Report: Unions Essential in Equitably Addressing Climate Crisis, Bolstering Bold Federal Climate Action

WASHINGTON -- A new report from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) demonstrates that union jobs should be essential in the fight against climate change, and that with strong labor standards the shift to a clean energy economy can produce better outcomes for workers and the environment. “United: Union Jobs Improve the Clean Energy Economy” highlights stories about labor’s involvement in the clean economy and its role in shaping the industries needed to shift to a cleaner, healthier economy. As Congress considers President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, labor and environmental leaders are joining together to call for climate action with robust labor standards.

“Our unions are positioned to lead the way as we transition to the clean energy economy of the future,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan from Ohio. “We know that climate change is a dangerous and growing threat to our children, our families, and our economy. The Build Back Better Act takes a direct aim at addressing climate change while strengthening our communities and economy by investing in clean energy jobs, technologies, and initiatives -- while putting workers first.”

The climate crisis demands massive, immediate action and must be done in a way that also addresses economic inequality.The stories in the new NRDC report show that unions are fundamental to a successful transition to a cleaner, healthier and fairer economy.

“We now have the opportunity to make the U.S. a leader in reducing emissions and developing next-generation energy technology,” said Senator Brown. “Our goal is to keep jobs and industries in the U.S. while growing new ones, and turning those new jobs into good, union jobs.”

The report explores cases where unions and their members are playing key roles in their communities in transitioning to a clean energy economy. In the cases outlined in the report, unions are fighting for the interests of underserved communities, whether by retrofitting public schools, improving recycling programs, or upgrading public and school buses to electric drivetrains.

“As union workers, we care about the communities we live in. We certainly believe that stronger labor standards will lead to better standards for all Americans. Giving workers a fair and speedy way to join a union and continue to expand high-quality good paying jobs must be a part of taking action on climate and transitioning to a clean energy economy,” said Maria Somma, organizing director for the United Steelworkers.

Union workers are some of the best trained and most experienced in their trades and spend millions of their own funds to run training programs. Union apprenticeships are often longer and more thorough than other non-union training programs. NRDC’s report points to the need for union training programs in order to keep up with the growing demand for labor in a booming clean energy economy.

“Building back better by retooling and rebuilding our manufacturing sector, repairing and modernizing our infrastructure, and growing clean energy and energy efficiency will build a clean, thriving, and equitable economy for all. The jobs we create with this once-in-a-lifetime investment have to  be good-paying, union jobs,” said Jason Walsh, Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance.

As the report shows, the clean economy is already here and is increasingly being shaped by unions and their members.

“Ohio’s union electricians are at the heart of projects that are making our state more competitive and a lot healthier. We are the backbone of an industry that is expanding at full speed, and our training programs are helping a new, wider and more diverse generation of union electricians get these jobs done,” Steve Crum, International Representative from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Across the country, growing numbers of union members are on the front lines of the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors, helping to reduce pollution and health hazards for millions of Americans.

"Most people don't think about the impact of insulation on climate change, but it's one of the most effective measures we can take to reduce carbon pollution," said Dan Poteet, Business Manager at the Insulators Union Local 50. "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 NRDC report concludes that Congress can foster more high-quality jobs in the clean energy economy by:

  • Passing long-term updates to clean energy tax incentives with high labor standards
  • Significantly increasing funding for clean energy policies and programs
  • Updating federal grant and loan programs, including those supporting clean energy, to require hiring from disadvantaged communities
  • Creating an enforceable federal safety standard to protect all workers
  • Passing new worker training programs

“High-quality union jobs are absolutely necessary for a sustainable future,” said Marc Boom, director of federal affairs at NRDC. “A transition to an economy that is cleaner and more affordable, like a recovery from the devastation of the pandemic, will require us to take a hard look at how we can rebuild in a better way, with stronger outcomes for everyday Americans.”

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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