Is a Green Job a Good Job? Yes, if it's unionized or covered by a Job Quality Standard

One of the few bright spots in today's U.S. economy is the prospect of growing numbers of “green jobs,“ or those that create renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of global warming air pollution. But what constitutes a "good green job?"

A 2009 Good Jobs Now report, "High Road or Low Road: Job Quality in the New Green Economy," examines the quality of jobs in green-building construction, waste recycling and the manufacture of renewable energy systems (wind and solar). Comparing high-road to low-road firms in each sector, we found that green jobs are not necessarily good jobs. In fact, there are only two predictors of a good green job: if the job is unionized or if it is covered by a Job Quality Standard (that is, a state rule attached to an economic development subsidy; as a quid pro quo for the subsidy, the company must pay a certain wage—and sometimes benefit—level).

Teamsters recycling waste in San Francisco make a fair living, unlike their non-union counterparts in Sun Valley, California, who toil near minimum wage with no health insurance. Although few factories making windmills or solar panels have yet experienced union organizing drives, 80 percent of them are covered by state-mandated Job Quality Standards, requiring modest wage floors as high as $22 an hour.

One exemplary company, Gamesa, agreed to card-check neutrality with the United Steelworkers. However, other manufacturers have tapped low-wage offshore platforms for some production.

Federal, state and local governments all have proven policy levers to ensure green jobs really strengthen the economy, and the study lays out a policy menu that includes Project Labor Agreements, Buy American requirements, Job Quality Standards, and Community Benefits Agreements.

Green-Product Manufacturing Jobs: Promises and Perils

Green jobs hold the promise of revitalizing America's manufacturing base. The cases of renewable energy (wind and solar equipment) and transit equipment (buses and rail vehicles) illustrate both the potential and the pitfalls of hoped-for reindustrialization.

Because the United States does not have a national industrial policy, it lags behind other industrialized nations in the development of new green technologies such as renewable energy. It also has a transit-vehicle manufacturing sector heavily affected by imports and foreign direct investment because it has not sustained strong investments in public transportation.

Solar and Wind Energy Equipment: Countries like Germany, Denmark, and Spain began investing in renewable energy much earlier than the U.S., and China, India and Brazil are aggressively catching up. As a result, wind and solar component manufacturing are very globalized industries and few of the biggest producers are U.S.-based.

The 2009 Recovery Act had several provisions that acted as “down payments” for U.S. jobs in renewables, however green jobs advocates say that the lack of comprehensive climate change legislation with long-term funding streams is deterring investment in wind and solar. Read more

This aricle is reprinted from a longer article posted at Good Jobs Now.