by Jeremy Shenk, Community Labor United, Senior Organizer
Are green jobs good jobs? Two years ago, everyone thought so. Home weatherization was going to create thousands of jobs. We could pull ourselves out of the recession, cut our energy bills, and save the climate. It was a win-win-win.
Then reality set in. Weatherization today is a low-road industry. Profit margins are low. Small contractors fight each other for the work. Pay is low, training is minimal, safety is often ignored, and labor laws are frequently violated.
But the hard work of the Green Justice Coalition has been changing that reality. In Massachusetts, after a two-year campaign, the Green Justice Coalition – which brings together building trades unions, community and environmental organizations –recently signed breakthrough agreements with the leading weatherization vendor and utility company in the state.
Under these agreements:
Conservation Services Group, the lead vendor for the state’s Mass Save weatherization program, will require responsible employer standards for pay, benefits, hiring, and training. Two large weatherization contractors, The Aulson Company and Insul-Pro have signed similar responsible employer agreements.
Next Step Living, the lead vendor for the City of Boston’s Renew Boston program has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding stating they will subcontract 25% of all work to union contractors who hire locally in the city of Boston through our coalition.
NSTAR and National Grid, the state’s two largest utility companies, have included responsible contracting provisions in their participation agreements that govern all of their work through the residential energy efficiency program, Mass Save. This agreement covers their lead vendor, CSG, and ALL Subcontractors.
In these agreements they will:
- Make all contractors disclose any past history of violations – wage & hour laws, health & safety laws, labor law, etc.
- Disqualify contractors from work who use discriminatory business practices and notify contractors that they are expected to follow the law and respect workers rights.
- Send inspectors out to look for health and safety violations on the job. We can attend some of these inspections.
- Inspect working conditions while they are doing quality control inspections.
- Help our Coalition eliminate contractors who misclassify workers as independent contractors.
- Start requiring Building Performance Institute certification for contractors.
- Pay contractors to send more workers to trainings.
- Contractors can no longer arbitrarily fire or not hire a worker for having a criminal record and instead must look for a correlation between the offense and the nature of the work.
Enforcement is strong. If contractors lie about past violations, their contracts will be terminated. If the Green Justice Coalition finds contractors who are in violation, we can go directly to NSTAR, National Grid or CSG and they will deal with those contractors.
Our Coalition will continue to work with the state, other utilities, and major contractors to further integrate responsible contracting standards throughout the weatherization industry. With unemployment as high as 50% in some neighborhoods and blue-collar jobs an endangered species, our ratepayer dollars should be creating good jobs that support stable families and build community wealth. But the work of our coalition shows that when unions, community groups, and environmental organizations come together to enforce responsible job standards green jobs can be good jobs.