Maine unions launch platform to create thousands of good jobs, take on climate crisis / by Evan Popp

Maine unions on Tuesday launched a new coalition to push for pro-labor environmental initiatives and unveiled a report detailing the bold climate jobs action plan the organization will advocate for. 

The coalition, called the Maine Labor Climate Council, is made up of a dozen unions from across the state representing a variety of different industries and workplaces. 

At the launch event, the council introduced its policy agenda, which is informed by a report spearheaded by the council and the Worker Institute at Cornell University. The report makes a number of policy recommendations for creating good-paying jobs for workers while also addressing the escalating climate crisis.

The authors of the report said Maine should set a deadline of providing 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions for new construction projects by 2030. Construction projects recommended by the study include building 19,000 affordable housing units by 2040, retrofitting half of residential units by that year, retrofitting and installing solar at all K-12 public schools by 2035, constructing high speed rail to Bangor and installing 25,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2030. 

The report also stated that Maine should transition 50% of its school bus fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2025 and 100% by 2030 and that the state should double and electrify city bus operations by 2030. 

All told, if each of the recommendations in the report were implemented, it would create between 10,000 to 20,000 good-paying jobs per year in the state for the next two decades, according to a Maine Labor Climate Council press release.

The Worker Institute report also called for a just transition for workers displaced from the fossil fuel industry by the shift to renewables and for the opportunities created by green initiatives to be high-quality union jobs in which workers receive a living wage, strong benefits, and safe labor conditions. One way to do that, the study said, is to include project labor agreements, which ensure that a construction initiative is done by union workers in a safe environment, along with prevailing wage provisions — which mandate that workers earn a living wage — on all projects of a significant size.

The report and the coalition’s policy agenda come as the world received yet another jolt underscoring the need for swift and wide-reaching action to address the growing environmental crisis. On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released new findings warning that the impacts of climate change are escalating at a rapid pace and could soon lead to irreversible consequences if humanity doesn’t change course and swiftly reduce emissions.   

During the launch event Tuesday, members of the Maine Labor Climate Council pointed to that escalating crisis in arguing for their policy platform. 

“The twin crises of climate change and inequality demand bold and urgent action,” said Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney. “We believe that the choice between good jobs and a livable planet is a false one, and our report lays out a path to head in the direction of both. The Maine Labor Climate Council is committed to tackling inequality and climate change together and being laser focused on creating good jobs as we develop Maine’s clean energy economy.” 

Tuesday’s press conference | Screenshot

Lara Skinner of the Worker Institute — one of the authors of the report providing a climate-jobs plan for Maine — said the study offers the state a clear pathway forward. 

“Our report outlines a science-based roadmap for Maine that would slash carbon emissions, transition the state to an equitable renewable energy economy, and create family-sustaining union jobs in communities that need them most,” she said. “This report is an ambitious vision for pro-worker climate action that meets the scale of this crisis and addresses long-standing racial and economic inequality.” 

Jason Shedlock, president of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council, added that now is the perfect time for the state to act, pointing to funds available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act as well as Maine’s historic budget surplus.

“The Maine Labor Climate Council is organizing to make sure we invest this in both our renewable energy future as well as our current and future working families,” Shedlock said. “These shouldn’t be viewed as mutually exclusive; we can and must do both.”

In addition to its recommendations for the budget surplus, the coalition is also advocating for a bill introduced by Rep. Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport), LD 1969, that the group said would mandate strong labor conditions and equity standards, including prevailing wage requirements, for projects over a certain size.

That bill received a public hearing Monday before the Labor and Housing Committee, with a variety of labor advocates testifying in favor of it. 

“The intent of this legislation is to improve the lives of working Mainers who are participating in the recent explosion of work in the renewable sector here in Maine,” Cuddy said in his testimony.

“Most people think of oil and gas as extractive and renewable energy as regenerative. However, renewable energy can reinforce an extractive economy if it treats workers as disposable,” added Adam Zuckerman, lobbyist for the Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project), on the need for LD 1969. “It can be truly regenerative if it creates broad-based prosperity, training, and development.”

Cuddy’s bill would also encourage renewable energy projects to use registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs for large-scale initiatives in order to build a sustainable workforce for such projects in the future, the Maine Labor Climate Council said. 

Kilton Webb, a fourth year electrical apprentice with IBEW Local 567, said working on such projects that help the transition to clean energy is one of his favorite aspects of the job.  

“Not only do I get to work with my hands each day and learn from some of the best electricians in the state, but I also get to be a part of the global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies,” Webb said. “For me, building up our labor standards goes hand in hand with building our renewable infrastructure. We need a well-trained and highly skilled workforce to complete all of these coming clean energy jobs.”  

Top photo: An IBEW 567 apprentice electrician with a co-worker at a solar array site | Courtesy photo

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan@mainebeacon.com

Maine Beacon: March 2, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/maine-unions-launch-platform-to-create-thousands-of-good-jobs-take-on-climate-crisis/

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