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Cynthia Phinney of East Livermore is the president of the Maine AFL-CIO. She is retired from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1837. Jason J. Shedlock of Portland is the president of the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council as well as a regional organizer and member of the Laborers’ International Union, Local 327
Congress finally got serious about the dual crises of climate change and income inequality.
The $379 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is objectively the biggest climate bill to ever pass Congress. Recently signed into law by President Joe Biden, the IRA will give us a fighting chance to address climate change while at the same time providing Mainers much-needed relief via the development of an abundant and diverse energy portfolio. But the IRA isn’t just a climate win. It’s a win for working families, by way of quality union jobs that ensure safe worksites and provide fair wages, comprehensive health and retirement benefits, Registered Apprenticeship training and the dignity hardworking Mainers deserve.
The IRA promises to turbo charge clean energy development and energy efficiency upgrades. Because of Washington’s decisive action, not only will we cut carbon emissions, but we’ll pay Mainers a fair wage to do it, creating thousands of good union jobs. This law insists that developers who wish to build green energy projects in Maine, and take advantage of the historic incentives while doing so, must adhere to meaningful labor standards. This effectively slams the door on low-road developers and their contractors who have been happy to build as cheaply as possible in the name of saving the planet. For example, under the IRA, if a developer builds a large wind or solar farm, they’ll get a 30 percent tax credit as long as they pay workers the federal prevailing wage and benefits, and employ registered apprentices. Put simply: no labor standards means no taxpayer funding.
Instead of funding renewable energy on the backs of low-wage workers, this law will incentivize real Maine values: hard, honest work should equal fair pay and a pathway to real financial security. This means that access to union careers in the construction industry will no longer be an illusion for so many Mainers who currently are on the outside looking in. Additional incentives are allocated for projects in low-income areas and those that utilize U.S.-made materials, which will also create good jobs for America’s union members who manufacture solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles.
IRA doesn’t just incentivize developers. Public entities will be eligible to benefit from energy tax credits. So, places Mainers rely on for important services – town halls, post offices, libraries and social services buildings – can create their own clean, affordable energy. This will boost union-led efforts to reinvest in Maine’s public school infrastructure. We know from our brothers and sisters in public education that a healthy building has a direct impact on student learning. And a climate-resilient building also leads to lower energy costs for local school districts. Building and rebuilding Maine’s schools with robust and measurable labor standards means local tradespeople like laborers, electricians, heavy equipment operators and ironworkers will have access to good-paying union jobs right in their own communities.
The importance of this climate jobs win cannot be overstated. Currently, too many workers in the renewable energy economy are laboring in low-wage, exploitative jobs without good benefits, or a collective voice. Thankfully for Maine working families, the days of out-of-state temp workers coming to Maine to increase developers’ bottom line are nearing an end. This new climate jobs stimulus will finally tip the scales and help us tackle climate change while beginning to reverse 40 years of wage stagnation and widening racial and economic inequality.
While this is exciting news and promises to usher in a new era of responsible energy development, we know that the Maine community – labor activists, environmentalists, responsible contractors, Main Street business owners, educators, parents, students and every taxpayer who wishes to breathe freely – must now lean in to demand that the promises of the IRA become a reality. We must insist that our taxpayer dollars go towards tackling climate change and eliminating income inequality without fail and at every turn. Our affiliated unions provide the means to do just that.
The climate jobs model is here to stay and we must reject the false choice between a more sustainable Maine and the workers necessary to make it happen. That’s why we are pushing for a pro-worker, pro-family, pro-union climate agenda that works for every Mainer. And we won’t rest until every worker has an opportunity to join in solidarity with their brothers and sisters to help our state truly live up to its moniker of “The Way Life Should Be.”