As the economy continues to fall into shambles–and even before the recent crisis–“green jobs” are often touted as a cure-all panacea for the challenges that the country faced. Last night in her State of the State address, Governor Jennifer Granholm outlined plans to create “green jobs”, while they have become the rallying cry of political campaigns and cash-strapped states across the United States.
However, this discussion often focuses on the number of jobs created–not the quality of the jobs.
“Green jobs are not just a short-term fix for the recession. Increasingly, these jobs are understood as central to the future of our nation and our planet. The shift to a green economy creates an unparalleled opportunity to address not only unemployment and the climate crisis but also deeply rooted social problems such as poverty and inequality.”
“Green Job” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Good Job”
The report–titled “High Road or Low Road? Job Quality in the New Green Economy“–argues that while many employers aspire to make “green jobs” “good jobs,” the connection is not automatic:
- Low pay is not uncommon in the workplaces we profile: the lowest wage we found was $8.25 an hour at a recycling processing plant, but we also discovered jobs in manufacturing facilities serving the renewable energy sector paying as little as $11 an hour.
- Wage rates at many wind and solar manufacturing facilities are below the national average for workers employed in the manufacture of durable goods. In some locations, average pay rates fall short of income levels needed to support a single adult with one child.
- Some U.S. wind and solar manufacturers have already begun to offshore production of components destined for U.S. markets to low-wage havens such as China and Mexico. Examples of offshoring include the manufacture of blades for wind turbines, defying the common assumption that such blades are too large to ship overseas.
- Very few workers at wind and solar manufacturing workplaces identified in the course of our research are covered by collective bargaining agreements. In at least two instances, this appears to be a direct result of aggressive anti-union campaigns run by employers with the help of union-busting consultants. On the construction side, we found that a leading contractor engaged in energy efficiency work has a similarly hostile approach to unions.
- We could not find specific wages for nonunion construction workers employed in green building, but publicly available data on overall construction wages suggest that they are far lower than those of the union members profiled in the report. Analysis provided by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that among nonunion laborers, carpenters, painters, and roofers, a majority make less than $12.50 an hour and a third make less than the federal poverty wage for a family of four ($10.19 an hour).
Michigan “Green Jobs” Cited as Examples of Challenges
The report cited two examples in Michigan of problems that can be associated with the “green jobs” sector.
In one example, the report cited the United Solar Ovonic facility located north of Grand Rapids in Greenville, Michigan to show that “green jobs” are not protected from outsourcing. A common argument among “green jobs” proponents is that “green jobs” cannot be moved offshore by companies looking to save money on labor cost. However, the report explains that the United Solar Ovonic facility in Greenville uses photovoltaic cells that are assembled in Mexico.
At another United Solar Ovonic facility in Battle Creek, the report explains that United Solar Ovonic the company received a tax break from the local government. That tax break should have ensured that the company meet the local “prevailing wage” requirement of $16 per hour. However, the company–after receiving tax subsidies estimated at $277,000 per job it created–threatened to move its investment elsewhere unless it was exempted from the rule. The city relented and allowed United Solar Ovonic to pay $14 per hour rather than lose the jobs.
Conclusions: “Green Jobs” Promising, but Keep in Mind Social Justice
Overall, the report argued that while “green jobs” do offer the promise of transforming the nation’s economy and the environment, it is essential that people and policymakers keep in mind that just because a job is “green” doesn’t mean that it is a good job. Instead, the report argues that society needs to work together to ensure that while developing this sector that policies are adopted to address inequality, poverty, and labor rights.
To that end, the report offers a number of policy recommendations, including incorporating labor standards into LEED certification, adding wage requirements to government contracts, requiring domestic sourcing, and passing the Employee Free Choice Act to increase access to unions.