The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the two fastest growing jobs through 2028 will both be in the renewable energy sector.
By Mindy Isser
In These Times (9/3/20)
he renewable energy industry in the United States is booming. Prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has put millions out of work, over 3 million people worked in clean energy — far more than those who worked in the fossil fuel industry. And though the decline of fossil fuel jobs appears unstoppable, the unions that represent those workers are very protective of their members’ jobs. Similarly, they’ve also been resistant to legislation like the Green New Deal, which would create more green jobs while also transitioning away from work in extractive industries. Environmental activists believe that green jobs are the future — for both workers and our world — but unionization rates in the renewable energy industry are extremely low. In order to get unions on board with green jobs, the environmental movement will have to fight for those jobs to be union. And unions will have to loosen their grip on fossil fuels in an effort to embrace renewables.
Fossil fuel jobs can pay well (both oil rig and refinery workers can take home around $100,000 per year), but due to automation and decreased demand, the number of jobs is shrinking. And so are the unions that represent them. At its peak, the United Mine Workers of America boasted 800,000 members, but hundreds of thousands of workers have been laid off in the last few decades. Now UMWA is mostly a retirees’ organization and only organizes a few thousand workers in the manufacturing and health care industries, as well as workers across the Navajo Nation. When a union like UMWA hemorrhages members, many see it as an insular problem that doesn’t concern anybody else — environmentalists may even celebrate the closure of mines and refineries, potentially paying lip service to lost jobs, without doing much to create new ones.
Unions are one of the only ways working people have power in this country — without them, there will be very few organizations equipped to fight for the programs and services we deserve, including ones that are tasked with fighting climate change.
“An injury to one is an injury to all” is not just a slogan in the labor movement because it sounds good, but because it’s true. When union density is low and unions are weak, the jobs that are created are more likely to have low pay, lack benefits, and be unsafe. And because union density in this country is already so low (33.6% in the public sector, 6.2% in the private), every time an employer of union labor outsources or shuts down, it affects not only those newly unemployed workers, but all workers, union and not. When oil refineries and other fossil fuel employers close their doors, union members and other workers lose their jobs. And while that may feel like a win for environmentalists, it’s also a loss for all working people, even those concerned about climate change. Unions are one of the only ways working people have power in this country — without them, there will be very few organizations equipped to fight for the programs and services we deserve, including ones that are tasked with fighting climate change. These kinds of contradictions have caused tension between both movements, and corroded trust between them. And while there have been some inroads made in the last few years — including unions endorsing the Green New Deal — there’s still a long way to go until unions eschew fossil fuels.
Squandered opportunity for both sides
Upton Sinclair once said that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” When you’re able to feed your family on wages paid for by fossil fuels, it’s hard to see those same fossil fuels as a direct threat to your life. Most of us can understand why fossil fuel workers want to hold onto their jobs. And we can also understand why a majority of Americans want to significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels.
But between these two conflicting needs is a real opportunity: green jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the two fastest growing jobs through 2028 will both be in the renewable energy sector. While an economic downturn due to Covid-19 could slow job growth, pre-pandemic reports showed that solar installers and wind turbine technicians were set to grow by 63%. None of the 20 jobs projected to grow over 20% in the next eight years are in the fossil fuel industry. But the opening created by the renewable industry for a partnership between the environmental and labor movements is being squandered …
Workers Struggling This Labor Day As High Unemployment Persists
Accountable US (9/4/20)
WASHINGTON – This Labor Day, American workers are in dire straits as the U.S. Labor Department’s August jobs report shows the economy remains in recession. The jobless rate remains unacceptably high at 8.4 percent while the unemployment rate in the African American community is even worse at 13 percent.
And more than 29 million American workers continue to draw unemployment benefits. It is a reflection of the Trump administration’s bungling and inaction during the critical early days of the health crisis and the misguided economic priorities of the president and his Senate allies ever since—rushing to meet the demands from the wealthy and well-connected while ignoring urgent needs from workers and struggling small businesses, especially in communities of color. …
(Commoner Call photo by Mark L. Taylor, 2020. Open source and free for non-deriviative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )