The clean economy workforce in the U.S. and proposals to make it more inclusive

brookingsclean-energy-jobs_wages Figure2-finalAdvancing inclusion through clean energy jobs  is a report  released  by the Brookings Institution in April 2019,  with a goal to determine “ the degree to which the clean energy economy provides labor market opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups, with a particular focus on equity”.  It examines a range of occupations, not just the traditionally-identified “green jobs”,  identifying approximately 320 unique occupations in three major industrial sectors: clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management.  The report includes detailed discussion of its methodology and data sources, and emphasizes the size of the clean energy economy and its potential to make an impact on the equity of the U.S. labour market.

Some highlights about the “nature” and “ quality” of clean energy economy jobs:

  • Workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable wages when compared to all workers nationally. Mean hourly wages exceed national averages by 8 to 19 percent.
  • Roughly 50 percent of workers in the clean energy economy have a high school diploma yet earn higher wages than similarly-educated peers in other industries – for example, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.
  • Some occupations within the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors require greater scientific knowledge and technical skills than the average American job.
  • The clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally. Fewer than 20 percent of workers in the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors are women, while black workers fill less than ten percent of these sector’s jobs.

In the accompanying press release , first author Mark Muro states: “Clean energy occupations are varied, accessible to workers without a bachelor’s degree, and good paying, but they are not yet as inclusive as they should be. To deliver on the sectors’ full promise for economic inclusion, more work needs to be done in front-line communities to ensure under-represented communities and women are more widely included.”  The report concludes with  proposals directed at state and local policy makers, education and training sector leaders, and community organizations.  Broadly, the policy proposals include: “modernizing and emphasizing energy science curricula, improving the alignment of education and training offerings, and reaching underrepresented workers and students.”

Women and minorities still at a disadvantage in U.S. solar industry

solar industry 2019 diversity infographicThe U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019  was released by The Solar Foundation ,  in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association on May 6, reflecting  a growing  industry awareness of the need to promote inclusion. The 2019 study is based on survey responses from 377 employers and 398 employees in the winter of 2018, and reports on  job satisfaction, career paths and progression, and wages.

Some highlights: 

  • Among the senior executives reported in the survey, 88% are white and 80% are men.
  • Three of the top five recruitment methods rely on professional and personal networks – putting minority applicants at a disadvantage to be hired  (Only 28% of Hispanic , Latino, and African American  respondents reported that they found their jobs through a referral or by word of mouth, compared to 44% of white respondents).
  • There is a 26% gender wage gap across all position levels. 37% of men earn in the range of $31 to $74 per hour, compared to only 28% of women.  The median wage reported for men was $29.19, and for women it was only $21.62.

The full report is available here (registration required). This is the second Diversity Report, but the first, in 2017, is no longer available online. An accompanying  Best Practices Guide  is a brief guide aimed at HR managers to encourage diversity and inclusion programs.  A summary  of the report appears in Think Progress .

Other reports which confirm the need for more diversity in the solar industry: 

Solar Empowers Some  (February 2019)  focused on the state of diversity and inclusion in Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Advancing inclusion through clean energy jobs  (April 2019)  by the Brookings Institution goes beyond just the solar industry to include all clean energy and energy efficiency occupations. It reports that fewer than 20 percent of workers are women, and less than 10 percent are black, confirming that the clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity compared to all occupations nationally.  This report, importantly, also documents skills and educational requirements, and is written in the context of labour market issues for a transition to a clean economy.

We have little comparable research in Canada. As reported in the WCR  previously,  Bipasha Baruah at Western University in London researches the gender issue in the renewable energy industry, and in 2016 presented a report,  Creating and Optimizing Employment Opportunities for Women in the Clean Energy Sector in Canada, at Imagining Canada’s Future, an SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Symposium at the University of Calgary.

Can unions deliver good green jobs at Tesla?

tesla injury ratesThe “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  .

 

Just Transition for energy workers in Northern England includes job quality, skills training

liverpool harbourRisk or reward? Securing a just transition in the north of England  is a study released in late October by the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR), based in Manchester and Newcastle of the U.K. – an area disproportionately at risk for job losses in the shift to a low carbon economy as it is the home of  the majority of England’s coal and gas power stations.  This Interim report estimates that approximately 28,000 jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries could be lost by 2030 as the low carbon economy grows.  In 2017, the IPPR forecasts that up to 46,000 low-carbon power sector jobs and 100,000 jobs could be created by 2030 by its Northern Energy Strategy , including a  Northern Energy Skills Programme .

Risk or Reward?  forecasts job numbers, but also discusses the quality of jobs using compensation levels of representative energy jobs.  The report concludes that “Fundamentally, there is a failure to incorporate a just transition into industrial strategy and decarbonisation policy more generally; but, even if it were acknowledged, the skills system is ill-equipped to provide support for those that need retraining or for the next generation. Compounded by the uncertainty of Brexit amidst international competition for labour and skills, there is a real risk that the transition to a low carbon economy will not be just.”

Risk or Reward is an interim report.  IPPR promises a Final Report in 2019 which will recommend a strategy for government action,  to put just transition “at the heart of decarbonisation and industrial strategy”, and to build a skills system capable of supporting existing and future workers through well-paid, skilled and secure jobs.  “This strategy will also consider other challenges facing the low-carbon sector both now and in the future, including how to ensure it can deliver good working conditions and a diverse workforce. In addition, it will set out the crucial role of trade unions in delivering well-paid, secure and high skilled jobs, as well as a successful industrial strategy and improving productivity.”

Companion reading to Risk or Reward is  the broader perspective of  Prosperity and Justice: A plan for the new economy  – the final report of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice  , established in the 2016 in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.  The Final Report is here; an Executive Summary is hereProsperity and Justice  presents a 10-part plan for economic reform and makes more than 70 recommendations – which it states “ offer the potential for the most significant change in economic policy in a generation”. It includes a chapter titled “Ensuring Environmental Sustainability”  as fundamental to its economic goal of just growth.  The IPPR Commission on Economic Justice published an Interim Report (2017), as well as discussion and policy papers –   including including Power to the people: How stronger unions can deliver economic justice.

Do electric vehicles create good green jobs? An Amnesty International report on Supply Chains says No

Tesla TruckNovember brought  exciting news about electric vehicles:  BYD,  one of China’s leading electric carmakers, announced that it will open an assembly plant in a yet-to-be-announced location in Ontario in 2018, (though according to the Globe and Mail article,   the new plant will only create about 40 jobs to start ).  Also in mid-November, Tesla revealed a concept design for  an  electric truck in an glitzy release by Elon Musk , and the Toronto Transit Commission announced its plan to buy its first electric buses, aiming for an  emissions-free fleet by 2040.    Unnoticed in the enthusiasm for these announcements was a report released by Amnesty International on November 15:    Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain  which concludes : “ Major electronics and electric vehicle companies are still not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, almost two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed how batteries used in their products could be linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).” (That earlier report was This is what we die for   released in January 2016) .

Under the heading “The Darker side of Green Technology”, Time to Recharge states: “Renault and Daimler performed particularly badly, failing to meet even minimal international standards for disclosure and due diligence, leaving major blind spots in their supply chains. BMW did the best among the electric vehicle manufacturers surveyed.”   Tesla was also surveyed and ranked for its human rights and supply chain management; Tesla’s policies are described in its response to Amnesty International here.  And further, Tesla has come in for suggestions of  anti-union attitudes  in “Critics Suggest Link to Union Drive After Tesla Fires 700+ Workers” , in  The Energy Mix (Oct. 23), and in an article in Cleantechnica , and for discriminatory policies in “The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry“, published in In these Times and re-posted in Portside.

The Amnesty International report is a result of a survey of 29 companies, including consumer electronics giants Apple, Samsung Electronics, Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft, as well as electric vehicle manufacturers BMW, Renault and Tesla.  Questions in the survey were based on the five-step due diligence framework set out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.  Detailed responses from many of the surveyed companies are here.