California has big climate ambitions. In 2018, the state set a goal to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2045and Los Angeles City Council voted last week to ban the drilling of new oil and gas wells and the phasing out of existing wells in the region, which is home to one of the largest urban oil fields in the country. But closing all these wells will leave thousands oil and gas workers are out of work, and the government is starting to grapple with a reality that is true for the country as a whole: clean energy jobs, for the most part, don’t pay the same as fossil fuel jobs.
According to E&E News report since earlier this week, the California State Assembly has been concerned that the transition to clean energy could lead to “potentially negative impacts on workers and society,” in part due to lower wages and benefits. A 2021 research from the University of Massachusetts University of Massachusetts Research Institute for Political Economy, Amherst details the wage gap: The median wage for a clean energy worker in California is about $86,000. For a fossil fuel worker? About 130,000 dollars. The reason, according to experts, comes down to one thing: trade unions.
“Fossil fuel workers are unionized,” Carol Zabin, director of the Green Economy Program at the University of California, Berkeley, told Recode. “Most clean energy workers are not.”
Historically, these unions have guaranteed fossil fuel workers things like job security, higher wages, health insurance, and pensions—protections that have been achieved through years of negotiation and negotiation. “In this economy, jobs in 2022, if they are not in the public sector or in labor unions, will be very low paid,” Zabin said.
Clean energy companies, because they are so new, usually do not have unions – and they have a history of resisting the idea of unionizing their workers. Elon Musk, CEO of electric vehicle maker and clean energy company Tesla, violated US labor law with anti-union tweets in 2019. And when in the same fired them all and replaced them with subcontractors. “They are violating the social contract,” Zabin said, referring to clean energy companies in general. “They don’t want to pay their workers middle-class wages because they don’t need it. They have a mission-focused green cape they wear, but they’re after profits and can be terrible employers.”
Unlike most European countries where trade unions organize workers by sector green energy startups can hire anyone, not a company, not a company, and they can hire anyone for any salary, which is exactly what happened in Oregon two years ago. Most of the local workers who had the skills needed to build wind turbines were already unionized and expected union wages, so a number of wind farm projects brought in instead, non-union workers from out of state built their own turbines, allowing them to pay lower non-union wages.
“A lot of anxiety,” said Mark Brenner, co-director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Oregon. “How do we ensure a fair transition for those workers who work in carbon-intensive industries?”
Part of the answer may come from oil and gas companies investing in clean energy themselves, said Tom Kochan, professor at MIT’s Institute for Labor and Employment Research. “They know better than anyone what different kinds of skills are needed,” Kochan told Recode.
Unions already tend to build training and apprenticeships into their structure, Kochan says, and by working with these companies to invest in retraining workers with fossil fuel experience, they could become what he calls “education providers of choice.” and learning” for the “greens”. energy companies by providing them with highly qualified workers who do not need additional training to build a clean energy infrastructure.
In 2020, energy company Ørsted, formerly a Danish oil and gas company and now the world’s largest offshore wind power developer, took a step in that direction. partnership with the North American Building Trade Unions (NABTU) to develop an offshore wind project, with training and internships built in to help NABTU members transition to green energy.
But like Ella Nielsen wrote for Vox last year, the most important step was politics. Trade unions and labor laws are weaker now than in the past, and states and the federal government need to ensure that future clean energy projects, especially those funded by public funds, include strong labor protections, Zabin said. In the short term, this will mean oil and gas workers who switch to clean energy will be able to sustain the lives they have built, although Zabin notes that some of their skills may be better suited to jobs in other industries.
Ensuring that future clean energy jobs treat workers as well as or better than fossil fuel jobs will also facilitate the overall transition to clean energy, which is essential for the well-being of the planet. Jobs are an important bargaining chip in American politics, and politicians have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the clean energy industry while it is still in its infancy, to set ambitious climate goals that are not being met at the expense of workers. President Joe Biden seems to be thinking about it already, saying he wants the clean energy jobs created by his administration to be “highly paid union job“.
This is the path taken by unions in Oregon, pushing state legislators to include labor standards in large-scale renewable energy projects. succeeded with the 2021 bill that was passed last year. “It was a really great example of using the climate initiative to achieve other public policy goals,” Brenner said. “We promote clean energy while at the same time making sure people gain valuable skills and experience so they can build long and successful careers.”
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