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Winning Fossil Fuel Workers Over to a Just Transition

By Norman Rogers - Jacobin, March 18, 2024

This article is adapted from Power Lines: Building a Labor-Climate Justice Movement, edited by Jeff Ordower and Lindsay Zafir (The New Press, 2024).

I have a dream. I have a nightmare.

The dream is that working people find careers with good pay, good benefits, and a platform for addressing grievances with their employers. In other words, I dream that everyone gets what I got over twenty-plus years as a unionized worker in the oil industry.

The nightmare is that people who had jobs with good pay and power in the workplace watch those gains erode as the oil industry follows the lead of steel, auto, and coal mining to close plants and lay off workers. It is a nightmare rooted in witnessing the cruelties suffered by our siblings in these industries — all of whom had good-paying jobs with benefits and the apparatus to process grievances when their jobs went away.

Workers, their families, and their communities were destroyed when the manufacturing plants and coal mines shut down, with effects that linger to this day. Without worker input, I fear that communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry face a similar fate.

This nightmare is becoming a reality as refineries in Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana, California, and New Mexico have closed or have announced pending closures. Some facilities are doing the environmentally conscious thing and moving to renewable fuels. Laudable as that transition is, a much smaller workforce is needed for these processes. For many oil workers, the choice is to keep working, emissions be damned, or to save the planet and starve.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 — a four-thousand-member local in Southern California, of which I am the second vice president — is helping to chart a different course, one in which our rank-and-file membership embraces a just transition and in which we take the urgent steps needed to protect both workers and the planet. Along with other California USW locals, we are fighting to ensure that the dream — not the nightmare — is the future for fossil fuel workers as we transition to renewable energy.

Building an Equitable, Diverse, & Unionized Clean Energy Economy: What We Can Learn from Apprenticeship Readiness

By Zach Cunningham, Melissa Shetler, et. al. - Cornell University, ILR School, Climate Jobs Institute, October 2023

With this report, the CJI addresses another core aspect of tackling the dual crises of climate change and inequality: ensuring that frontline, historically underserved communities have expansive, effective pathways into high-quality union clean energy careers. The Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act have brought increased attention to two important clean energy workforce questions. First, does the U.S. have enough trained workers to meet the demands of the clean energy economy? And second, how do we ensure that the clean energy workforce is diverse and inclusive? This report responds to both of these questions by showing that there are model programs across the U.S. that create pathways for underserved communities into apprenticeship readiness, union apprenticeship programs, and ultimately, good union careers. This study, as well as our many years of experience in the field, have taught us that there is no simple or easy solution to creating or scaling successful pathways.

These pathways exist in an ecosystem of essential and interdependent actors that must be focused on the common goal of building a diverse, equitable and unionized clean energy workforce. Key actors and components include: union-led climate coalitions advocating for bold, equitable climate action; policymakers implementing ambitious, jobs-led climate policy; strong labor and equity standards that ensure clean energy jobs are good union jobs; high-quality union apprenticeship programs that pay apprentices well and make sure that the clean energy workforce is highly-skilled and well-trained; trusting partnerships between labor unions, environmental justice organizations, community groups, employers, MWBE contractors, government, and academic institutions; and the focus of this report, high-quality apprenticeship readiness programs that provide participants with the support they need to successfully enter union apprenticeship.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk, and Chirag Lala - Political Economic Research Institute, September 18, 2023

The report Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws by PERI researchers Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk and Chirag Lala estimates job creation, job quality, and demographic distribution measures for the three major domestic policy initiatives enacted under the Biden Administion—the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation (BIL), and the CHIPS Act. Pollin et al. find that, in combination, total spending for these measures will amount to about $300 billion per year. This will generate an average of 2.9 million new jobs within the U.S. economy as long as spending for these programs continues at this level. The newly created jobs will be spread across all sectors of the U.S. economy, with 45% in a range of services, 16% in construction, and 12% in manufacturing. Critically, the study finds that roughly 70% of the jobs created will be for workers without four-year college degrees, a significantly higher share than for the overall U.S. labor market. As such, these measures expand job opportunities especially for working class people who have been hard hit for decades under the long-dominant neoliberal economic policy framework.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

VICTORY!! at Ethos Light Turbine shop in Houston

The New Math for Wind and Solar Manufacturing Supports Good Jobs and U.S. Manufacturing

By Yohan Min, Maarten Brinkerink, Jesse Jenkins, and Erin Mayfield - Blue Green Alliance, June 9, 2023

Researchers at Dartmouth and Princeton released a BlueGreen Alliance-funded report on the estimated impacts the Inflation Reduction Act will have on the U.S. wind and solar industry, including changes in wind and solar manufacturing, labor standards for clean energy workers, job creation, and demand for materials. Specifically, the report explores the impacts of the law’s clean electricity production and investment tax credits (PTC and ITC) and the 45x Advanced Manufacturing Production Tax Credit.

The report finds that the Inflation Reduction Act offers wind and solar developers an airtight business case to use U.S.-manufactured components and pay workers fair wages. It has always been the right thing to do. Now it’s also the most economical thing to do. 

By transforming the economics of wind and solar power, the Inflation Reduction Act will spur the creation of millions of new U.S. solar and wind manufacturing and deployment jobs, with strong incentives for fair wages and career pathways.

The findings show strong, unprecedented potential to build our clean energy future on a foundation of good jobs, clean manufacturing, a reliable industrial base, and greater equity.

Green Job Creation Projected to 'Offset' Fossil Fuel Job Losses in GOP States

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, May 31, 2023

"Total employment in the nationwide U.S. energy sector could double or even triple by 2050 to meet the demand for wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission lines," according to a new study.

Achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by mid-century would lead to a net increase in energy-related employment nationwide, and Republican-voting states whose leaders have done the most to disparage climate action would see the largest growth in green jobs.

That's according to research published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy. The new study, summarized Tuesday by Carbon Brief, undercuts the old right-wing canard that environmentally friendly policies are inherently bad for workers.

Four academics led by Dartmouth College engineering professor Erin Mayfield found that shifting to a net-zero economy could create millions of jobs in low-carbon sectors—enough to "offset" losses in the declining fossil fuel industry, not only in the aggregate but also in most dirty energy-producing states, which tend to be GOP strongholds.

"Total employment in the nationwide U.S. energy sector could double or even triple by 2050 to meet the demand for wind turbines, solar panels, and transmission lines," Carbon Brief reported. Such growth in clean power generation and dissemination "would outweigh losses in most of the country's fossil fuel-rich regions, as oil, coal, and gas operations close down."

The study adds to mounting evidence that so-called "red" states now dominated by Republicans and fossil fuel interests—including particularly sunny and windy ones like Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming—stand to reap the biggest rewards from the green industrial policy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden last year.

At the same time, the authors acknowledge that some GOP-controlled dirty energy-producing states, such as North Dakota, are likely to see net decreases in energy sector employment, and they stress that "many communities will still require help to ensure a 'just transition' away from fossil fuels," as Carbon Brief noted.

Best Practices for Implementation: How the Lessons from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Can Ensure the Inflation Reduction Act Delivers Good Jobs and Community Benefits

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, May 1, 2023

On November 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)—also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law includes $550 billion in new federal funding to repair and help rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The following year, on August 16, 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. These two laws hold the transformational potential to reduce pollution, prevent the worst impacts of climate change, make our workers and communities safer and healthier, and create the good-paying, union jobs we need to give all workers in the United States the opportunity for a middle-class life.

Federal agencies are playing a crucial role in uplifting workers and communities as they develop programmatic requirements and incentives to implement BIL and Inflation Reduction Act investments. In parallel, the Biden administration laid out clear commitments to maximize the job quality, equity, and community benefits of these laws and other federal spending through executive orders and initiatives. The president and his administration are seeking to deliver on their commitment to working people by advancing high-road labor standards and securing worker rights and protections through policies such as Executive Order 14063 on Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).

By working to more consistently apply the Good Jobs Principles and associated metrics across Inflation Reduction Act and BIL-funded programs, agencies can help advance equity and rebuild the middle class. Federal agencies that have not already entered into MOUs with the DOL to support this effort should do so.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

Mitigating Methane in Texas: Reducing Emissions, Creating Jobs, and Raising Standards

By Greg Cumpton, PhD and Christopher Agbo - Ray Marshall Center and Texas Climate Jobs Project, May 2023

A new report from the Texas Climate Jobs Project and the Ray Marshall Center at the University of Texas, Austin, suggests that efforts for preventing and plugging methane leaks from oil and gas operations could result in the creation of thousands of jobs throughout Texas.

Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) recent methane reduction rule and a new methane fee under the Inflation Reduction Act, the oil and gas industry is expected to be hard hit, potentially resulting in the loss of untold jobs in oil and gas producing regions, notably in the Permian Basin, where nearly 40% of all oil production in the U.S. and nearly 15% of its natural gas production occurs.

However, the report suggests that an estimated 19,000 to 35,000 jobs could be created in Texas alone to mitigate such leaks. Specifically, the report suggests a significant workforce would need to be created to measure and detect methane leaks, decommission orphaned wells, replace components that leak gas, install flare systems in storage tanks, plug abandoned wells and more.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Implementation Guide

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, April 24, 2023

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and Inflation Reduction Act together provide billions of dollars to states, local governments, and private entities to support transportation decarbonization through the installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, or EV supply equipment (EVSE). States—even when not the direct grantees or program administrators—have the capability to shape what these historic EV charging infrastructure provisions mean for the workers and communities impacted by the infrastructure, manufacturing facilities, and new job opportunities that come with them.

This guide supports states seeking to maximize the employment and economic benefits that can accompany EV charging infrastructure provisions in the BIL and Inflation Reduction Act.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

RMT demands stronger workers’ rights on offshore wind farms

By staff - National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), April 5, 2023

OFFSHORE union RMT today demanded trade union rights and fair pay in the Offshore Wind industry following an independent report by the UK government’s Offshore Wind Champion Tim Pick.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was disappointing that trade unions were not consulted as part of the report, especially as it acknowledges the importance of a just transition to the 50,000 jobs which are expected to be lost from the oil and gas industry by 2030.

“RMT is calling for mandatory collective bargaining in the offshore wind supply chain for fixed and floating projects, including in low tax low regulation Freeports where the government intend much of this accelerated offshore wind activity to take place.

“However, we welcome the recognition of the delay in skills passporting for our offshore members, the move away from voluntary local content targets and the linking of seabed leasing rights to supply chain development, which could be funded out of Crown Estates’ profits. 

“The recognition of the advantage gained in the US and EU by massive subsidy commitment to green energy is also significant but we need some reality to prevail over the damaging effects of government policy to date on increasing jobs, safety and skills across the offshore wind supply chain.

“For example, crew in the offshore wind supply chain can be paid below the national minimum wage to work at sea for months on end and that needs to change fast,” he said.

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