Biden Promised “Good-Paying Union Jobs,” But It Will Take Organizing to Get Them

Since the controversial and historic Inflation Reduction ActAugust saw the signing of the IRA law. Since then, the economy has shown early signs that it is shifting and recalibrating. Honda Motor Company and LG Energy SolutionHave announced plans for a battery plant using lithium ion batteries, with Ohio as their target; hiring has already begun ticked upA small Texas business that builds solar and wind power plants is looking for a state representative. applicationsFor millions of dollars in funding for community-led climate adaptation plans in anticipation for IRA funds to follow, plus funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed last year. The IRA Set aside $369 billionClimate and energy spending, which researchers believe will translate to 9 million jobsOver the next decade.

But as cities, states, nonprofits, industry groups and corporations all scramble to sweep up a slice of that funding, the degree to which these jobs will live up to being the Biden administration’s promise of “good-paying union jobs” remains to be seen. It remains to be seen if and how these positions will be made available for the frontline and fenceline communities in color who have suffered the most from decades and decades of disinvestment, pollution and omissions. Manipulationboth to the fossil fuel industry and to those who work in the industry.

“Having that stuff in the federal bill is great, but unless we are organizing to bring these things into reality, it’s not going to happen,” said Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO at a Climate Jobs SummitThis month, earlier. Levy warned that Republican-led state contractors and officials could be cautious about accepting clean energy grants and tax cuts from the federal government. This is due to the labor protections, training requirements, and other conditions the money is dependent upon.

Making green jobs good

Opportunities to work as a renewables worker were already increasing before the passage of the IRA. Hydropower, wind, and other clean energy industries all added jobsWhile fossil energy jobs declined in 2021, or increased modestly, the number of solar jobs rose. The 2021 report showed that solar was the fastest growing energy industry, with 255.037 workers, an increase of over 9 percent from the previous. latest National Solar Jobs Census. Federal funding is expected to be available as soon as 2023, which will further increase clean energy employment. 5 millionNew jobs are available in the deployment of our future energy systems.

However, the jobs that bring these non-carbon-intensive technologies to life have a reputation for being highly skilled. accidents, union busting and poverty. Thomas Shade is a solar panel installer told Motherboard, he has grown accustomed to jumping from utility-scale solar farm gigs in North Carolina, where he’s from, to others in Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Georgia and elsewhere, earning anywhere from $16 to $25 an hour paid out by a temp agency. “They don’t want to pay you enough for your room and for you to eat for the week,” Shade said of the itinerant nature of the work. “So you got two guys in beds and a guy sleeping on the floor [and] one guy on the couch or a chair.”

Although he has over a decade experience in solar, he would like a full-time position with benefits. told Motherboard, he hasn’t been able to land one. Unionization attempts by solar workers who are employed full-time have been met with intimidation. After a series o of accidents, Bright Power in New York City was forced to unionism. attempted to unionizeIn 2019, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3 (IBEW) declared that the company had fired all its employees and would replace them by subcontractors.

These stories concern workers who are most vulnerable to the decline of fossil fuels, such as those working in oil and gas. Diane Sicotte, a Drexel University professor of environmental sociology, co-published the book. study in June establishing how unionized energy workers tend to be pro-environment and favor clean energy systems, but are wary to switch to jobs like wind and solar due the industry’s notoriety for low wages — a result of how the renewable energy sector has rolled out amid “peak neoliberalism,” Sicotte told Truthout.

Since Bright Power’s union busting in 2019, however, union organizing has picked up pace across industries, as dataAccording to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), public approval of unions is at a Highest level in 57 years. Energy workers are not the only exception. Eight energy workers are among those who have voted to form unions since July. North Alabama Electric Cooperative; 33 workers Covanta Plymouth Renewable EnergyPennsylvania: 22 workers at a construction supply manufacturerIllinois 550 utility construction workersNorth Carolina

An estimated 10 percentWhile most solar workers are now members of a union or covered by project labor arrangements, membership rates vary by state and appear to correlate with the severity of state-level legislative victories by and for workers. The rates of solar workers covered by a contract labor agreement or being unionized in Illinois are higher than the average. 12.9 and 15 percent, respectively. These two states have passed the most ambitious climate jobs lawsThe books.

The range of what can be negotiated for is also increasing. In May 2022, the North America’s Building Trades Unions signed a first-of-a-kind project labor agreement with Danish wind turbine developer Ørsted, which requires all contractors and subcontractors to hire union workers and sets high safety and training standards for those hired to build out 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity that will speckle the shores from Maine to Florida. Such rising collective bargaining activity is not only timely, Sicotte said, but holds potential to level the playing field beyond what’s been previously accomplished in the U.S., where the most significant infrastructure overhaul to date eased economic inequality but also entrenched racist federal policy and laid the foundationThe racial wealth gap.

The act of unifying alone may be beneficial for the climate. ResearchPublished in the journal jOurnal Environmental Science and Pollution ResearchMarch It is possible to do so. The reduction of climate-warming emissions is linked to unionization The study found that for every 1 percent increase in unionization, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 0.25 percent, due perhaps to unions’ ability to reduce inequality (a driver of carbon emissions in the Global North) and enable collective bargaining agreements that lead to “green” policies.

Leveraging the IRA

The IRA can help to strengthen the work of the rising environmental-labor coalition, which has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift among workers in favor of tackling the climate crisis. Lara Skinner is a researcher at the Cornell Worker InstituteExecutive Director of the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, saidAt the Climate Jobs Summit. “People have to see how building a new clean energy economy improves their lives, expands their access to jobs, increases their pay and benefits, protects and supports existing good jobs, lowers energy bills, expands prosperity and makes our communities healthier,” Skinner said.

The IRA offers a 30 percent tax creditEntities developing energy projects of one megawatt or more must meet the prevailing wage requirements and apprenticeship requirements. Contractors must pay what’s considered a living wage for a given geographic area and ensure that a certain segment of its workforce are qualified apprentices with access to mentors. Unions are involved labor-climate alliances — such as the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers and the Laborers’ International Union of North America — are already training and retraining members, and are well-positioned to expand these programs as more workers join unions, given that union dues, which cover training programs, expand with membership.

These retraining opportunities for marginalized communities will only be possible if trust and relationships are built with grassroots groups. This will also require intentional outreach, according to equity experts. “We can’t just expect underrepresented workers to materialize,” said Allison Ziogas, journeywoman electrician and labor relations manager for Ørsted.

Yet, many environmental and climate justice organizations are furious at the fact that the passage the most significant climate change action to date involved quietly tucking climate and labor provisions into the bill in return for continued support for fossil fuel production and market-based “solutions.” José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance, calls the exchange “economic blackmail” that’s occurring at the expense of the low-income, Black and Indigenous communities the Biden administration paid lip service to in its first actions. That’s something organizers at large must not lose sight of, he said. Bravo was one of them. 11 arrestedProtest against the legislation on September 22 Big Oil giveawaySen. Joe Manchin (D. West Virginia), who wrote the bill that would bring the Mountain Valley Pipeline to life.

Given the IRA’s shortcomings, activists are poised to leverage and expand the IRA’s provisions, including through campaigns for administrative policy changes that link the distribution of IRA funds to agreements like ensuring workers’ right to organize; and requiring that future grant recipients adhere to federal standards on project labor agreements, even for smaller-scale projects. As long as taxpayer dollars support activists calling “activists’ call”, false solutions that extend the life of the fossil fuel industry — such as the build-out of infrastructure supporting biogas and hydrogen fuels — workers in frontline and fenceline communities will continue to suffer from the disproportionate health impacts of pollution, thus impacting their ability to learn and work in the first place, advocates say.

Norman Rogers worked in an oil refinery in Los Angeles, California for more than 20 year and is now the second vice president of United Steelworkers Local 675. He shared his story. Truthout that inhibiting the sunset of oil and gas isn’t even good for fossil fuel industry workers such as himself, in part because it could delay the retraining of this workforce.

“To the extent that we hold onto what’s been, we’re not doing folks that are set to lose their jobs any service,” Rogers said. “Let’s make the break. Let’s do it cleanly. Let’s invest what we would put in [to the Mountain Valley Pipeline] into finding jobs and employment for those folks in those areas.”