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Green Jobs Not Necessarily Good Jobs

July 11th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Many young people enter the job market wanting to ‘make a difference.’ This has probably been the case since the dawn of time: people want to do “good work.” But good work does not always mean a “good job,” of course, and in fact there are many employers who sell underpaying and in some case “sweatshop” jobs to young idealists who believe they are making a difference. In a wild open market, these employers are able to win contracts thanks to their lowered costs.

A report released in February examines the green economy, just as the US government has earmarked some stimulus money for so-called green jobs that include, for example, home updates that save energy, along with jobs in the solar and wind farm industries. The report’s author, Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera, said, “Many proponents of green development assume that the result will be good jobs. We tested that assumption and found it is not always valid.”

While many companies in the green sector treat employees with respect and pay them fairly, there were examples in different sectors of the green economy that showed less fairness to workers. Mattera cites the example of “Two wind energy manufacturing plants where workers initiated union organizing drives in response to issues such as poor safety conditions and then faced union-busting campaigns by management.” He also noted that there are U.S. wind and solar manufacturing firms that weaken the job security of their workers by opening parallel plants in overseas low-wage havens like China, as well as Mexico.

A report by Labor Notes ( offers similar cautions. Tiffany van Eyck says that community-labor partnerships in Newark, Los Angeles, and Seattle are rising to the occasion to make sure that green jobs in the stimulus package end up in the right hands, that unions are recognized and workers are compensated fairly. These community-labor partnerships are “creating a blueprint to help building trades unions dig into the green economy, while bringing new workers, many of them women and people of color, into the unions.”

An alliance in Puget Sound, Washington has been able to win a bill that stipulates “prevailing wage criteria.” This essentially means that stimulus money must go to projects that pay fair wages.

Previously, unions were critical of training models used in some federally subsidized weatherization projects. These favoured entry-level candidates who only took dumbed-down classes on specific tasks. As Union spokesman Bill Hayden put it, “when that work is done, there’s no other work for them.”

While they do acquire a little experience and do receive training,  only a few ever make it into a union or are able to develop their careers. “We don’t want to see more green sweatshops,” Hayden says.

The concern across the country is that people are able to get into a union pipeline, so they can truly make a decent living at green jobs.

And in the end, argue the unions, it is the consumer and the taxpayer who benefit from seeing their money spent best, on people qualified to do good work (people with “good jobs”).

As Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy says, “Many states and localities already apply job quality standards to companies receiving job subsidies or public contracts by federal as well as state and local agencies.” The Good Jobs First report, says LeRoy, “only wants to ensure this.”

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Tags: Career Advice · Skilled Trades · Unions

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