Many states and local governments are taking steps to center workers, the creation of high-quality union jobs, and strong labor standards in their climate and clean energy policy agendas. While all states and cities can go further, the programs described below provide initial ideas for how federal lawmakers can follow suit.
State and local governments have long demonstrated their ability to improve labor conditions by codifying into law standards that surpass federal labor standards. Aggressive federal and subnational climate goals present an even greater opportunity for governments to further support good union jobs. Already, state and local climate policies have helped create high-quality union jobs and make the economy more equitable for people of color, women, and other disadvantaged groups. Climate policies that require the purchase of goods and services or that promote clean energy projects through public investments and financing can also promote strong labor standards.
This section provides an overview of some of the state and local policies that can best inform a path forward for lawmakers, particularly at the federal level, but also in other states and cities. Some of these interventions can be used to uphold strong wage floors that do not undercut the market and prevent disruption on large clean energy projects. Others promote the creation of good jobs in fast-growing clean energy industries; invest in key sectors that already support good union jobs; support workers’ rights and confront de-unionization; and promote local hiring and equitable access. This section borrows especially from the BlueGreen Alliance state policy toolkit, published in July 2020, which provides examples of state actions that promote good, union jobs in growing clean energy industries.30
- Project labor agreements (PLAs) are collective bargaining agreements covering all of the craft workers, union and nonunion, on a construction project. PLAs are often supported by building trades unions, employers, and the government as a means of ensuring that large projects uphold high standards for workers, high-road firms are not undercut by contractors that pay below-market wages, and costly delays and disruptions due to labor shortages or disruptions are prevented.
- Community benefits agreements (CBAs) and community workforce agreements (CWAs) are similar in nature to PLAs but are broader and often include community organizations as signatories. CBAs and CWAs connect building trades unions with the local community through targeted hire provisions and pre-apprenticeship programs that create career pathways to high-wage jobs for workers in low-income and under-resourced communities.
- Prevailing wages establish a wage floor for each occupation that all contractors on a government-funded project must pay at or above, typically set to reflect the market wage for a given type of work in a given area. The Davis-Bacon Act and the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act require that workers on federally funded construction and service work are paid prevailing wages and receive benefits that do not undercut local market wages. Numerous cities and states have enacted their own prevailing wage laws to ensure that government-supported construction and service work create middle-class jobs and do not undercut collectively bargained wage rates in areas where unions are strong.31 These laws also set a minimum standard for benefits contributions, such as health and retirement, that must be given to workers on a project.
- Organizing rights provisions include anything that helps rebalance the power dynamic between workers trying to organize a union and their employer or helps prevent disruptions due to labor disputes, such as neutrality clauses and card check agreements.
- Local hire agreements mandate or incentivize the hiring of workers on a project from within the state or community where the project takes place. Without this provision, developers often bring in work crews from out of state to do the work and then leave.
- Targeted hire mandates or incentivizes the hiring of workers on a project from certain communities, which may include women, individuals of color, veterans, the formerly incarcerated, economically disadvantaged communities, communities heavily affected by climate change or climate change policies, and many others.
Promoting good, union jobs in fast-growing clean energy industries
At the end of 2020, more than 3 million American workers were employed in clean energy jobs, such as in energy efficiency, solar, wind, and electric vehicles.32 Clean energy accounted for more than 40 percent of America’s overall energy workforce.33 Renewable energy jobs make up a fast-growing segment of these jobs, but only a small portion have historically been unionized, and unionization rates are higher in some industries and regions than others.34
Some states and localities have stepped up to the plate and demonstrated how climate action is made stronger by unionization and pro-worker policies. In several states, prompted by coalitions that include both labor unions and environmental groups, elected leaders are successfully promoting unionized, renewable energy jobs in fast-growing industries. Clean energy investments, tax incentives, and performance standards are powerful tools for deploying solar, wind, and other forms of zero-carbon energy at the state level. These policy tools can also be effective means of ensuring companies respect workers’ right to unionize and promoting high-paying jobs. Governments can require that companies providing goods and services purchased or subsidized by the government, receiving other types of financial assistance, or working on projects subject to the government’s regulatory standards or permitting decisions adhere to wage, benefit, and other job quality standards that will provide good jobs and deliver quality goods and services to taxpayers. These actions provide a framework for how federal lawmakers and policymakers in other states can think about the same.
For example, Washington state tied labor standards to tax incentives for renewable energy development through the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) signed by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) in 2019. The bill contains a clean electricity standard (CES)—which drives utilities to invest in clean energy projects to achieve 80 percent clean electricity generation by 2030, en route to 100 percent carbon-free energy—and conditions related business tax incentives on high-road labor standards and practices, such as apprenticeship utilization, prevailing wage, local hire, and the use of PLAs and CWAs, to promote good jobs.35 To date, Washington’s CETA has resulted in new major renewables projects advancing under PLAs, such as the Rattlesnake Flats wind farm developed by Clearway Energy.36 The CETA legislation represents successful coalition-building between local labor and climate advocates. In the years prior to its passage, climate advocates and union locals, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and its certified electrical workers division, engaged together around the opportunity for policy action that would catalyze major investments in clean energy projects, including how those policies could more intentionally support union jobs.37
In 2021, New York—which also has a bold CES aimed at decarbonizing the power sector—enacted a law requiring developers of renewable energy projects that are 5 megawatts (MW) and larger to pay prevailing wage or enter into PLAs for construction work in order to receive state renewable energy credits (RECs) under its standard.38 This new law requires renewable energy system owners of projects 5 MW and larger that receive state RECs to enter into labor peace agreements for operations and maintenance work.39 It also broke important ground in connecting U.S. industries to clean energy and preventing the continued offshoring of manufacturing and industrial jobs by requiring all public entities procuring clean energy to use domestically produced steel and iron in their projects.40 Similarly, since 2013, New Jersey has required developers of solar projects 1 MW and greater that receive state RECs to pay prevailing wages to construction workers.41
This year, the Oregon Legislature passed legislation requiring 80 percent clean electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean electricity by 2040, as well as requiring large clean energy projects to pay prevailing wages, ensure benefits for their workers, and encourage midsize projects to use PLAs and apprenticeship programs with high graduation rates.42 The bill also commits to ensuring that 15 percent of clean energy project work hours are performed by people of color, women, veterans, or people with disabilities.43 Also this year, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signed legislation requiring prevailing wages and CBAs for in-state renewable energy projects.44
In Maine, there is also growing support for clean energy and ambitious climate policies among labor unions in the state.45 Maine’s Green New Deal—which passed with the backing of the Maine AFL-CIO in June 201946—creates strategies necessary to the creation of clean energy jobs and a robust clean energy economy in the state and requires opportunities for training and retraining workers and the development of registered apprenticeship programs.47
The Virginia Clean Economy Act, sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D) and Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan, Jr.(D) and passed in 2020, includes provisions directing public utilities in the state to develop up to 5,200 MW of offshore wind. The law requires utilities building those resources to submit plans detailing their options for hiring local workers as well as opportunities to prioritize the hiring and apprenticeship of local workers, veterans, and historically economically disadvantaged communities.48 The legislation is already demonstrating results: The Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, IBEW and the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Mid-Atlantic Region joined regional energy utility Dominion Energy in negotiating a PLA for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind commercial project.49
Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019 amended the state’s labor and employment law to establish a Clean Energy Workforce Account that provides grants supporting workforce development programs.50 To receive funding, programs must first initiate a PLA. The law requires any approved project to use a CBA and pay workers the prevailing wage rate.
Action in state public utility commissions (PUCs) can also be a helpful tool to ensure that clean energy investments drive labor standards, local hire, and partnerships with unions. For example, the Colorado PUC Reauthorization Act established PLA criteria by which the commission reviews utility decisions to acquire new energy resources. It also directed the PUC to consider “best value” employment metrics, which include the payment of “industry-standard wages” for the project.51 Similarly, in Minnesota, renewable energy projects subject to PUC oversight have been required since 2018 to disclose the number of local jobs they were creating.52 This has led to greater opportunities for partnerships with local unions to ensure high-quality local jobs, rather than relying on imported contractors paid with low wages. This has, in turn, built greater support for bold clean energy policies—LIUNA, for example, has supported proposed bills in the Minnesota Legislature targeting 100 percent clean electricity.53
Offshore wind provides another massive opportunity at the cross-section of good jobs in clean energy. Climate Jobs New York, a coalition of labor unions, has worked with the state to include strong labor standards as part of a commitment to robust offshore wind energy development; the coalition has since expanded its successful model to other states through the Climate Jobs National Resource Center.54 In addition, in 2019, Connecticut enacted a bill to ensure that 30 percent of the state’s total load is sourced from new offshore wind energy. The law directed state agencies to begin the process of soliciting bids from offshore wind developers that are required to engage in a good faith negotiation of a PLA.55
Recently, Danish renewable energy group Ørsted and North America’s Building Trade Unions (NABTU) engaged in a landmark partnership in 2020, based on a model used by the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council for the United States’ first offshore wind project. The deal ensures the construction of 15 active commercial offshore wind leases along the East Coast that will support $25 billion in annual economic output and about 83,000 jobs over the next decade and will use unionized workers. In implementing this regional series of projects, NABTU will provide workforce training, registered apprenticeships, and family-supporting construction careers.56 Already, the Biden administration has taken action that builds from this state leadership and accelerates offshore wind development in the Northeast.57 Last month, the administration approved a major $2.8 billion offshore wind energy project, Vineyard Wind 1, off the coast of Massachusetts.58
Electric vehicle charging infrastructure is yet another zone of enormous opportunity. Decarbonizing America’s transportation sector and supporting electric vehicle fleets with sufficient infrastructure is key for environmental health and public safety. Moreover, rebuilding transportation systems can be a powerful driver of economic recovery and job growth in forward-looking states and localities if they employ high standards for materials, projects, and operations in the rapid buildout and deployment of EV infrastructure and charging networks.59 Increasingly, high-road industry groups and worker representatives are focused on ensuring that the existing workforce is ready to take on the transition to clean transportation. The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP)—which started in California and Nevada and was developed through a partnership among unions such as IBEW, auto manufacturers, utilities, and educational institutions—provides electricians with instruction and hands-on training to install both residential and public charging stations. EVITP has trained approximately 3,000 electricians to install and maintain EV charging stations.60
Greater investments in sectors that already support good union jobs
In recent years, many states and local governments have taken action to invest in clean infrastructure and advanced manufacturing—sectors that in many jurisdictions already support high-quality union jobs. State and local governments are already responsible for the majority of infrastructure spending in the United States.61 Many have supported workforce development and high-quality jobs through infrastructure investments in sectors such as energy efficiency retrofits, transit, clean water, and manufacturing. In addition, numerous cities and states have enacted construction sector prevailing wage laws to ensure that workers earn market wages and benefits and high-road companies can compete for jobs funded through government spending.62
The clean economic transition will require much more than clean energy generation technologies; it necessitates massive reinvestment in a sustainable built environment, which includes transformative reinvestments in many traditional infrastructure sectors. In addition, it provides an opportunity to support and revitalize domestic manufacturing, as well as more sustainably producing the goods that are used every day in a modern economy, with cleaner manufacturing. A recent report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center argues, “the vast majority of the jobs that will be involved in work to lower greenhouse gas emissions across the economy are in traditional occupations where specific ‘low carbon’ knowledge and skills are only one component of a broader occupational skill set.”63 These sectors provide incredible opportunities to retain and create millions of good union jobs, especially as federal lawmakers look to unleash the unparalleled power of federal investment and financing to rebuild America’s infrastructure. Below are informative examples of state and local leadership on energy-efficient buildings, transit, clean water infrastructure, and manufacturing. These are only illustrative examples and do not capture the full breadth of opportunities inherent to the clean economy.
Investments in energy-efficient buildings
Energy efficiency investments in commercial and residential buildings have been widely successful at supporting growth in good, unionized jobs. Energy efficiency jobs, the largest employment sector in clean energy industries in the United States, have a 10 percent unionization rate—60 percent higher than the national average for private sector workers.64 Many leading states and local governments have been promoting expansion of energy efficiency jobs through commercial building energy efficiency investments and programs.
The city of Los Angeles’ commercial energy efficiency retrofitting programs have created high-quality jobs. Compared with other types of infrastructure investments, energy efficiency programs in Los Angeles consistently produce the largest number of jobs per public dollar invested, pay higher wages and benefits for those jobs, and provide the most consistent support for development on the job-skill ladder for the widest range of trades.65 Energy efficiency investments in California largely employ workers in traditional building and construction trades rather than relying solely on specialized energy efficiency occupations.66 In 2011, IBEW Local Union 11 and the Los Angeles chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Partnership opened their NetZero Plus Electrical Training Institute to unite energy efficiency practices and workers. The institute was, at the time, the country’s largest net-zero commercial retrofit building.67
New York City has taken strides to craft some of the country’s most progressive energy efficiency policies, requiring 80 percent emissions reductions from large buildings by 2050, instituting sweeping changes to the city’s building codes, and implementing efficiency standards, with fines for noncompliance.68 The work of retrofitting and decarbonizing the largest source of carbon pollution in the city will be achieved in large partnership with local labor unions and state funding for training programs. For example, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Energy Efficiency and Clean Technology Training Fund supports the city’s largest municipal labor union, District Council 37, on technical energy efficiency jobs training initiatives.69
Also in New York City, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ launched a “Green Supers” program that provides training for its unionized building superintendents on steps that will improve building energy and water usage, indoor air quality, waste control, and the overall performance of the building envelope.70 This program not only improves energy efficiency, cuts electric bills, and reduces pollution, but also provides valuable professional training for union members that will benefit their careers. SEIU has been working to expand this program into jurisdictions nationwide, with support from local governments.
Washington state also offers significant incentives for energy efficiency investments and, in 2019, passed the first state law implementing an energy efficiency performance standard for large existing commercial buildings.71 The Clean Buildings for Washington Act, or H.B. 1257, aims to reduce the energy intensity of Washington’s commercial building stock for buildings larger than 50,000 square feet with compliance requirements phased in by 2028. The state has led by example by requiring energy-efficient public buildings and fleets, benchmarking energy use, and encouraging the use of energy savings performance contracts. Contracts and procurement under H.B. 1257 incentivize workforce development, protection, and benefits as certified by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries under Washington’s aforementioned CETA law.72
Investments in transit
Over the past decade, U.S. cities, state governments, and regional bodies have committed nearly $50 billion to expanding transit networks.73 This expansion not only supports the development of clean transportation but also provides a major opportunity to create and sustain good jobs in construction, maintenance and operations, and manufacturing in communities across the country.74 According to the American Public Transit Association (APTA), public transportation is a $74 billion industry that directly employs 435,000 workers, in jobs that tend to be union jobs.75 Moreover, every $1 invested in public transit delivers $5 in economic benefits.76 The BlueGreen Alliance also found that, as of 2015, 750 companies in 39 states manufacture components for transit and passenger rail.77 These provide a variety of economic opportunities for state and local governments that federal investment can accelerate.
In 2015, voters in Phoenix approved Transportation 2050—a major investment in citywide transit expansion that includes tripling the number of miles of light rail service and new stations, building more than 1,000 miles of new bike lanes and 135 miles of sidewalks, constructing 75 miles of new rapid transit bus routes, and more.78 This initiative was supported by the Arizona Building and Construction Trade Council.79 In 2020, voters in Austin, Texas, approved Project Connect—a major $7.1 billion transit expansion that includes 27 new miles of light rail service via two new lines, a downtown transit tunnel, commuter rail, expanded bus service, and a new fleet of e-bikes. It also includes anti-displacement investment to protect affordable housing and support transit-oriented development.80 In the November 2018 elections, U.S. voters approved nearly $10 billion in transit funding measures nationwide.81
Ongoing transit development projects continue to be a source of high-road jobs and transportation decarbonization. For example, in 2016, voters in the western region of Washington state approved a $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) measure—among the nation’s largest—for a major expansion of light rail infrastructure throughout the Central Puget Sound region, the development of which continues under a PLA and has since been joined with a commitment to 100 percent electrification.82 ST3 will add 62 miles of light rail at 37 new stations, two bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes, and expansions and extensions of existing commuter rail and bus service. It was a top priority of the Washington State Labor Council and the Building and Construction Trades Council when it passed.83
However, at the same time, local and state stories on public transit are not all rosy—particularly amid financing plans that rely on regressive local consumption taxes when Americans have been hit by two unprecedented economic calamities in less than two decades. In November 2020, voters in Gwinnett County, Georgia—a suburban country in the Atlanta metro area—rejected an otherwise popular 82 projects transit measure that involved a 1 percent sales tax increase,84 despite a new charge given by state lawmakers to the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority to begin to address one of the nation’s worst-congested traffic regions through more transit options.85 The ballot measure lost by just more than 1,000 votes out of nearly 400,000.86 Nationally, there is also the issue of ridership loss—even prior to COVID-19, transit networks had been shedding riders, pointing to the need for greater accessibility and the development of more transit-smart housing projects.87 In light of the economic challenges that decimated communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to consider how federal investments could help alleviate voters’ antipathy towards sales- and property tax-based transit financing plans, whose rejection can force local governments to scrap popular and critically needed expansions.
Much greater federal financial support will be essential and can build upon and accelerate state and local transit development. APTA estimates that 45 percent of Americans have no access to public transportation, and the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the backlog of needed transit investments will grow to $270 billion by 2030.88 The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in March 2021 provided a critical $30 billion lifeline for state and local transit systems. However, much more investment will be needed to sustain and expand transit, as well as intercity rail transportation.
The American Jobs Plan proposes major transit investments—an opportunity for good jobs in the construction industry and maintenance of more sustainable transportation infrastructure for the 21st century.89 And just weeks ago, a coalition of advocates wrote to Congress urging it to provide robust investment in public transportation. The letter asked for $99 billion to address the nationwide transit maintenance backlog, $20 billion in operating support to expand service, and efforts to ensure that transit receives at least 50 percent of federal transportation investments, rather than the measly 20 percent it has received in the recent past.90 The letter also urges a $50 billion investment in clean, zero-emission buses.91
Investments in clean water
Water infrastructure investment needs are varied and can include stormwater management, waste treatment, and drinking water upgrades for healthy communities; repairs and replacements of locks, dams, and levees that prevent flood and storm surge; and water storage and conservation projects that shore up critical water supplies and protect habitats. Clean water infrastructure for communities is an especially critical need, in light of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and aging or failing water infrastructure around the country.92 Water infrastructure investment is also a source of good union jobs, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center.93 The investments required to improve the U.S. drinking water system alone, from its current poor D-plus grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers to a much-improved B grade could create an estimated 144,000 domestic jobs in replacement and upgrades of pipelines, treatment plants, storage tanks, and the installation of green infrastructure projects.94
One example of a state that has recently led on clean water infrastructure is Michigan. In 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced the Michigan Clean Water Plan, which would invest $500 million in upgrading the state’s water infrastructure, from wastewater infrastructure to lead service line replacement to remediation of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.95 This plan received significant attention, especially in light of the Flint water crisis. The Michigan Clean Water Plan pledged $207 million for investment in drinking water systems and $293 million toward wastewater protections and will support more than 7,500 jobs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).96
In Miami Beach, Florida, city officials passed the Integrated Water Management plan in 2018 to build blue-green stormwater infrastructure that supports water quality improvement, groundwater recharge and replenishment, and flood mitigation.97 The program uses an integrated approach to project implementation to maximize community benefit, including local jobs and training support.98
While states and municipalities are making progress, this is another area where greater federal investment will be critical. In early 2021, four Midwest governors—Gretchen Whitmer, Tony Evers (D-WI), J.B. Pritzker (D-IL), and Tim Walz (D-MN)—wrote to President Biden urging him to prioritize water infrastructure investment as part of his infrastructure and economic recovery agenda.99 Biden’s American Jobs Plan responded with $111 billion in proposed water infrastructure investment, including $45 billion for lead service line replacement.100
Investments in manufacturing
Through investments in low-carbon manufacturing—including local “Buy Clean, Buy Fair” policies and related efforts—federal lawmakers can build on states’ efforts and support more American jobs to build clean and competitive manufacturing industries for the 21st century. Already, Buy America laws and the Buy American Act require that federal purchasing and investments in infrastructure source U.S.-made iron and steel and use domestic production and assembly of other manufactured goods. Buy Clean policies, however, focus on the carbon content of manufactured goods—preferencing procurement decisions for firms that meet lower carbon pollution metrics. Additionally, Buy Fair policies can similarly leverage the power of government procurement to ensure fair treatment of workers. Both of these initiatives also inherently support American manufacturing, which frequently involves lower greenhouse gas pollution and better labor conditions.101 These sorts of policies can also be used to drive a virtuous race to the top in high-road labor and environmental standards, pushing manufacturing enterprises to continue innovating while supporting U.S. jobs. The Biden administration and Congress have the opportunity to support clean and competitive U.S. advanced manufacturing, and in doing so, they can build on a movement that has begun in the states.
In 2017, California became the first state to pass a Buy Clean law, urged on by BlueGreen Alliance, the United Steelworkers, and the Sierra Club.102 This legislation requires state agencies to consider as part of the procurement processes the carbon pollution embedded in industrial products—such as steel and glass—using a portion of the state’s $10 billion annual public infrastructure investment to incentivize low-carbon manufacturing. Since then, similar legislation has been introduced in Minnesota, Oregon, and Colorado.103 Washington appropriated money this year to build a state tracking system for both Buy Clean and Buy Fair components. The state has also funded several pilot projects through the capital budget.104 New York state has passed legislation for offshore wind energy developments that include requirements for investments to satisfy Buy Clean supply chain principles.105 These points of state progress provide a template for federal action, particularly alongside a legislative agenda for greater public investment in infrastructure.
Elsewhere in manufacturing opportunities that support good jobs and decarbonization is the race to ensure American leadership in the fast-growing 21st century global market for electric vehicles. Success will require bold federal policy action, such as the Clean Cars for America proposal put forward by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)106 and the Clean Energy for America Act led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), which provides an expanded tax credit for electric vehicles made in America by workers with high-quality jobs.107 Likewise, states have demonstrated leadership in this area. In 2020, Michigan launched a new state Office of Future Mobility and Electrification to generate new investment and protect the state’s competitiveness in electric vehicles and other future mobility technologies.108 California, Michigan, Nevada and Tennessee have all used tax incentives and grant payments to attract electric vehicle manufacturing facilities to their states, although these states vary in their labor policy and correlated conditions.109 States have used demand-side policies to pull more electric vehicles into the market as well. Fourteen states, including Minnesota and Virginia, have adopted clean car standards first promulgated by California, requiring increasing sales of zero-emission vehicles and low-emission vehicles.110 Moreover, this industry extends well beyond single-occupancy vehicles, with the enormous opportunity for electric bus manufacturing.
Already, the electric bus manufacturing sector has laid the groundwork for high-quality, union jobs to support the transition to clean transportation. In one example, Proterra electric bus manufacturers in Los Angeles County joined the national United Steelworkers (USW) union in 2019. In this move, USW and Proterra signaled alignment in clean jobs, “ensuring that the materials and components in the transportation supply chain are made in America and that the workers who make them earn fair wages and good benefits.”111 In 2020, Jobs to Move America and Proterra entered into a historic CBA in Los Angeles County to make significant investments in local worker training and hiring for zero-emission bus manufacturing. Under this agreement, Proterra is legally required to hire 50 percent of new hires from communities facing significant barriers to employment.112
California’s proposed Climate Jobs and Equity Act, or A.B. 794, would cement workforce standards into law for the procurement of electric vehicles and the manufacture of electric buses and heavy-duty vehicles. For bus and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturing, 60 percent of the total incentive credit is available for the satisfaction of baseline standards, including compliance with state labor laws, disclosure, and Buy America provisions. Manufacturers can receive the additional 40 percent of the incentive if they satisfy additional labor standards, including hiring of disadvantaged workers, participation in apprenticeship or training programs, prevailing wage, and dispute resolution options.113
Another example of an opportunity for American jobs in clean manufacturing is in the movement to phase-out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—a powerful climate pollutant that has been used in air conditioning and as refrigerants. The international community moved to phase down HFCs with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol,114 and American manufacturers have begun moving away from HFCs, investing more than $1 billion in their replacement for most uses.115 However, the Trump administration refused to support Kigali, despite benefits to the climate and domestic manufacturing competitiveness, again forcing states to lead in the absence of federal leadership.116 Sixteen U.S. Climate Alliance states are working to pass legislation or adopt regulations to phase down HFCs.117
In 2019, California, Vermont, and Washington passed legislation to adopt HFC limits based on EPA rules promulgated during the Obama administration. Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and most recently Virginia have taken similar regulatory action.118 Transitioning toward HFC alternatives could create as many as 33,000 new regional manufacturing jobs and add approximately $12.5 billion per year to the U.S. economy, according to testimony from the U.S. Climate Alliance.119 Federal lawmakers have already taken action to build on state leadership, with passage of the Energy Act in late 2020 to phase down HFCs. However, the Senate still needs to pass the Kigali Amendment, which will help ensure that American manufacturers can compete in the global marketplace.
Supporting workers’ rights and confronting de-unionization
Unions and union jobs have long been a potent force for social, moral, and economic fairness. At its most elemental, the right to unionize means having a voice in one’s employment and having a stronger voice by partnering with co-workers to speak as one. As the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep through America, workers across the nation recognized that this voice is about much more than wages and benefits. For many front-line workers in the pandemic, access to a union has been a matter of life and death.120 Unsurprisingly, public support for unions is at a multidecade high.121 Yet, decades of relentless attacks on the right to unionize have left too many workers unable to collectively bargain with their employers.122 Now, as state and federal policymakers consider significant investments in building the clean energy economy, it is important that those policies support workers’ rights and confront de-unionization.123
Federal labor law has countless loopholes that undermine workers’ ability to come together in strong unions. While federal laws limit some state actions to promote bargaining rights, states have implemented several reforms that can serve as a model for the federal government and help prevent labor disruptions, ensuring that workers continue to have access to unions and the right to collective bargaining.
Governments have significant authority to attach standards to prevent labor disruptions on large investments that create private sector jobs. A number of states and local governments require private contractors on public works projects to enter labor peace agreements and/or PLAs to limit labor disputes and workforce shortages and to safeguard appropriate wage and benefits standards.124 The District of Columbia, for example, conditions certain contracts on the employers’ willingness to enter into labor peace agreements.125
In addition, some states have adopted protections to ensure that recipients of clean energy sector funds respect their workers, based on evaluations of their histories of compliance with wage and hour, health and safety, and labor laws. In Washington and Minnesota, for instance, contractors are eligible for state contracts and renewable energy incentives only if they have clean histories of compliance with labor laws.126 California has adopted a responsible contractor standard for all energy efficiency investments to apply workforce standards and protect the quality of workmanship.127
Of course, public sector jobs should also come with bargaining rights. While the National Labor Relations Act excludes public sector workers, many cities and states have taken action to extend bargaining rights to state and local government employees. Today, more than half of all union members in the United States work in the public sector.128 Over the past decade, various anti-union laws enacted at the state level and the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision—in which the Supreme Court held that public sector unions must allow “freeriding” by nonmembers, which happens when nonmembers benefit from union gains without paying for them—have chipped away at the right of workers to band together.129 But progressive elected officials in many other states are enacting reforms to ensure that these workers can unionize.130 In order to protect public sector workers’ right to fairly negotiate and raise workplace standards, federal policymakers should expand public sector bargaining rights to all government workers and ensure that their unions have the ability to access and communicate with workers and collect dues in convenient ways.131
Finally, in regions and industries where union membership is particularly low, policymakers have used sectoral approaches, such as workers’ boards, to increase worker power. Workers’ boards are tripartite bodies that bring together workers, employers, and the public to establish minimum wage rates, benefits, and other workplace standards, including paid leave policies and benefit contribution rates.132 Engaging labor representatives in board activities helps ensure that resulting standards are responsive to workers’ needs while also potentially building union visibility and strength. Governments have commonly used these workers’ boards in the service sector, with examples including fast-food workers in New York and domestic workers in Seattle. However, more state and local policymakers could also use this approach to establish standards in clean energy sectors with low unionization rates.
Local hire and equitable access
As described in this report, unions and collective bargaining are some of the most effective tools for reducing racial inequalities in pay and household wealth. By taking policy action now to ensure that jobs in the clean energy economy pay good wages and benefits and uphold workers’ right to unionize, policymakers can simultaneously take action to combat the economic impacts of systemic racism. But fully realizing the benefits of middle-class jobs also requires a concerted effort to ensure that these jobs are accessible to all and benefit local communities and communities affected by racism, legacy pollution, and deindustrialization. Much more needs to be done, but states and municipalities have taken the lead in crafting policies to protect access to life-changing career pathways for these communities.
State leadership in this space has most often used two policy mechanisms: local hire policies and targeted hire policies. True to their name, local hire policies are often crafted to ensure that the communities that host new energy or manufacturing facilities benefit from those jobs. For example, Virginia’s recently passed Clean Economy Act will spur the development of more than 5,000 MW of new offshore wind generation, and the utilities developing those projects will be required to develop a plan to use local workers.133 The bill also contains a targeted hire mechanism, requiring the utilities developing new offshore wind facilities to prioritize the hiring of “historically economically disadvantaged communities.” Similarly, Colorado’s carbon reduction goals also require the Public Utilities Commission to ensure that new energy development uses local labor as opposed to “importation of out-of-state workers.”134
Other states have arguably gone even further in taking steps to ensure that marginalized communities benefit from clean energy and manufacturing projects. California’s 2015 Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act set out a number of critical commitments, containing policies to ensure that energy efficiency investments in the state use only responsible contractors that pay livable wages and provide safe workplaces.135 (Notably, however, “livable wages” were not defined in the law, leading to real implementation challenges.) In developing this policy, the state tracked the participation of disadvantaged workers in all energy efficiency programs across the state, casting a wide net to include low-income workers, workers on public assistance, single parents, the formerly incarcerated, non-English speakers, and workers who have grown up in the foster care system.
Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Act is designed to increase the representation of women and people of color in the ownership of clean energy businesses, as opposed to looking at the workforce alone. The bill requires utilities building new offshore wind projects to use CBAs that promote opportunities for local businesses and businesses owned by women and people of color, as well as prioritize training and hiring of local residents, women, veterans and people of color.136 Washington state combined these two approaches in its Clean Energy Transformation Act, which contains policy mechanisms to diversify the clean energy workforces as well as the ownership of businesses operating in the clean energy and manufacturing field.137