Climate Union Jobs Act calls for prevailing wage for Illinois renewable energy projects

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Would create hundreds of thousands of union jobs

THE CLIMATE UNION JOBS ACT would put hundreds of union members to work building new clean energy projects in Illinois by mandating union labor on any project that receives state subsidies. – U.S. Dept. of Energy photo

A clean energy bill backed by a coalition of Labor unions, passed unanimously through the Illinois House Utilities Committee and received a hearing before the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee April 15.

Advocates say the Climate Union Jobs Act (HB 1472) would put hundreds of thousands of union members to work building a 100 percent clean energy economy in Illinois, and is necessary to make sure that Illinois’ shift to renewable energy creates union jobs that pay a prevailing wage and include fair labor provisions. They say the legislation will also reset standard ratemaking procedures, subjecting proposed rate hikes to greater regulatory scrutiny.

State Senator Michael E. Hastings (D-Frankfort), chair of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, oversaw a hearing April 15 on legislation that would put hundreds of thousands of union workers to work building a 100 percent clean energy economy in Illinois.

“I have had the distinct privilege of visiting with the hard-working men and women who help power Illinois,” Hastings said.

“Moreover, I am one of the few in Illinois and in the country who has visited every nuclear generating facility in our state. Those who work in this industry take pride in all they do, coming from all walks of life. Their passion, hard work, and profession should not, and will not, be overshadowed by the dark cloud cast by a greedy few.”

LABOR PROTECTIONS, UNION JOBS
Pat Devaney, secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) did not do enough to create labor protections and union jobs, even as it sparked a boom in solar energy. Other bills proposed this legislative session aim to restart and expand solar incentives created by the 2016 law and ensure that Illinois can meet its ambitious renewable goals.

“We don’t have to speculate about what would happen without labor standards; we have a case study in FEJA,” Devaney said. “FEJA had no labor standards in it, and what we saw throughout all sectors of renewable energy development was out-of-state contractors bringing in out-of-state workers, with no benefit to the Illinois workforce or union workforce.”

DISPARITIES IN UNIONIZATION
Nationally, only four percent of the solar workforce is unionized, compared to a national private sector average of 6.2 percent, Kari Lydersen of Midwest Energy News reports.

According to a 2020 report by the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative, wind power workers were unionized at rates equivalent to the overall private sector, while nuclear, energy efficiency, natural gas and coal-fired power generation all had unionization rates nearly double the national private sector average.

Some might assume that utility-scale wind or solar projects are often or always done union, but that’s not the case.

“We’ve seen that in Illinois and across the country,” Devaney said, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics findings that of 28 utility-scale wind farms under construction across the country, 21 are non-union; and of 61 solar farms under construction, 40 are non-union.

“We believe (renewables) will be a huge part of the Illinois economy going forward, and with federal assistance, we need to make sure these jobs — which are replacing good-paying jobs in fossil generation — are able to support a living wage and prevailing wage,” Devaney said.

WHAT ABOUT COAL JOBS?
Unlike other clean energy proposals in the state, the Climate Union Jobs Act does not aim to incentivize or accelerate a shift away from fossil-fuel generation through polluter taxes, a carbon emissions market or coal extraction fees.

“We’re not doing anything to expedite the closure of coal facilities,” Devaney said. “We know there’s going to be a transition to meet our clean energy goals, but those (coal jobs) are really good-paying union jobs. Until we have a plan in place to make sure we are taking care of those employees,” the coalition doesn’t want to see coal plants close.

What’s in the bill?

The Climate Union Jobs Act would create and save an estimated 280,000 jobs and provide over $150 million annually in rate relief to low-income families, in addition to:

  • Preserving the state’s nuclear fleet and other renewable generation.
  • Establishing new accountability and transparency requirements for utility companies.
  • Creating a just transition for communities economically reliant on fossil fuel generation and establishing equity requirements for clean energy jobs.
  • Reducing the state’s emissions from buildings and transportation.
  • Setting union labor standards when Renewable Portfolio Standard, Carbon Mitigation and Solar for All credits are used.

 


 

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