“Green jobs are not automatically good jobs. We have to make them so.”

Good Jobs First has just issued an important policy study on the intersection of worker rights and environmental action, High Road or Low Road? Job Quality in the New Green Economy (February 03, 2009), commissioned by Change to Win, Sierra Club, the Laborers’ International Union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The 46 page pdf is a memory hogger, so here are just a few excerpts for those who want to figure out whether they are interested in reading the rest.

The study notes that:

A prosperous green future is possible only if public officials make wider and more aggressive use of the tools at their disposal – including labor standards for subsidy recipients, living wage rules for government contractors, prevailing wage requirements, best value contracting, and project labor agreements – to hold employers accountable for creating good jobs. Finally, government must protect the right to organize – a right that, for many workers, provides their best hope of a fair wage and a voice on the job.

Among other things, it critiques the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and provides an assessment of the current status of green jobs as measured by their performance as good jobs.

The report’s beginning starts with an overview of positives and opportunities and includes a number of graphs with information on pay at various companies performing the same sorts of work – some good and some not.

Among the opportunities:

• We found examples of solid, middle-class jobs across all three industries where significant green job growth is anticipated. These include:

• Production workers in a Salem, Oregon solar plant where the average hourly wage is $22.

• Union plumbers who earn $36 an hour plus full benefits in Portland, Oregon.

• Workers organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who start at $20 an hour in a cutting-edge San Francisco recycling facility.

• Locations where state and local governments attach strong labor standards to economic development subsidies and enforce those standards report some of the highest average wages among the wind and solar manufacturing facilities surveyed.

• While many green employers oppose unionization, several of the companies profiled in the report have taken a collaborative approach. Executives for a leading wind energy manufacturer (Gamesa), green developer (Gerding Edlen), and recycler (Norcal) all believe that partnerships with unions have added value and positioned the companies to grow in a green economy that will require new skills and approaches.

• In a number of cities, community, environmental and labor leaders are coming together with elected officials to develop initiatives that address environmental degradation and poverty simultaneously. Examples include the L.A. Clean Trucks Program, which will replace thousands of dirty diesel trucks and improve wages and working conditions for drivers; and a partnership between the mayor of Newark and the Laborers Local 55 to train residents of low-income neighborhoods to weatherize local homes.

One of the issues included in the assessment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is that of accountability. In this era of concern for waste, irresponsibility, and jobs, accountability is a key concern. Are we The People getting taken yet again by the Wall Street, high roller crooks?

Among other parts of the assessment, the authors note the role of unions as accountability mechanisms, something that might otherwise be easily overlooked.

However, while the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act promises to create or retain over 3.5 million jobs, there are no clear standards attached to guarantee that these jobs will be good jobs – or, for that matter, whether they will be American jobs. The Act provides some support to the Department of Labor for enforcing “worker protection laws” as recovery projects are carried out, but lacks any specific wage or equity guarantees.

The Act does contain important requirements of transparency, however, including requirements that all announcements of grant and contract awards be posted on a public website. A Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board will be established to review management of funds, and additional support will be provided to the Government Accountability Office and Inspectors General to investigate claims of mismanagement. If labor standards are included in the stimulus package, these oversight mechanisms will play an important role in holding beneficiaries accountable.

The report is an important contribution to the current conversation on our economy, the climate, and our national and global futures. Well worth a read, but be prepared for a slow online download and read.

The sponsors of this study ought to consider how to make it more accessible by tackling the bloat issue. Perhaps making a slightly less pretty version that preserves the text and graphs?

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