In summary

A plan to prioritize good jobs that solve some of our environmental and climate issues can lead to a strong economic recovery.

By Maria Elena Durazo, Special to CalMatters

State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, represents California Senate District 24, Senator.Durazo@sen.ca.gov.

This is a dark time for Californians. In Los Angeles County, more than 897,500 people – 18.2% of the population, who are primarily people of color – are unemployed. Concurrently, raging wildfires and harmful smoke show the urgent need for climate action. How will we recover from COVID-19, record temperatures and wildfires?

There is hope – and it lies in a path for a worker-led, climate-resilient economic recovery. Recently, the California Workforce Development Board submitted a new report to the Legislature, “Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030,” detailing just how to get there.

Earlier this year, at the beginning of the legislative cycle and before the global pandemic hit, I floated two ideas to jumpstart the conversation around the creation of green jobs as a catapult to expand a more equitable economy. 

One idea would allow the Natural Resources Agency, Wildlife Conservation Board and state conservancies to establish climate resiliency grants that provide workforce development. Another would have increased transparency to guarantee public dollars and tax breaks given to companies that are creating the jobs they promised when bidding for taxpayer-funded contracts and incentive programs.

California has many examples of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating good jobs and broadening opportunities for disadvantaged workers. A major success story is the build-out of utility-scale renewable energy generation facilities, which are primarily solar power plants. Their development has been driven in large part by the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, which calls for carbon-free electricity by 2045 and has already been responsible for the majority of emissions reductions in the state so far. 

Reducing emissions is critical to our future, but what excites me the most are the labor agreements that have produced family-supporting jobs and employed workers from some of the lowest wage-earning counties in the state. These occupations pay an hourly wage that allows working adults with less than a college degree to provide for their family’s needs.

Under project labor agreements and community workforce agreements, the construction of utility-scale renewables in California has produced family-supporting, union scale wages and benefits while also appreciably boosting the inclusion of workers from disadvantaged communities.

The use of apprentices ensures workforce training and a career pipeline.  Instead of “train and pray” – untested training programs that don’t ensure access to actual jobs – you’re tapping into an existing, high quality training infrastructure. Apprenticeships also support equity because they enable participants to earn paychecks while they learn. Instead of having debt when apprentices graduate, they have a job with family-supporting wages and benefits.   

We must expand these types of agreements between business, labor and community groups, especially for investments that receive public funds. Currently, they’re used in utility-scale renewable energy projects, public transit and high-speed rail infrastructure. We can do more. 

Agencies or entities administering public or ratepayer funds can also use these agreements for energy efficiency retrofits, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and other construction activities. We can also use similar agreements in manufacturing, waste management, fire prevention and many other greenhouse gas reducing efforts.

This same principle has been applied in many different initiatives in my district and can be replicated in statewide initiatives. Our local successes include revamping our municipal waste contracting programs to ensure compliance with environmental standards and better jobs, strong skill certifications for EV charging infrastructure for the electrification of the Port of Los Angeles and Measure W’s incorporation of project labor agreements in our $300 million annual investment in green stormwater infrastructure. The state now has a roadmap for taking this economic justice approach to climate policy to scale.

Prioritizing good jobs that also solve some of our environmental and climate issues are part of a strong economic recovery. 

We’re at a crossroads. The recommendations in the Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030 will help California emerge from this recovery stronger and more resilient than ever.

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