economic outcomes in the three years since closure indicate promising initial progress in creating the foundations required to facilitate an equitable transition to a more prosperous and sustainable regional economy. The Hazelwood case study provides support for a number of propositions about successful regional energy transition including that well managed, just transitions to a prosperous zero-carbon economy are likely to be strengthened by proactive, well integrated industry policy and regional renewal strategies; respectful and inclusive engagement with workers and communities; and adequately funded, well-coordinated public investment in economic and community strategies, tailored to regional strengths and informed by local experience.

Read the text (PDF).

Building our Energy Future

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