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Green New Deal Would Reshape Blue-Collar Jobs, Training

March 1, 2019, 10:58 AM

A Democratic blueprint for helping to reverse the impacts of global warming could reshape construction work and other blue-collar jobs, as well as the training required for them, lawmakers and observers said.

The Green New Deal (H. Res. 109, S. Res. 59) draws up a 10-year plan with trillions in estimated government funding to help shift the U.S. to 100 percent renewable and zero-emission energy sources.

The nonbinding resolution wouldn’t set policy but proponents hope it can fuel multiple bills on clean energy, green jobs, and climate change that would move in the 116th Congress.

Democratic backers of the green deal still face major obstacles with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House, but also with the resolution splitting support from some influential unions.

Its ambition aside, the deal’s call for a massive shift toward wind and solar energy as well as rail lines for expanding mass transit and high-speed rail suggests a potential windfall for construction workers and the green energy sector.

Republican Senate leaders want to force a vote now on the resolution, hoping it will highlight what opponents say is an unworkable and unrealistic effort.

The resolution highlights the importance and challenges of retraining the nation’s workforce to help with massive cuts in carbon emissions from major sectors of the U.S. economy, said Todd Vachon, a researcher at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

“This means the jobs in the old sector have to go away for the new jobs, and that’s the battle,” Vachon told Bloomberg Law, adding that the threat to long-term high-paying jobs could fuel resistance to the plan. “When it comes to moving from jobs in natural gas to the building of wind turbines that’s when you have a rift,” he said.

The resolution comes as some state governments are shaping their own policies to lower dependency on fossil fuels through greener energy sources. The governors of North Carolina and New Jersey, for example, recently signed executive orders to encourage expansion of clean energy. That could offer lessons for federal lawmakers.

State-level experimentation with specific policies, such as fair transition plans or job guarantees, could provide the data to inform federal measures, Vachon said. The experiments could offer some insight into “best and maybe worse practices when it comes to solving the climate problem,” he said.

Some federal lawmakers, such as Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), don’t think state workforces are prepared for green jobs.

But there’s movement in the right direction, Boozman, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told Bloomberg Environment. “The good news is we are working, my state and most states and the federal government,” he said. “Incentives truly are starting to work.” Training is starting earlier, with even some high school students earning certificates, and community colleges are developing the curriculum to create a much more nimble workforce, he said.

Deal Bolsters Training

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of the most prominent voices touting the Green New Deal, said job training will be crucial to implementing the ambitious clean energy agenda.

“This is precisely one of the major reasons why we advocate for tuition-free colleges and universities and vocational schools. And I think we need to expand” that support, she told Bloomberg Environment in an interview.

“That’s why this resolution is really about investment, the broad-scale investment that’s required in our workforce,” she said. “Is there a 100 percent workforce ready to deploy? No, but that is what the resolution is for,” she said, with passage to be a guidepost for an array of policies Congress would need to transform the U.S. workforce.

That would include technical training needed to meet what would be a huge demand for renewable energy jobs if the U.S. made the leap to 100 percent wind, solar, and other renewable energy from what today is just a 17 percent clean energy mix in the U.S. electricity sector.

Another crease comes from unions and workers, some of whom would be forced to give up on industries like coal and natural gas. That’s all about pay of the green jobs, Vachon told Bloomberg Law.

“The construction jobs are predominantly good-paying, unionized jobs on the commercial side,” Vachon said. “However, much of the residential work would initially be lower-paying, lacking strong wage floor protections and the right to unionize. Local hiring provisions would also increase the number of local jobs created.”

Forces of Greener, Different Jobs

The green resolution could pass the Democratic-led House, with early support from Ocasio-Cortez and nearly 90 other House members. The proposal has gotten a different reception in the Senate, however.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been pushing for a vote to highlight what many Republicans argue is a costly and completely unrealistic dash away from fossil fuels.

Among the dozen Senate backers are many Democratic presidential aspirants: Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at; Tyrone Richardson in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cathleen O'Connor Schoultz at; Chris Opfer at