Union-label green jobs — in your attic — for no money down

Outside a 1986 home in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood, Victor Duenas, one of 10 full-time employees at Abacus Energy Solutions, loads insulation into a blower. At the other end (pictured below), Rochelle Sadler holds the hose in a crawlspace. The homeowners — Oregon AFSCME lobbyist Eva Rippetaeau and her husband, AFSCME international field coordinator Andy Chavira — chose Abacus because it’s union. Chavira said $4,500 of blown fiberglass attic insulation, air sealing, and HVAC improvements will cut their energy bill — AND make a couple of chilly rooms more comfortable.

In terms of “bang for the buck,” the most important green jobs of the future look a lot like the low-tech home insulation jobs of the past. That’s because dollar-for-dollar, home insulation is the cheapest way to reduce energy use and combat climate change. But the jobs don’t have to be low-wage too. In a state-sponsored program now entering its third year, workers earn a living wage insulating attics and walls, and Portland-area homeowners even have the option to choose union-signatory contractors.

The program, Clean Energy Works Oregon, uses in-program financing and rebates of up to $1,500 to eliminate upfront costs for homeowners. Homeowners who take out loans through the program have the option of paying them back on their utility bills.

And two contractors participating in the program — Abacus Energy Solutions and Faison Energy Solutions — are signatory contractors employing members of Laborers Local 296.

“It’s not rocket science, insulating a home, so people tend to get paid a lower rate,” said Abacus owner Jim Plantico. But thanks to a Clean Energy Works Oregon requirement that participating contractors pay at least 180 percent of Oregon’s minimum wage, workers earn at least $16.11 an hour. As a union-signatory contractor, Plantico said, Abacus pays 3 percent over that to cover union dues, and offers a better set of health benefits through the union health trust, plus paid holidays and vacation.

Plantico said Abacus also uses union subcontractors on furnace and duct work, such as Milwaukie Heating and Cooling, an HVAC contractor signatory with Sheet Metal Workers Local 16.

Homeowners can plug into the program and get a union-signatory energy audit at weatherizeforgood.org or by calling 503-893-9240.

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  1. February 23, 2013 War on Workers News

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