BOSTON (State House News Service) — The state's transition to renewable power does not have to threaten workers who rely on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihood, Gov. Maura Healey said Thursday, joining advocates at a labor-led event centered on bills designed to bring about a "just transition" to clean energy.
"People think it's a zero sum game, and you can't do things like move on climate without hurting people and taking away jobs and taking money out of people's paychecks. That's just not true. It's just not true" Healey said.
The event was hosted by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Climate Jobs Massachusetts Action coalition, and union representatives and lawmakers promoted three bills focused on ensuring organized labor is used in the development of new clean energy infrastructure.
A workforce needs assessment released in July from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center found that the state's clean energy workforce will need to grow by an additional 29,700 full-time equivalent workers in order for Massachusetts to meet its target of a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. At a time of low unemployment and a declining labor force participation rate, MassCEC said getting there will actually require 38,100 workers to be trained and ready to work some or all of their time on climate-critical jobs.
The report also suggested that "proactive planning and investment in reskilling" could help the state transition workers from the fossil fuel industry into the clean energy industry.
Occupations such as pipefitters, pipelayers, plumbers, and steamfitters would see an increase in demand through 2030, the report said, but may see fossil fuel-related decline in later decades. "With proper workforce planning, this decline could be offset by the rise of technologies such as green hydrogen, which is on a similar time horizon and could present opportunities to transition these workers into clean energy roles, the report said.
MassCEC estimated that the number of fossil fuel jobs in Massachusetts will decrease from 58,000 to 56,000 (down 3.4 percent) by 2030.
"My father worked for the gas company for 40 years as a union utility worker, he was able to provide a good life for his family. I've been a gas worker for 16 years, and with the good pay and benefits I receive at my union job, my wife was able to go from full to part-time at her job and she's able to be home with our two young daughters a lot more, which is great for us," said Neil Crowley, a gasfitter.
He continued, "I fully support efforts to address climate change, but I have concerns about the future of the existing workforce and what the future of energy utility workers could look like if there isn't a just transition. Without proper oversight, companies could take advantage of the workforce. There needs to be a bridge between current and future utility workers."
Among the Climate Job Massachusetts Action coalition's priorities, a Rep. Marjorie Decker and Sen. Paul Feeney bill (H 1864 / S 1189) would require state-funded or subsidized projects to prove they've previously contracted with labor organizations and specify whether the developer and its contractors participate in apprenticeship programs. The proposal would also require project developers to submit proof of a wage bond in an amount equal to the aggregate of one year's gross wages for all workers.
The so-called "act relative to clean energy workforce standards and accountability" would also require that supply chain facilities creating and distributing parts to be used in renewable energy infrastructure, that are being developed in part by public funding, enter into agreements with labor organizations.
It would also add labor representatives from the AFL-CIO to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center board of directors.
"When we think about decarbonizing our economy, we think of other industrial transitions of this scale -- like NAFTA, which resulted in avoidable economic harm to communities as hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs disappeared," said Chrissy Lynch, president of the Massachustts AFL-CIO. "The stakes are high for our economy and our planet that we get this energy transition right."
She said union leaders have been working over the last few years on how to ensure the construction and operation of new renewable energy jobs are union jobs.
Another Decker and Feeney bill dubbed the "just transition" bill (H 1865 / S 1179) would require gas companies to submit a plan, which must be approved by the state, to address workforce development, maintenance and attrition over the court of the transition to net zero transitions.
Gas companies that are moving towards cleaner energy themselves would also have to report to the Department of Public Utilities on how they are offering cross-training or hiring preferences to their current employees. Under the bill, businesses in the fossil fuel industry would have to ensure the solvency of their pension system during and after the transition.
It would also put protections in place to prevent distribution, transmission or gas companies from reducing staffing levels below what they were in 2022.
"Each of these bills creates a place of accountability," Decker said. "When we're looking at state contracts, particularly when we're looking at state-leased land or owned-land, we have the ability to always say: Where's labor in this? How are we centering who's getting lost in this policy change? Are we losing workers? Are workers losing wages, losing job opportunities?"
The last bill (H 3691 / S 2127) the coalition identified as a priority would require energy audits for public schools, universities and colleges, which would estimate the costs of energy improvements as well as greenhouse gas reductions that would result if improvements were made. It would start with schools located in environmental justice communities.
It would also create a new Healthy and Sustainable Schools Office within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs that would have the authority to implement the recommended improvements.
"The bill will require that the projects use highly trained workers who are paid the prevailing wage, and it will prioritize hiring local workers from environmental justice communities," said Ryan Murphy, executive director of Climate Jobs Massachusetts. "This bill is a benefit all around. It assesses the health of our school buildings, and then it puts people from our communities to work. It requires that they're paid well and it results in better school environments and lower emissions."
Decker thanked the governor for coming to the briefing, and told lawmakers, union representatives and staff members that it showed she supports the bills.
"I got to tell you, it's a really big deal to have a governor come here to the members lounge in the House of Representatives to stand with us on a legislative briefing on three bills," Decker said. "It really signals her support for the legislation. And I would also encourage [her administration] to think about whether or not some of these things can be done with or without legislation. Sometimes it's faster to do it through the governor's office than wait for 200 people to figure out how to get through the 6,000 bills that we're looking at."
Written by Sam Drysdale/SHNS