A recent Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report demonstrates the importance of union jobs in fighting climate change and showcased the work of Insulators Local 50.
The study indicates strong labor standards can help bridge the transition to a clean energy economy while simultaneously benefiting workers. Titled “United: Union Jobs Improve the Clean Energy Economy,” the NRDC report showed how unions have been fundamental in bridging the transition to a clean energy economy, and this shift is largely possible because unions recruit and train workers for the shift to green energy construction.
One of the featured projects was the Groveport Madison School District project — specifically the work performed by members of Insulators Local 50. The district made energy efficiency a key priority of its new high school, thanks to educational efforts by members of the Local Union. At school board meetings, representatives from Local 50 emphasized the importance of quality mechanical insulation for energy efficiency and warned against using non-union contractors who might install inferior materials.
The Local also submitted an educational video with extensive supporting documents to remind school board members of the economic and environmental benefits of high-quality, properly installed mechanical insulation for heating and cooling pipes and systems.
“Most people don’t think about the impact of insulation on climate change, but it is one of the most effective measures we can take to reduce carbon pollution,” said Insulators Local 50 Business Manager Dan Poteet. “In addition to reducing the number of tons of emissions in the atmosphere, mechanical insulation is also vital to the health of buildings by preventing mold, slowing the spread of airborne disease and helping to stop fires. Insulation makes our buildings healthier, more efficient and comfortable, and is absolutely critical in fighting climate change.”
The members have earned a reputation for on-time, on-budget, high-quality work. A $730 million expansion project at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus included specifications seeking Insulators trained through a certified apprenticeship program.
In addition to the work of Local 50, the report also featured solar field installation conducted by IBEW members. The Ohio Power Siting Board has approved or is currently considering over 7,000 megawatts of new projects expected to deliver more than 54,000 construction jobs to the state. This translates to roughly 16 million to 20 million work hours for the Ohio building trades workforce over the next several years.
Large utilities and unions have long-standing relationships, explained Steve Crum, IBEW Fourth District International Representative. Yet most utility-scale solar projects are being pushed by private developers who do not have a history of working with unions, and often tend to think union workers are too expensive to hire.
“The IBEW realized they had to do better with future solar projects,” he said during the round table discussion.
To address this problem, the IBEW joined forces with the NRDC, the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council, the Ohio AFL-CIO and the BlueGreen Alliance to advocate for solar development across the state and to ensure these jobs will be union jobs.
Much of the solar field development is taking place in rural areas where IBEW members live. It is important local members work on local projects while actively recruiting members of underserved communities to work on these projects as well, Crum maintained.
During the roundtable, Crum also discussed the Building Futures Program in Franklin County and how it helps members of underserved communities with the county by teaching basic life skills, removing employment obstacles and preparing participants to enter into a building trades apprenticeship. The program is a partnership between Franklin County, the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council and the Columbus Urban League.