By Mohamed El-Zein, Research Associate, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office
On March 15, 2023, the Washington, DC Chapter of Labor and Employment Relations Association (DC LERA, dclera.org) hosted a roundtable discussion with Betony Jones, Director of the Office of Energy Jobs at the U.S. Department of Energy. The event was held at the Embassy of Sweden.
Betony’s team at DOE supervises the adoption and implementation of Community Benefits Plans with groups that receive funding and loans under recently created infrastructure programs Community Benefits Plans are based on a set of four core policy priorities: investing in America’s workforce; engaging communities and labor (including through project labor agreements); advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and implementing Justice 40. These key principles, when incorporated comprehensively into project proposals and executed upon, will help ensure broadly shared prosperity in the clean energy transition. These programs help create clean energy jobs that are stable, just, and equitable for American workers.
The passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act is bringing about massive investments and public funding through both direct investments and tax credits for advanced manufacturing and climate and energy infrastructure. The laws demonstrate on-the-ground to American workers that addressing the climate crisis can be done with investments that create good jobs and economic opportunities. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions can help American workers get into and remain in the middle class while helping the U.S. economy grow.
Applicants for funding create Community Benefits Plans and submit them to DOE for review in order to compete for funds to support the commercialization of particular technologies. Applicants must make commitments to creating quality jobs with a plan for attracting, investing in, and retaining the skilled workforce necessary to achieve project success. These plans must focus on relevant workplace issues such as wages and benefits, health and safety, investments in training, and affirmative support for worker organizing and collective bargaining. In addition, these plans need to detail efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and access such as providing childcare benefits to get more women in the workplace, ensuring better access for workers who have had trouble within the legal system in the past, supporting pre-apprenticeship programs that allow for access into the middle class without a college degree, and breaking barriers to entry to work for individuals in underserved and marginalized communities. These are examples of pathways for American workers to the middle class.
The implementation of Community Benefits Plans, including through the use of collective bargaining agreements and other legally-enforceable community benefits agreements has enabled proactive outreach from companies to labor unions fostering dialogue and signing MOUs and neutrality agreements, which unions report is unprecedented.
The open dialogue discussion allowed the audience to raise concerns regarding this transition to clean energy and its effects on well-established communities that have relied heavily on the fossil fuels industry. Betony emphasized that these policies aim to include, not alienate, these communities and enable them to transition from the traditional energy sector with economic diversification and equally good jobs in the clean energy sector. Some of these clean energy policies are driving investments to fossil fuel dependent communities to support the economic and energy transition.
The goal of the Office of Energy Jobs is to support the transition to a more resilient, cleaner, reliable energy system by focusing on improved job quality in the energy sector. By focusing on attracting and retaining skilled workers with good-quality jobs, plans for diversity and inclusion, benefits to underserved and marginalized communities, and accountability to the community and the workers. the U.S. can create an equitable energy system while revitalizing the middle class. You can learn more about these programs and other initiatives to create an equitable and just economy for American workers in the hyperlinks below.