Prioritize universal labor rights and economic benefits

Access to union careers and workers’ rights to unionize are a top priority.

Although millions of good jobs have been created as solar and energy efficiency job opportunities opened in the last few decades, there still remains a huge “green divide” where BIPOC and frontline communities have little to no access to these jobs. BIPOC and frontline communities are often not prioritized in the training and recruitment for these renewable energy jobs and only recently have there been policies that directly target frontline communities for these renewable energy jobs.

Overarching goals:

Access to union careers and workers’ rights to union representation. Frontline leaders support frontline workers’ rights to union representation. The overall goals are:

  • Greater access to union careers in the renewable energy sector for communities of color and frontline workers.
  • Equitable opportunities within the training systems long-established by unions.

Raise the standards in jobs in the renewables industry. While there is a lack of access to renewable energy jobs for communities of color and frontline workers, it is also true that many of these jobs are low wage/low benefit. In 2015, “utility-scale blue-collar construction jobs in California, which employ union labor, pay, on average, $78,000 per year (about $39 per hour) and offer solid health and pension benefits...An apprentice electrician’s mean hourly wage is $23.96 per hour plus solid benefits, with wage increases tied to skill acquisition as they move through their four- or five-year apprenticeship programs until they graduate and gain a journey wage.”[1] By comparison, in 2018, the mean annual wage for solar photovoltaic installers nationally was $46,010.[2] Frontline communities want equitable access to the broad range of careers in the renewable energy sector, and want these careers to be high wage with comprehensive benefits.

Commitment to equity and justice in union apprenticeships and jobs. Frontline communities support union job opportunities and want to be prioritized in union apprenticeships and targeted for job recruitment. However, frontline communities oppose any discrimination and inequality in the construction industry. The quality of work should be “high road” as long as unions commit to expanding their apprenticeship slots and adjusting their journey and apprentice ratios to reflect the demographics of the local community.

Comprehensive regenerative careers. While this section is mostly focused on clean renewable energy jobs, as we transition away from fossil fuels and fossil fuel jobs, we need to expand the conversation beyond clean renewable energy jobs to low carbon human service jobs that are needed in frontline communities as well.

Career policies in the green economy will be highly dependent on context and politics. Renewable energy career opportunities in the urban context may be vastly different from rural and Indigenous contexts. In cities, careers in rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and public transit are often thought of as priorities because of the nature of urban areas. Whereas, in the rural and Indigenous contexts, careers in shared community solar, small scale wind, and electric vehicles may be the priority.

Policy recommendations

Regardless of context, 100% regenerative energy policies should include the following policy elements:

High road careers. 100% regenerative energy policies should not just accept the creation of any jobs. The approach to the development of jobs should not replicate the same extractive system that produces only minimum wage or temporary jobs. The approach should focus on creation of long-term “high road careers.” A “high road career” is one with robust training, family-sustaining wages, benefits, and strong workforce standards and worker protections.

Strong workforce standards for people of color and those with lower incomes, particularly African Americans, women, and Indigenous women and women of color. 100% regenerative policies should include good labor standards, especially for frontline communities and women of color. Some policy elements to include are:

  • Family supporting wages and support of a prevailing wage. Frontline communities trying to access careers in the renewable energy sector should be provided opportunities to access high quality, high wage jobs that can bring them out of poverty and support their families. Prevailing wages are typically based on rates in collective bargaining agreements and vary from state to state.
  • Local hire from frontline communities. Renewable energy careers are often found in utility-scale renewable projects that are far from local communities that need these jobs the most. Provisions that incentivize local hire from frontline community should be prioritized. Specifically:
    • Local hire should be part of the IOU, POU, CCA, and other hiring entity’s responsibility.
    • Incentives for local hire, particularly from frontline communities.
    • Time limits for local hire need to be extended. Typically, policies only set a one month time limit to find and place local hires. After that, job recruitment is found elsewhere.
  • Incentives for hiring women, especially women of color. The solar workforce is still 74% male. The renewable energy sector should address this inequity head on. 100% policies should be inclusive, and provide incentives for hiring women.
  • Prioritization of people of color, especially African Americans. African Americans are the least represented demographic in the construction industry (other than women). In New York, “Blacks certainly are under- represented in construction, they hold only 16.5 percent of jobs, far short of their 23.3 percent representation in the workforce. However, the under-representation is very severe in the nonunion sector, where blacks hold just 13.8 percent of the jobs while the under- representation in the union sector is much more modest—21.3 versus 23.3 percent.”[3] Special attention is needed to ensure that African Americans are brought into the clean energy sector, particularly especially as it relates to union apprenticeship opportunities.
  • Prioritization of people of color-owned and women-owned business enterprises. Policies can use models, such as HUD Guidelines for Minority- and Women- Business Enterprise (MBE/WBE) Outreach Standards that include a systematic method for developing an inventory of certified minority and women’s business enterprises, marketing to promote MBEs and WBEs, and procurement procedures for MBEs and WBEs to participate.[4]
  • Good family-sustaining benefits including healthcare, dental, retirements, and other elements of a comprehensive benefits plan.
  • Job creation from a wide spectrum of clean tech jobs:
    • Manufacturers
    • Installers
    • Clean Car Engineers
    • Recyclers
    • Natural Scientists
    • Green Builders
    • Solar Cell Technicians
    • Green Design Professionals
    • Water Quality Technicians
  • Paid job training. 100% policies should model job training programs after union apprenticeship programs where trainees are paid high wages and include benefits.
  • Worker safety and protections
  • Rights to meal breaks and rest periods
  • Universal labor rights including the right to organize in the workplace and the right to collective bargaining for better wages and working conditions.
  • Ensure access to support services for women and families in the workforce including child care, paid family leave, funding for work required equipment and protective clothing, and on-site breastfeeding space.

Include Workers’ Centers, Non-Union Workers, and Worker Cooperatives:

  • Workers’ Centers are organizations that organize workers that are not captured in union organizing. These workers are immigrants or those formerly incarcerated who are in the following sectors: day laborers, domestic workers, restaurant workers, farmworkers, warehouse workers, and others. In a Just Transition, the definition of “worker” should include these workers that are not typically thought of in the clean energy economy. 100% policies should target these workers in frontline communities for the green workforce.
    • A 100% policy should ensure that these workers are covered by a Project Labor Agreement and that they have the option to join the workforce and have access to high road renewable energy careers. The policy should ensure these workers are covered by the same comprehensive workforce standards, family supporting wages, and benefits.
  • Worker Cooperatives are another structure where workers can be recruited. The creation of energy cooperatives have been increasing. 100% policies should include incentives for worker cooperatives and energy cooperatives.
  • Ensure economic investments in frontline communities. Deep economic investments in frontline communities should be prioritized because these communities have historically been most impacted by dirty energy pollution, contamination, and practices that have undermined these communities. These communities have also paid into incentive pools for renewable energy as tax payers and ratepayers, without access to direct benefits. Inclusive financing, which does not involve customers taking on new debt obligations, should be available for any cost-effective local clean energy solutions that are the customer’s side of the meter, including energy efficiency, demand response, rooftop solar, and on-site storage. 100% policies should include a jobs guarantee where prioritization is given to frontline communities.
  • Institute Fair Chance Hiring. One major barrier to communities of color accessing employment of any kind is a history of prior arrest or conviction record. “An estimated 70 million people in the United States—nearly one in three adults—have a prior arrest or conviction record.”[5] Frontline communities envision a Just Transition that offers a fair chance at employment and the right to a dignified life. 100% regenerative policies should not only prioritize BIPOC and frontline communities, but also should seek to take concrete actions where renewable energy employers can honor the talent and skills among workers with records. 100% regenerative policies should institute Fair Chance Hiring. Also known as “Ban the Box,” Fair Chance Hiring is the policy of removing the conviction history check-box from job applications. This Fair Chance Hiring includes a robust set of fair hiring policies to ease employment barriers.[6]

Training standards and apprenticeship programs:

  • Robust job training standards. There should be clear certification processes for trainings, which should be relevant and related to long-term careers in the green sector. Expenses for jobs skills training programs, such as equipment expenses, should be covered.
  • Apprenticeship / pre-apprenticeship programs. An apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Apprentices are paid good wages and receive healthcare. 100% regenerative policies should include a robust apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship program so that workers can gain the skill set needed for a long-term high road career in the renewables industry.
    • The Environmental Worker Training is an optional training track that provides a 40 hour hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER) certificate, First Aid/CPR, and AED certificates at no cost to participants. It also includes an additional day of classroom education about environmental careers, such as deconstruction, hazardous waste abatement, and environmental remediation careers, as well as additional field trip days to sites where industry partners are doing this work.[7]

Job training must be connected to actual jobs. Although jobs training opportunities in the renew- able energy sector have increased dramatically over recent years, these job trainings do not always translate into actual jobs, particularly for BIPOC and frontline communities and women. Policy solutions include: employment placement services, workers centers and targeted programs, and expanding union apprenticeship programs to BIPOC and frontline communities who are seeking careers in the green economy and to those who are undergoing workforce trainings in the clean economy.

Ensure “supplier diversity” in contracting. 100% regenerative policies should set clear targets for supplier diversity. With respect to diversity in contracting, African Americans are at the bottom. “Of the 160 million people employed in the United States, more than 31 percent (50 million) earn a living in the construction industry. Hispanics and [Latinx] make up 30 percent, or 15 million, of these workers, and African Americans represent 17 per- cent or 8.5 million workers nationally.”[8]

  • California IOU policy, Director Order 156, states clear targets for supplier diversity all along the entire supply chain.
  • It is especially important that resources— training, technical assistance, access to capital, bonding, insurance, and discounted purchasing for expensive green products and equipment—are provided so that African Americans and Latinx contractors can access this work because:
    • Lack of these resources could lead to greater income inequality as we approach 100% regenerative energy.
    • Without those resources, BIPOC and frontline communities will not know the new green building codes and will not have a seat at the table.
    • Contractors of color are more likely to hire and mentor Indigenous contractors and youth of color.
    • Green and healthy homes in Indigenous and communities of color will be greatly compromised if local contractors are not engaged in the clean energy technologies/ standards because many mainstream contractors are neither interested in nor trusted by these communities.

Instill good labor standards in all aspects of 100% policy. The good labor standards outlined above should be applied to all aspects of the transition to 100% regenerative energy, including:

  • In all forms of solar—rooftop solar, community solar, utility scale solar
  • In energy efficiency and building upgrades
  • In the development of new construction
  • In the broad range of transportation—electrification of heavy-, medium-, and light- vehicles, EVs and charging stations, and electrification of mass transit

Institute strong data and tracking. The renewable energy jobs industry needs improved data and tracking of jobs. 100% policies should push for data and tracking of employment by race, gender, income, and all other relevant determinants.

Policy-makers should collaborate with workers to recruit from worker inventories to ensure local hire. There should be tracking of who is hired, whether a worker comes from a BIPOC and frontline community, particular zip code or census tract, and any other key information related to local hire.

Data on worker retention should also be collected and tracked, especially to determine if BIPOC and frontline communities, women of color, and LGBTQ workers are able to maintain employment. Evaluations should be conducted to determine what factors impact retention and recommendations for retention of these workers.

Demand enforcement. There should be incentives for meeting goals and/or penalties for not meeting goals. Major contractors should submit worker utilization plans showing how, where, and in which trades they would incorporate diversity throughout the project when they submit their project bids. Those plans should determine the best value bidder. Major public sector and private projects should incorporate ‘best value” vs. low bid project delivery methods, allowing room to incorporate labor and community standards.


An example of Energy Cooperative: Example of Energy Cooperative: Co-op Power, as a decentralized network of local organizations, has Community Energy Co-ops each playing the lead role in their regions. Their primary responsibility is to organize and educate people in their region and to facilitate the development of one or more community-owned, community-scale, clean energy businesses. Each Community Energy Co-op has one member serve on the Co-op Power board. Each representative has veto power and can stop something within specific guidelines. In this way, locals work autonomously, yet in coordination with each other.[9]

Examples of job training standards and hours:

  • IBEW Local 212 in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky requires 8000 hours of on-the-job training over four years.[10]
  • The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP®) offers voluntary personnel certification for beginners and professionals in the renewable energy industry. NABCEP’s Associate Credentials include: PV Associate (PVA), Solar Heating Associate (SHA), and Small Wind Associate (SWA).[11]

Example of apprenticeship program in Washington State: Washington has rigorous state certified apprenticeship standards. More than usual, these are union apprenticeship programs with a labor/ management oversight board. These programs are monitored at the state level for number of hours, health and safety of the apprentice, rigor of skill training, and work opportunities for apprentices.[12]

Example of Apprenticeship Program: “Oregon Tradeswomen’s Pathways to Success” program offers Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC): an 8-week, pre-apprenticeship training class that helps students prepare for a high skill, high wage career in construction. TACC introduces a variety of trades through field trips, guest speakers, hands-on work days, and other training opportunities.

Examples of high road careers and economic benefits:

Illinois’ new clean energy policy “calls for the creation of a $25 million clean jobs workforce hub, wherein labor unions, employers, BIPOC and frontline organizations and other stakeholders would work together to train and provide direct assistance to communities of color and under served communities in accessing renewable energy-related jobs. It also calls for an ‘Expanding Clean Energy Entrepreneurship and Contractor Incubator’ program to provide support to ‘disadvantaged businesses and contractors,’ including through low-cost lending and help with insurance and other financial requirements.”[13]

NAACP Just Energy Policies. “Local, people of color and women hiring policies set goals for increasing the number of local people, people of color, and women that are hired for state or federally funded projects. In addition to preserving local employment opportunities, local hire policies:

  • Ensure that tax dollars are invested back into the local economy;
  • Reduce the environmental impact of commuting; and
  • Foster community involvement. State and federal funding, incentives and mandates for developing renewable energy and energy efficiency will continue to incentivize an ever-greater number of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Local, people of color and women hire provisions should be used to ensure equitable access to the employment and employment training opportunities created by new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.”[14]


  1. Jones, Betony et al. “Are Solar Energy Jobs Good Jobs?UC Berkeley Labor Center, 2 Jul. 2015. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  2. Occupational Employment and Wages, 47-2231 Solar Photovoltaic Installers.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  3. Racial Underrepresentation In Construction.” Economic Policy Institute, 30 Oct. 2013. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  4. Guidance on Minority Business Enterprise/Women’s Business Enterprise Outreach.” Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  5. Ensuring People with Convictions Have a Fair Chance to Work, National Employment Law Project.” National Employment Law Project.
  6. For more on the 35 states and more than 150 cities and counties that have adopted a ban-the-box or fair-chance policy, read, “Ban the Box: US Cities, Counties, and States Adopt Fair Hiring Policies” by the National Employment Law Project.
  7. Pathways to Success Program.” Oregon Tradeswomen. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  8. National Association of Minority Contractors, 2017. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  9. Community Energy Co-Ops.” Co-Op Power. Accessed on 11 Nov. 2019.
  10. On the Job Training Standards.” IBEW-NECA Electrical Training Center, 2019. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  11. North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  12. Apprenticeship.” Washington State Department of Labor & Industries. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  13. Lydersen, Kari. “Aggressive clean energy bill would push Illinois to 100% renewable by 2050.” Energy News Network, 28 Feb. 2019. Accessed 27 Jul. 2019.
  14. Just Energy Policies and Practices.” National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Accessed 27 Jul. 2019.