New report offers sector-based strategies for greening California with high road jobs

The Center for Labor Research at the University of California, Berkeley, was commissioned by the California Workforce Development Board under legislated mandate to provide strategies “to help industry, workers, and communities transition to economic and labor-market changes related to statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.” The demand-side practices of community benefits agreements and project labour agreements were singled out for special attention.  The resulting 636-page report, Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030 , was presented to the Legislature on September 3.  The official summary is here ; coverage in the Los Angeles Times is here.

The  High Road report is built on the framework of California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan, which has target of  a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels. It incorporates existing academic research, economic models, and industry studies to present information about current labor conditions and the impact on jobs of California’s major climate measures. Most importantly, it provides strategic guidance and best practice examples for policymakers, agencies and institutions with a goal to “generate family-supporting jobs, broaden career opportunities for disadvantaged workers, deliver the skilled workforce that employers need to achieve California’s climate targets, and protect workers in declining industries.”  

Construction sector and blue-collar jobs are key

The Scoping Plan and the new report are organized into sectors based on the state’s major sources of greenhouse gas emissions: Transportation, Industry, Energy, Natural and Working Lands (including Agricultural Lands), Waste, and Water. The report notes the out-sized importance of the construction sector and of blue-collar work – defined as occupations in construction, production, transportation, maintenance, repair, and similar occupations, and specifically emphasizes that “blue collar” does not equate to “low skilled”. This has important policy implications, including the need for industry-based training, and emphasis on addressing job quality, because: “The quality of blue-collar jobs varies tremendously, even within the same industry, depending on the degree of subcontracting and outsourcing, ease of employment law enforcement, unionization rates, and other factors. These differences in job quality within industries and between high and low road employers are often difficult to discern from government data, which also is not able to capture wage theft and other employment violations. Examples are given of many sectors where greening of jobs may have resulted in lower emissions but not necessarily in job quality.

Recommendations

There are dozens of sector-specific recommendations, both demand-side and supply-side  including:

Expand the use of Community Workforce Agreements (CWAs) on climate investments involving large-scale construction projects;

Use inclusive procurement policies for public procurement of large capital equipment, contracts for public services, and in grant programs;

Include responsible employer standards in all climate incentive programs. Include skill standards to ensure safe and proper performance in programs receiving public or ratepayer funds; Incorporate wage and benefits standards and verification of compliance with all employment and labor law, including health and safety standards, into incentive program requirements.

Use metrics to measure the impact of climate policies on job growth, job quality, and job access.

Support existing apprenticeship programs and, where conditions are favorable, create new apprenticeship programs.

Support curriculum upgrades and teacher training for emerging technologies in occupations critical to the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

Recommendations regarding Just Transition are: Short term: “Fully explore alternatives to plant closures when there are other strategies available that will achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions and local pollution abatement. Longer term: Convene an interagency task force to develop concrete, specific plans for short-term and long-term transition.”

The full report is 636 pages long, with Lead Author Carol Zabin, Director of the Green Economy Program at the Labor Center, University of California Berkeley. Co-authors include J. Mijin Cha , author of Chapter 4 on Just Transition.  Much of the research was undertaken in 2018, relying on data from 2017, though the report is dated June 2020, and was only publicly released in September 2020.  Previous related reports from the Green Economy Program are listed here. Other relevant articles by J. Mijin Cha include “Environmental Justice, Just Transition, and a Low-Carbon Future for California” in Environmental Law Reporter 2020 and “A just transition for whom? Politics, contestation, and social identity in the disruption of coal in the Powder River Basin” in Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 69, 2020. Both academic articles have restricted access to the full text.

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