Bree Halverson: Minnesota’s clean economy should power good-paying, safe jobs

Gov. Walz signed the 2040 clean energy standard into law during a ceremony at the St. Paul Labor Center in February 2023. (Minneapolis Labor Review photo)

Minnesota has a new law that puts us on a path to 100% clean energy by 2040. That’s indisputably good for the environment. Thanks to the strong labor standards and equity provisions in the bill, it will also be great for all workers in our state, specifically union workers.

Our nation has been struggling with economic inequality for decades, and it has only worsened over the years. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that income inequality in 2018 – the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the average worker – had reached the highest level recorded since the bureau started tracking the gap. According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEOs in 2020 were paid over 350 times more than the typical worker.

This is also a problem facing Minnesotans. The income gap here is significant, particularly for people of color, who are 300% more likely to be in poverty than white people. Unionization is a key pathway to fixing this growing problem facing our state.

There is a major reason why the 100% clean energy bill had such strong support from unions and why it was signed by Gov. Tim Walz at the St. Paul Labor Center. The measure rightfully tied specific labor and equity standards to the implementation of the bill.

For example, there is an emphasis on creating local, high-quality jobs in Minnesota. The bill encourages new energy generating facilities to be sited in communities where fossil-fuel generating plants have been retired or are scheduled for retirement. It also says that emissions reductions that clean up our air should also make the air cleaner for communities that are facing environmental injustice, and that all workers and communities should see the benefits of this law.

Perhaps the most important provision is a requirement to recognize the rights of workers to organize.

Kevin Pranis of LIUNA Minnesota spoke during the bill signing ceremony.

Unions matter. There is a direct correlation between the increase in income inequality and the decrease of worker power, as the share of workers in a union has fallen from 24% in 1979 to under 11% now. Unions also make job sites safer. Unionized workers are better trained and better protected to blow the whistle if they see something dangerous going on, without fear for retribution from management because the union has their back. Finally, unions can help overcome long-standing inequities for people of color in our state.

Clean energy has been great for our economy. Workers around the state are making buildings more energy efficient, constructing wind turbines and more. There are an estimated 57,000 jobs in clean energy, energy efficiency, advanced transportation and other clean sectors in our state. Now, as we grow those jobs, more and more of them will be good-paying, safe, union jobs.

Our environment also matters. Climate change is already here and impacting us all. The action we take now will determine the future of our state. We should be fixing what was broken and leaving future generations a cleaner environment than the one we inherited from previous generations. This bill will reduce the emissions driving climate change. That’s a good thing for everyone.

The future is bright for workers and our climate. The federal investments in the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, coupled with Minnesota’s own investments and policies like 100% Clean Energy, will ensure we are installing utility-scale solar with well-trained, local labor. We will expand the number of local wind jobs, keep workers safe on the job and build the technology of the future – like geothermal – here in Minnesota with union labor.

Thank you to the House and Senate DFL majorities and Gov. Walz for delivering this victory for workers and the environment.

– Bree Halverson is the Midwest States Director for the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations.

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