Labor leads efforts to turn federal climate policy into good jobs

Guest Author

Successful pro-climate and pro-worker ballot initiatives in the 2022 midterm elections indicated voters across the United States want elected officials to lead on climate action that creates good jobs.

To deliver on that mandate, cities and states need to make the most of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the historic federal climate law passed last August.

IRA’s $369 billion investment in clean energy has the potential to slash harmful emissions and spur a massive expansion of renewable energy. Significantly, many of IRA’s tax incentives are directly tied to labor standards aimed at creating high-quality jobs in the clean energy sector.

Implementing the new law could create millions of union jobs, build the world’s leading clean energy economy, stave off climate breakdown and even begin to reverse racial and economic inequality.

Unions are essential to unlocking IRA’s potential to tackle both climate change and inequality. Over the past three decades, racial and economic inequality has been widening as union membership declined. These workers are getting hit first and worst by the climate crisis, facing harder conditions on the job and experiencing severe weather at home.

In response to these converging crises, workers have started organizing through their unions over the last several years to build democratic, collective power to win climate solutions that cut carbon and create high-quality jobs in the renewable and clean energy sectors.

This labor-led “climate jobs” model started gaining momentum before IRA’s passage, laying a strong foundation for the next era of climate policy.

In 2021, Climate Jobs Illinois, a coalition of unions focused on a pro-worker climate agenda, helped win the country’s strongest pro-climate, pro-worker energy bill, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. The law commits the state to building a clean power sector by 2050 through union jobs, decarbonizing public schools and expanding pathways to union careers in under-resourced communities of color.

Similar climate jobs coalitions in New YorkRhode IslandMaine and Connecticut won policies in 2021 and early 2022 that create high-quality renewable energy jobs and protect workers, advancing a bold vision of a worker-centered clean energy economy.

Now, IRA’s labor standards will ensure jobs in the clean energy economy are family-sustaining union jobs, with high-quality training, strong worker protections and collective bargaining.

Specifically, to take advantage of many of the law’s tax credits, clean energy developers must pay workers prevailing wages and hire workers from registered apprenticeship programs.

Such a massive opportunity comes with major challenges. Federal agencies as well as state and local governments must wrestle with how to ensure working people actually see the benefits of IRA in their communities, how to expand access to high-quality union training programs for workers in under-resourced communities and how to develop a domestic, unionized supply chain for clean energy technology.

To unlock the law’s full potential for workers and overcome these challenges, unions across the country are organizing to build awareness around federal climate jobs resources for their neighborhoods and develop new policy mechanisms.

In Illinois, the state’s Climate Jobs coalition has been developing union training programs for clean energy jobs. And Climate Jobs New York has been advancing pro-worker policies to expand domestic offshore wind manufacturing capacity that will grow the industry and revitalize communities.

Union-led campaigns for carbon-free and healthy schools across states like Rhode IslandTexasNew York, and Illinois are helping school districts and other public entities use IRA’s incentives to invest in rooftop solar and energy efficiency upgrades.

Unions are also organizing to implement IRA’s incentives for renewable energy hydrogen, long-duration storage and other emerging technologies. In many states, unions are partnering with state governments and industry to shape pro-worker proposals for the Energy Department’s hydrogen hub program.

With unions leading the way, IRA could spur a seismic shift in our economy that plays out in every community. We must approach the implementation of the law with the same urgency it took to pass it in the first place; otherwise we may miss our shot at simultaneously tackling the climate crisis and tipping the scales for working families.