The “Driving a Fair Future” website has documented the complaints against Tesla for years – including an analysis of Tesla injury rates between 2014 and 2017 at its Freemont California plant, which showed that injuries were 31% higher than industry standards. In June 2018, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board began to hear some of the workers’ complaints of safety violations and anti-union harassment, with the United Auto Workers representing them. Two themes have emerged in the saga of Tesla’s bad labour relations: 1. how can the apparently “green jobs” become decent, good jobs? and 2. would unionization at Tesla give a toehold at other precarious Silicon Valley workplaces such as Google, Amazon, and their like.
“Tesla’s Union Battle Is About the Future of Our Planet” (Oct. 9) in Medium describes the union drive at the Freemont California electric vehicle manufacturing plant, in light of its environmental mission. The article contends : “ This case isn’t just about Tesla. It’s about the future of an industry that sees itself as key to addressing the climate crisis. Clean tech companies peddle a progressive vision of a low-carbon future, but Tesla’s anti-union fervor suggests that some in the industry have lost sight of their work’s bigger point.”
Workers from Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo New York expressed similar sentiments in interviews with the local news organization . Taking pride in their green jobs, they are seeking better pay, benefits, and job security through a unionization drive announced in December. The Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo received $750 million in taxpayer funding for the state-of-the-art solar production facility, promising new jobs in a high unemployment area; the unionization campaign involves about 300 production and maintenance employees in a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers. The drive is endorsed by the Labor Network for Sustainability , which states: “We are hearing a lot about the need for a Green New Deal that will provide millions of good jobs helping protect the climate. These Tesla workers represent the Green New Deal in action.” Follow developments on the Facebook page of the Coalition for Economic Justice Buffalo.
Implications for High Tech workers: “Why Elon Musk’s latest legal bout with the United Auto Workers may have ripple effects across Silicon Valley” is a thorough overview about the UAW unionization drive at Tesla’s auto manufacturing plant at Freemont California, from CNBC in early December. Similar themes appeared in “What Tesla’s union-busting trial means for the rest of Silicon Valley” appeared in Verge in September 2018, chronicling the arguments of the UAW and Tesla management – including Elon Musk and his tweets – during the NLRB hearings in June 2018. The article concludes that “Tesla’s case [is] a bellwether — particularly for Amazon. … Tesla might be a car company, but it’s also a tech company — and if its workers can unionize, tech workers elsewhere are bound to start getting ideas.”
What is life like for these high tech workers? A New Kind of Labor Movement in Silicon Valley” in The Atlantic (Sept. 4 ) gives a good overview, and introduces nascent groups as Silicon Valley Rising and Tech Workers Coalition .
On October 22, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All, which argues for the importance of just transition policies – not as an “add-on”, but an integral part of the climate policy and sustainable development policy framework. This Policy Brief, aimed at a labour union audience, reviews the history and fundamental principles of the Just Transition concept, provides case studies which form an impressive catalogue of how just transition has (and in some cases, hasn’t) worked around the world, and concludes with recommendations of how trade unions and workers’ organizations can contribute to the goal of Just Transition to a low carbon economy .
The Just transition case studies are drawn from both from the global North and the global South – specifically, Alberta; Australia; Brazil; California; Chiapas State, Mexico; Europe; India; Indonesia; Phillipines, Ruhr Valley; South Africa; and Vietnam. They reflect interventions at the regional, country, and sectoral level – most frequently the coal industry. In the end, the author concludes that, while a coherent strategy with clear objectives and targets is essential, it can only work properly if supported by the main stakeholders. Cooperation of environmental and labour advocacy groups is extremely important, as is the input of Indigenous people. He further judges that “ 10-12 years seems to be a realistic framework which would also allow time to build up well-founded just transition plans.”
What can trade unions do?: The author’s recommendations are: Be proactive and build just transition strategies for the future; Be involved at all levels; Build coalitions; Manage labour market transitions; and Develop future-oriented innovative approaches. To help unions, the author provides information for “Capacity and network building” on page 10, including the network and databases provided by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) project : specifically, the Green Collective Agreements database and the Education and Training materials database .
Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All was written by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute and an Associate of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) research project. The new report is available in English and in French , published by the ILO Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV), which also publishes the International Journal of Labour Research. In May 2018, the ILO Employment Policy Department issued an Employment Research Brief, Green Growth, Just Transition and Green Jobs: There’s a Lot we don’t know , which summarizes and links to the most recent international studies on these three topics.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a press release on September 4, announcing $15 million to help promote clean energy workforce development and training programs at various campuses of the State University of New York (SUNY). Some of the programs awarded funding include: a “Solar Ready Vets” program on site at Fort Drum to train veterans transitioning to civilian life in renewable energy ; updates including electrical/solar photovotaic information for continuing education curricula for architects, engineers, and building and code inspectors at Erie Community College; development of a wind operations technician training program at the Off-Shore Energy Center of SUNY Maritime . These initiatives are part of the Clean Climate Careers Initiative, announced in June 2017, which aims to create 40,000 new, good-paying clean energy jobs by 2020. The Clean Climate Careers Initiative partners the state government with Cornell University’s Workers’ Institute, as well as Climate Jobs NY , a labour union coalition led by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, New York’s Central Labor Council, and the Service Employees International Union.
According to the latest available report from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) in Q12018, 3,919 New Yorkers had been trained in a range of energy efficiency and renewable energy courses, through the Green Jobs – Green New York Act (2009). The funding program ended in December 2016, although one training program still continues. The New York Clean Energy Industry Report for 2017 reported that there were 146,000 clean energy jobs in New York State by December 2016 – 110,000 of those in energy efficiency roles.
Electric vehicles: Governor Cuomo issued another press release on September 5, announcing that the state will utilize $127.7 million received from the 2016 Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement to increase the number of electric and clean vehicles, by reducing the cost of new transit and school buses, trucks, and other vehicles, as well as supporting electric vehicle charging equipment. The new proposals are detailed in the NYS Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. The existing Charge NY program to incentivize electric vehicle adoption is credited with a 67 percent increase in ev’s sold in New York state between 2016 to 2017.
Through the Local Government Lens: Developing the Energy Efficiency Workforce, is a report released on June 13 by the American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy (ACEEE). It cites data from the 2018 U.S. Energy & Employment Report, which reported that there are 2.25 million efficiency jobs in the U.S. currently – 1.27 million of which are in the construction trades, followed by 450,000 in professional and business services. The report dives more deeply into the demographics and characteristics of the energy efficiency workforce, and discusses the unique challenges of workforce development policies – the need to replace a retiring workforce, funding uncertainty for job creation and infrastructure, a need to encourage diversity, and a complex set of stakeholders, given that there is no single educational or skills path for efficiency workers. The report includes unions and union-led training in its discussion of stakeholders and in its recommended strategies for workforce development policies.
Case studies with various approaches are presented from across the U.S., with the sole Canadian example of Vancouver, B.C. For example: Boston, where training in energy building management is provided to city and utility workers at local community colleges; New Orleans, where the city coordinates with U.S. Green Building Council, local community colleges, the New Orleans Office of Supplier Diversity, and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide efficiency-related training to low-income community members and minority- and women-owned businesses; and Los Angeles, which has established a Cleantech Incubator to attract new businesses and private-sector investment to the city. Other U.S. cities discussed are New York City, Orlando Florida, and Columbus Ohio.
Vancouver, B.C. launched several initiatives to teach skills required to build in accordance with its Zero Emissions Building Plan, approved in 2016. The city plans to subsidize training for builders and developers to learn more about passive house design standards, technical building requirements, economic and energy impacts, and energy modeling tools. Vancouver will also contribute funds to the Zero Emissions Building Centre of Excellence, a nonprofit-run collaborative platform that will compile and disseminate zero-emission building educational resources to the local building industry.
A blog summarizes the report; it is available free from this link, registration is required.
In its fourth annual report, Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2017 , the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) presents statistics on renewable energy employment, both by technology and in selected countries. For this 2017 edition, it includes statistics for large-scale hydropower, and also the results for a workplace survey in the Middle East and North Africa on barriers to women in clean energy labour markets. The worldwide statistics show that renewable energy employed 9.8 million people in 2016 – a 1.1% increase over 2015. Solar photovoltaic (PV) power was the largest employer, with 3.1 million jobs (an increase of 12% from 2015); global wind employed 1.2 million people (an increase of 7%); large hydro employed 1.5 million people, with around 60% of those in operation and maintenance. However, given that Canada is the world’s 2nd biggest hydropower producer (after China), and that Canada is not included in the IRENA numbers, this figure could be questioned. China, Brazil, the United States, India, Japan and Germany accounted for most of the renewable energy jobs.
In general, IRENA reports that the rate of for renewable job growth slowed down in 2015 and 2016, with the exception of the solar PV and wind categories, which have more than doubled since 2012. In contrast, employment in solar heating and cooling and large hydropower has declined. Nevertheless, IRENA predicts that “the number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030, more than offsetting fossil-fuel job losses and becoming a major economic driver around the world”. It also notes that ”significant efforts in training and education is needed to provide the labour market with the required skills.”
The gender discrimination survey of labour markets in the Middle East and North Africa was conducted jointly by IRENA, the Clean Energy Business Council (CEBC) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). The survey found that discrimination seems less pronounced in renewable energy employment than in the energy sector at large, but “challenges remain for women in regard to employment and promotion.”