You are here

building trades

California’s Clean Energy Revolution: More Than Just Jobs; Study finds Renewables Portfolio Standard brings worker training, living wages, good benefits

By Betony Jones, Dr. Carol Zabin, and Jeremy Smith - UC Labor Center, July 12, 2016

California’s leadership on climate policy solutions has brought much attention to the quantity of jobs created in the state’s renewable energy industry. Yet the quality of those jobs has largely remained a mystery, and clean energy jobs aren’t automatically good jobs. A new UC Berkeley report released this morning at a press conference at the IBEW-NECA Sacramento Area Electrical Training Center finds that California’s principal climate policy, the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), has created good jobs with a career path for non-college bound workers. This is a virtuous cycle: the renewable projects create paid training for workers through state-certified apprenticeship programs, and they help fund the training of future workers through joint employer and employee contributions made for every hour worked.

The report finds that the RPS has created a “high road” renewable energy industry, which contrasts markedly with “low road” strategies of states such as Texas in which job training is rare, wages are low and benefits often nonexistent.

What’s more, the high-quality jobs resulting from California’s RPS largely have been created in regions of the state where they are most needed, with high unemployment and low income.

The report, “The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future,” was published by the Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy, part of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

“What’s unique about California is that the boom in renewables has created quality jobs that lead to real careers,” said Betony Jones, Associate Chair of the Donald Vial Center and a co-author of the report. “These are not just jobs to get by. Workers on these projects are getting health care, pension contributions, and paid comprehensive training that leads to career stability,” she said.

“This benefit package helps maintain a skilled workforce that benefits not only the construction industry but also the state’s broader economy,” said Dr. Carol Zabin, co-author of the report.

Senator Kevin de León remarked, “This research offers powerful new evidence of the positive economic impact California’s climate policies are having for blue-collar working families across our state, especially in our most disadvantaged communities. California is poised to build on this success over the coming years with even more ambitious goals for clean energy generation established under Senate Bill 350.”

Jose Muñoz, a journeyman electrician and father of three from Calexico, has worked on several commercial-scale solar projects, wind farms and energy storage projects in San Diego and Imperial Counties since 2006. “The benefits and training that come with these jobs are the most important things,” he said. “One job site can have about 600 electricians and lot of those are local guys who come from fast food jobs or working in the fields,” said Muñoz. “They have never had benefits for themselves and their families before.”

Key Findings:
The report calculated the following effects of California’s RPS from 2002-2015:

  • Creation of 25,500 blue-collar job-years (about 53 million hours of blue-collar construction work), with greatest job gains in counties such as Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial, where unemployment rates are far above the state average and income is far below average.
  • California’s Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley together have seen 65% of these jobs.
  • Almost all the large-scale renewable projects are built under project labor agreements, which provide union pay rates, health insurance and pension programs for all workers, whether or not their employers are union.
  • Utility-scale photovoltaic construction projects have funded 1,700 apprentices, providing them with earn-while-you learn classroom and on-the-job training, and putting them on a pathway to mastery of their trade and a middle-class career.
  • This high-road construction industry not only provides full family health care and retirement benefits, but also is the primary funder of the apprenticeship training system, with the state paying only a portion of the classroom training.
  • In contrast, the renewable energy construction industries in other states such as Texas or Arizona are more commonly non-union, provide lower wages, do not participate in apprenticeships, and lack health care and retirement benefits.

More Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 26, 2016

Author's note: this article is an update to an earlier piece, titled Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland.

Update: The City of Oakland voted 7-0, with one member absent, to ban coal handling, storage, and exports in the Port of Oakland on Monday, June 27, 2016. Over 50 union members supporting the ban on coal were present, and many spke in favor of the ban.

As the No Coal in Oakland campaign comes to its climax, a vote by the Oakland City Council on whether or not to ban the storage and handling of coal exports (originating from coal mined in Utah) through the Port of Oakland, the developers who had hoped to sneak this plan through unnoticed by all, are pulling out all of the stops to try and salvage their failing schemes that have, thus far, blown up in their faces.

(Rather than recap all of the numerous details of this campaign here, readers are encouraged to visit the official No Coal in Oakland site as well as the No Coal in Oakland archives, maintained by members of the Sunflower Alliance, one of the No Coal in Oakland coalition members.)

One of the persistent lies, regurgitated again and again by the developers, is the claim that those of us who oppose coal exports are anti-jobs, anti-worker, and anti-union. This is complete nonsense.

For the record, many of the principal organizers with No Coal in Oakland are current or retired union members themselves. Additionally, a total of twenty-one Bay Area unions have gone on record opposing coal exports through this proposed facility (but these same unions are not opposed to an export terminal itself, or the exports of non-fossil fuel commodities, of which there are several tens of thousand potential options, all of which would create just as many jobs, if not more so, than coal exports).

These 21 unions include two unions to which this author belongs (the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW and the San Francisco Region of the Inland Boatman's Union (IBU), an affiliate of the ILWU).

They also include unions representing workers in the port of Oakland, including the aforementioned IBU as well as ILWU Locals 6, 10, and 34, and SEIU 1021. (For a complete list of those that have pledged their opposition to coal exports, see this page, but note that some of the unions are listed in categories other than "Labor Unions"), and many more.

Furthermore, in September of 2015, the Alameda County Central Labor Council passed a resolution opposing coal exports.

Various union members and officials--in coalition with residents, environmentalists, public health providers, faith leaders, community leaders, small business owners, educators, and students--have spoken out against coal at City Council meeting after City Council meeting. They've lead canvassing efforts to raise awareness about the environmental and public health dangers of coal among Oakland's neighborhoods. They've organized several events to drum up support for the No Coal campaign, including a very successful and well attended picnic and community forum at a neighborhood park on May 21, 2016.

The coalition has demonstrated its dedication to intersectionality by supporting Black Lives Matter, the Anti-displacement coalition, and the Fight For $15 campaigns. The No Coal in Oakland campaign is composed predominantly of working people and working class retirees (though there are some small business people involved in the campaign as well). The coalition members share a commitment to a clean, livable, affordable, multi-ethnic and inclusive Oakland with good paying union jobs.

In fact, the No Coal in Oakland campaign has been nothing short of exemplary in the matter of green unionism.

It is the height of hypocrisy and cynicism for the project developers to claim that the No Coal in Oakland campaign is anti-jobs.

Meanwhile, the supposed "union" and "worker" support for coal exports, in classic yellow unionism fashion, is nothing more than an astroturf front group for the capitalist developers profiteering ambitions. The few unions whose officials support the project (namely the Teamsters and Building Trades) are hardly bastions of democratic, rank and file driven unionism. The Teamsters remain highly divided, with the local leadership (which is largely aligned with Jimmy Hoffa Jr's faction) opposed by a sizable Teamsters for a Democratic Union opposition faction (though this faction has not taken a stand on the matter of coal).

As detailed in the previous installment in this series, Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland, the developer has already attempted to create the illusion of grassroots rank and file union member "support" (mostly from non-English speaking Laborers' Union members) for coal exports at a City Council meeting on September 21, 2015, timed deliberately to undermine the Alameda County Central Labor Council's resolution against coal exports, but the attempt failed miserably, as the rank and file workers admitted to the assembled media reporters that they were being used. (The pro-coal developers later also tried the same stunt with a small group of faith leaders--who, as it turns out, has essentially taken bribes from the developer to support coal exports--when a much larger group of faith leaders spoke out against coal).

None of the developer's subterfuge should be surprising, given the amount of dirt and conflicts of interest the No Coal in Oakland campaign has been able to dig up--including the fact that the developer has a direct financial connection to Bowie Resources, the (non union) mining company that will be extracting the coal in the first place, or that California Governor Jerry Brown, himself, has a deeply entwined financial relationship with Phil Tagami, the speculator driving this project. (again, for the sake of brevity, all of these details are left to the readers to explore for themselves on the No Coal in Oakland site).

Furthermore, it's not surprising that the developer is still trying to create the illusion of community and worker support for coal exports.

Communities Unite to Fight Coal in Oakland

By Eric K. Arnold - Reimagine, March 2016

Coal, once the staple of American industrial production, may be on its last legs. With domestic production showing a long-term decline, the fossil fuel’s days appear to be numbered.

According to the most recent annual report [1] of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2013, U.S. coal production fell below two billion short tons for the first time in two decades; coal mining capacity decreased, as did the average number of coal mine employees, the average sales price of coal, and total U.S. coal stocks. In April of 2015, the EIA projected coal would hit a 28-year low, reflecting significant drops in domestic demand and exports. In August, Goldman Sachs divested itself of its coal holdings; a month later, it issued a gloomy forecast[2] for coal’s future, stating, “the industry does not require new investment,” dashing hopes for a miraculous upturn in the coal market. A report[3] by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) noted that 26 domestic coal companies have recently gone into bankruptcy proceedings; and coal’s value on the Dow Jones index dropped by 76 percent between 2009-14 (a period when the overall Dow index went up 69 percent).

According to CTI, domestic energy generation has remained flat for the past decade but energy sources have shifted: coal and oil are down, but natural gas and renewable energy are up. America’s largest coal producers are recording annual losses in the billions of dollars, while Chinese coal demand has slumped and new environmental regulations[4] aimed at significantly reducing air pollution and increasing wind and solar consumption are being phased in by the Chinese government. Additionally, all federal coal leasing is currently under moratorium until a comprehensive review can be completed. As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted[5] in its online magazine, OnEarth, “it would be difficult to overstate the industry’s current distress.”

This is scary news for the coal industry, yet a welcome announcement for environmentalists who have waged national campaigns against coal for decades. These desperate times for coal producers have led to desperate measures. Their last hope, it would seem, is to increase coal’s export capacity by transporting the black gunk through West Coast ports. But even there the pro-coal forces have met with unexpected resistance, as city after city in Oregon and Washington have mounted grassroots campaigns to deliver an emphatic message: “Say no to coal.”

The Farce of Democratic Party Climate Change Policy

By Andrew Stewart - CounterPunch, January 1, 2016

As the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak continues to spew into the air, Rhode Island’s small hamlet of Burrillvillle is now facing the chance to be the future site of such a catastrophe. With the help of a key Democratic Party endorsement and accession from labor union bosses who should know better, Rhode Island may soon host a fracked natural gas plant rather than the saner move of a sustainable electric plant.

Recently, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who is lovingly nicknamed ‘Wheldon Shitehouse’ by constituents in the know, has posed and postured around the Senate regarding climate change, browbeating and hectoring the Republican denialists with all the pomp and circumstance of the pontificating charlatan he is. One of Sen. Whitehouse’s claims to fame is going after the paint corporations in a lawsuit regarding lead poisoning in children, yet his recent behavior makes one wonder if he in fact consumed a fair share of paint chips in his youth.

What makes this such a joke is his adamant support of the construction of a Spectra Energy natural gas plant in Burriville. My colleague Steve Ahlquist at RIFuture.org, a better journalist and investigative reporter than I will ever be, has done a truly amazing amount of muckraking on this issue that shows the calamity in construction, reporting I would highly encourage CounterPunch readers to peruse at their leisure, including ones about whistleblowing regarding corporate pollution and protests by residents willing to go to jail. What I offer here is a mere summary.

Green versus Yellow Unionism in Oakland

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, November 11, 2015

Author's Note: This article is a sequel of sorts to my previous piece, Unions and the Climate Justice Movement, which briefly mentions the No Coal in Oakland campaign. The image, depicted at the right, compares a pro-capitalist-logging poster (yellow, near right) ostensibly created by timber workers (but actually crafted by the employers) to mobilize support for a counter-demonstration to a rally and march, held in Fort Bragg in July 1990, organized by the Redwood Summer coalition (which included timber workers). The green poster (far right), represents the Redwood Summer coalition's response, and accurately summarizes their position on timber workers and timber jobs.

At first glance, the Oakland City Council meeting, held on September 21, 2015 looked much like many public hearings where public opposition had organized in response to the plans, practices, or proposals of capitalist interests that threatened the environment. For most of the evening, and well into the night, council members and the Mayor watched and listened as speaker after speaker (out of a total of over 500) either spoke in favor (or against) coal exports or ceded their time to their allies. On one side were a widely diverse group of activists, organized by a coalition known as No Coal in Oakland-- adorned in red (union made and printed) T-shirts--opposed to plans to export coal through a proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), as part of the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center (or Oakland Global), and on the other were the project's supporters, dressed in business attire accompanied by several dozen union workers, many of them from the Laborers' Union, dressed in yellow.  As is often the case, the project's supporters tried to frame the opposition as being composed of insensitive outsiders, and themselves and the supporting "workers" as placing the economic interests of Oakland and its residents above all else. "We support good paying union jobs that will help the struggling, predominantly African-American residents of west Oakland" opined the supporters, trying to suggest that those in opposition didn't.

This is an old, and shopworn script, that has been trotted out numerous times in the past quarter century or more. Anyone who has experienced or studied the "Timber Wars" that took place in the Pacific Northwest during the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s will recall the armies of loggers and mill-workers decked out in yellow shirts, sporting yellow foam car radio antennae balls or yellow ribbons who would show up en massé (at the behest of their employers, often with pay) to oppose limits to clear-cutting or protections for the Northern Spotted Owl and to denounce (often) green shirted environmentalists as "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" and/or upper middle class "elitists" (or--defying logic--both). Sometimes, in drawn out campaigns, the employers have often furthered this illusion by creating false front "Astroturf" groups, ostensibly composed of workers, to distract attention away from themselves.

The truth is far much more complex and nuanced, of course. Usually the "jobs" promised by the projects' supporters often don't materialize (indeed, the opposite--namely automation, downsizing, and outsourcing--usually occurs). Those in opposition to environmentally destructive practices and proposals are usually composed of and led by locals, most of whom are, themselves, gainfully employed, and sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the affected workers (in fact, the opposition's counter proposals, if well thought out, do more to create "jobs" and job security than those in support of the project). Meanwhile, the actual level of support among the rank and file workers purportedly backing up the capitalists interests could accurately be described as a mile wide and an inch deep, at best. And the bosses? When they speak of jobs, they actually refer to profits. Nevertheless, in the past, the capitalist media has typically and dutifully reported that these projects are opposed by "green clad environmentalists" (or red in this particular case) and supported by "yellow clad workers" (often neglecting to draw any distinction between the workers and their employers).

Therefore, it is both surprising and refreshing, that in spite of the attempts by the employing class to replay that same script on September 21, 2015 in Oakland, the attempt backfired, due to the diligent and tireless organizing by their grassroots opposition. A closer examination of what happened, and how the opposition organized, will illustrate why this is so and how others can duplicate the organizers' efforts to defeat further attempts by capitalist interests to use divide and conquer tactics to push their climate and environment (not-to-mention job) destroying projects through.

EcoUnionist News #54

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 30, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Green Bans:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

EcoUnionist News #38

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

1267-Watch:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #30

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

  • Register now for the Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community & the Environment Conferences: Richmond, California (March 14, 2015) and Olympia, Washington (March 21, 2015) - railroadconference.org

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Crude by Rail:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

March for Real Climate Leadership:

Other News

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #25

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Crude by Rail:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Other News of Interest:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #10

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Urgent Action:

  • Philippines sugar organizer murdered - Act Now!

Dispatches from Lima COP20:

Other News of Interest:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Pages