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What Happened to All Those Green Weatherization Jobs?

Obama made home weatherization a priority for stimulus money--three years later, some of those jobs materialized, but they're not as good as promised.

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The Green Justice Coalition decided to focus on creating good jobs and improving existing weatherization jobs in Massachusetts. By working and mobilizing together, unions and community groups carved out a place in the state’s weatherization industry.

The coalition’s Jobs Committee negotiated agreements with the state’s two largest utilities and their prime vendor, who recruits contractors, often small companies. Those agreements require responsible employer standards for pay, benefits, hiring, training, safety, labor law compliance, misclassification, and misuse of criminal records.

Weatherization workers in Massachusetts saw their wages rise between 25 percent and 95 percent. The coalition’s agreements put a floor under wages and standards that opened up the home weatherization industry to unions, and union contractors are getting an increasing share of the work. The prime vendor monitors and enforces the agreement.

Although the Chelsea Collaborative's worker center isn't focusing on weatherization now, with the pilot program over, the work is still paying off. The Carpenters union and the collaborative have built a solid relationship that benefits both sides.

“It wouldn’t have happened without an actual campaign,” says Mark Erlich, the New England Carpenters’ executive secretary-treasurer. “We wouldn’t have donated labor for the new Chelsea Collaborative office without the Green Justice Coalition. And when my business agent needs support on a non-union hotel being built in Chelsea, he goes to the collaborative” for political and community backing to pressure the hotel to hire union construction workers.

Partnering with the Carpenters has changed Garcia Soto’s perspective as an organizer. “I got very interested in jobs,” she says. “We have a worker center that we struggle to keep open because it’s hard to find work for immigrants and people without papers. But unions are working for the same justice-at-work goals, and the union’s members are fighting home foreclosures.

“We should work very hard every day to create one labor movement. It’s not union on one side and community on the other side.”

Mike Prokosch works for Community Labor United in Boston. For more on the weatherization program, see this report.

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