Environmental groups say green jobs need to pay a living wage


At least 16 environmental groups have signed a letter to Oregon legislators in support of a call by the Oregon State Building Trades Council and affiliates to require developers benefiting from state tax subsidies to meet labor and workforce standards.

It started when members of Climate Jobs PDX, a project of Portland Jobs with Justice, read in the Labor Press that most recent renewable energy projects in Northeastern Oregon have been built by nonunion, out-of-state firms with nonunion crews from outside Oregon—despite receiving generous tax breaks from the state.

As of 2019, about a dozen utility-scale wind and solar projects in Northeastern Oregon were saving over $30 million a year total thanks to the Oregon’s Strategic Investment Program (SIP) property tax break, a 15-year property tax exemption.

Climate Jobs PDX approached other environmental groups to sign a letter calling for  companies that benefit from state tax subsidies to be required to meet high road labor and workforce standards, including paying prevailing wages, taking part in registered apprenticeship training, and hiring locally and hiring women, people of color, and veterans.

Groups signing the letter to lawmakers include Sierra Club, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Sunrise, 350PDX, OPAL, Verde, Metro Climate Action Team of Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Conservancy Foundation, Oregon Physicians for Responsibility, Portland Harbor Community Coalition, Stop Fracked Gas PDX, Stop Zenith Collective, XR, Braided River Coalition, Breach Collective, APANO, Eco Faith Recovery, and Climate Jobs PDX.

MORE: Read the full statement below

Dear Senator

The climate justice and environmental groups that have signed this letter are writing to express concerns about how the Oregon Strategic Investment Program is being used. Our groups are committed to moving as rapidly as possible to the use of renewable energy. We also believe that climate measures must be implemented in a just manner with respect to labor standards as well as workforce equity.

We have learned that a high percentage of the solar and wind projects in Eastern Oregon, including “re-power” work replacing wind turbine blades and rotors, are frequently awarded to out-of-state companies that bring in non-union and lower skilled workers rather than hiring from the local workforce. These companies do not help build Oregon communities, and yet many of them receive Oregon tax abatements under the Oregon Strategic Investment Program.

Members of the groups listed below are committed to addressing the climate crisis and know that the Strategic Investment Program can help bring wind and solar companies to our state. However we need labor and equity standards governing how renewable companies are brought in. There should be accountability in adhering to those standards, especially because taxpayer money is being allocated. Low road wind and solar jobs in eastern Oregon are not the good green jobs we think are possible. We can do better. We believe that our state can foster the creation of wind and solar projects and at the same time have high labor standards.

We support the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council and its affiliates in their effort to see legislation passed requiring companies that benefit from state tax subsidies to meet high road labor and workforce standards. These standards would include requirements to pay prevailing wages, take part in apprenticeship programs, and utilize a local workforce with set goals for hiring, training, and retaining women, people of color, and veterans. This cannot be left to the voluntary “good will” of employers. We need legislation that mandates that high labor and workforce values be upheld by companies receiving Oregon subsidies.

We know you care about how climate change is seriously hurting our state. As you are well aware, Oregon-based climate scientists project rising sea levels threatening the state’s coastal communities, a shrinking snowpack posing a dual threat of lower soil moisture and stream flows in the summer; and increasing danger of excessive heat and wildfire smoke that threatens farmworkers, construction workers, and other outdoor workers with illness and death. We can’t move rapidly to a sustainable future on the backs of Oregon’s workers. When taxpayer money is used to subsidize an industry, it should be used in a way that raises standards rather than lowering them. Please support legislation requiring companies that benefit from Oregon tax subsidies to meet high road labor and workforce standards.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you further.


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