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Union-Made Offshore Wind: AFL-CIO 2022 Convention

As Illinois Coal Jobs Disappear, Some Are Looking to the Sun

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, May 26, 2022

While Illinois phases out coal, clean energy jobs hold promise—both for displaced coal workers, and those harmed by the fossil fuel economy.

Matt Reuscher was laid off a decade ago from Peabody Energy’s Gateway coal mine in Southern Illinois, in the midst of a drought that made the water needed to wash the coal too scarce and caused production to drop, as he remembers it.

Reuscher’s grandfather and two uncles had been miners, and his father — a machinist — did much work with the mines. Like many young men in Southern Illinois, it was a natural career choice for Reuscher. Still in his early 20s when he was laid off, Reuscher ​“spent that summer doing odds and ends, not really finding much of anything I enjoyed doing as much as being underground.”

By fall of 2012, he started working installing solar panels for StraightUp Solar, one of very few solar companies operating in the heart of Illinois coal country. He heard about the job through a family friend and figured he’d give it a try since he had a construction background. He immediately loved the work, and he’s become an evangelist for the clean energy shift happening nationwide, if more slowly in Southern Illinois. With colleagues, he fundraised to install solar panels in tiny villages on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and he became a solar electrician and worked on StraightUp Solar installations powering the wastewater treatment center and civic center in Carbondale, Illinois — a town named for coal. 

Solar installation pays considerably less than coal mining, Reuscher acknowledges, but he feels it’s a safer and healthier way to support his family — including two young sons who love the outdoors as much as he does. 

“You work with people who are really conscious about the environment. That rubs off on me and then rubs off on them,” Reuscher notes, referring to his sons.

Illinois has more than a dozen coal mines and more than a dozen coal-fired power plants that are required to close or reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 (for privately-owned plants) or 2045 (for the state’s two publicly-owned plants), though most will close much sooner due to market forces. Reaching zero carbon emissions would entail complete carbon capture and sequestration, which has not been achieved at commercial scale anywhere in the United States. 

Coal mines also frequently lay off workers, as the industry is in financial duress, though Illinois coal is bolstered by a healthy export market. A ​“just transition” — which refers to providing jobs and opportunities for workers and communities impacted by the decline of fossil fuels — has been an increasing priority of environmental movements nation-wide, and was a major focus of Illinois’ 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). The idea is that people long burdened by fossil fuel pollution and dependent on fossil fuel economies should benefit from the growth of clean energy. Reuscher’s story is a perfect example. 

But in Illinois, as nationally, his transition is a rarity. Solar and other clean energy jobs have more often proven not to be an attractive or accessible option for former coal workers. And advocates and civic leaders have prioritized a broader and also difficult goal: striving to provide clean energy opportunities for not only displaced fossil fuel workers, but for those who have been harmed by fossil fuels or left out of the economic opportunities fossil fuels provided.

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]

Can a Just Energy Transition Occur Under Capitalism?

End the addiction to fossil fuel- support the Ukrainian resistance

By Alan Thornett - Red Green Labour, March 24, 2022

Putin’s merciless invasion of Ukraine – which is his next step in the restoration of the Russian empire – has been stalled by the remarkable popular resistance that has been mounted against it. The southern port city of Mariupol is been flattened by Russian artillery and is facing a humanitarian catastrophe but has refused to surrender. On the other hand, the invaders have been pushed back on several fronts.

The Ukrainian resistance has relied heavily on both Western economic sanctions and Western military aid including hand-launched anti-tank and surface to air missiles without which Putin’s blitzkrieg might have been unstoppable. The economic sanctions have not just put Putin under pressure at home, but they have given the population the confidence to resist such an overwhelming force.

As the Russians have met much stronger resistance than they expected they have resorted to ever more indiscriminate, long-range bombardment of the civilian population with missiles launched from ships in the Black Sea and from Russia itself. The result of which has been a rapid escalation of civilian casualties. Putin has thousands of planes and missiles, of course, and could wipe Ukraine off the map. But whether that would be politically sustainable (or survivable for him at home) is another matter.

Russia is now a brutal kleptocracy, with Putin as the new Stalin. Anti-war demonstrators facing up to 16 years in jail and opposition politicians, who oppose war, driven into exile. Ten million people, a quarter of the population, are internally displaced and with almost five million already refugees abroad. Many thousands, mostly civilians, are dead. EU countries, to their credit, have opened their borders, suspended visa requirements, and taken in millions of people. This is in sharp contrast to Boris Johnson’s miserable Little Englander government that has been running around in circles in a (very successful) attempt to give refuge to as few people as possible.

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 8: Union Proud

(Video) A Climate Jobs Plan for Rhode Island

By various - ILR Worker Institute - March 4, 2022

On Friday, March 4, researchers from Cornell University joined with leaders of the Climate Jobs RI coalition, a group of labor, climate, and community groups in Rhode Island, and discussed a new report unveiled last month that outlined a comprehensive action plan to put RI on the path to becoming the first fully decarbonized state and building an equitable, pro-worker, clean energy economy.

Watch the panel here:

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).

Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 9, 2021

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector. Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022 is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old. The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years. The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region. The top level finding: 69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”. These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November. It reports that drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

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