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  .

 

IRENA forecasts 24 million renewable energy jobs worldwide by 2030

IRENA_REnewable Jobs 2017 coverIn 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.”

Solar Jobs in the U.S., and a Survey of Working Conditions

 The newly released U.S. Solar Jobs Census 2014 from the Solar Foundation states that there are 173,807 solar workers in the U.S., representing a growth rate of 21.8% since November 2013.  The installation segment of the solar sector represents the single largest source of domestic employment growth in the U.S., more than doubling in size since 2010.
The report also asserts that diversity is growing since 2013, and that wages remain competitive, with installers earning $20-$24 per hour; assemblers earning close to $18 per hour, solar designers, $30-$40 per hour, and sales staff ranging widely from $30 to $60 per hour. In his response to the release of the Census, the U.S. Energy Secretary highlights the DOE Solar Instructor Training Network at nearly 400 community colleges in 49 states. He states that the program has trained over 30,000 people since 2010, with a goal of 50,000 new solar workers trained by 2020.

 

The Solar Census covers all segments of the solar industry in the U.S. In contrast, The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Annual Scorecard surveys and ranks solar PV manufacturers internationally, with the goal “to enhance transparency around environmental health, safety, and sustainability issues for communities, workers, and the environment”. The latest edition, released in late November 2014 names manufacturers and ranks them on environmental issues such as Extended Producer Responsibility, water use, use of conflict minerals, and use of toxic chemicals. It also includes a category for Worker Rights and Health and Safety policies, measured by “a formal commitment to protecting worker rights, health, and safety that goes beyond compliance with local laws and regulations; commitment to improving employee wages; signage informing illiterate workers about minimum wage provisions; coverage of workforce by collective bargaining; workday case rates; recordable incident rates; and adoption of OHSAS for 100% of facilities”. Top ranked companies in the workers rights category in 2014, are Trina (owned by Chinese interests), SunPower (headquartered in California), and REC (recently taken over from Norwegian control by a Chinese company).