Millions of American workers badly need jobs, and the owners of many thousands of commercial buildings badly need "green retrofitting" to improve their energy efficiency and thus cut operational costs while simultaneously helping clean up the environment.
The conclusion should be obvious: Let the retrofitting begin, for the benefit of everyone – those who need the work, the employers who want it done, and the rest of us, who would benefit greatly from it.
Details of what could and should be done – and why and by whom – are laid out in a new briefing paper from the well-regarded National Employment Law Project, otherwise known as NELP.
Perhaps what's most important about green retrofitting is that it's what NELP calls "a powerful job creation tool."
It can indeed be that. As NELP reported, "Estimates show that a mix of tax credits, new building code requirements and loans for commercial energy efficiency upgrades would create upwards of 160,000 new jobs," possibly hundreds of thousands more, over the next year. That certainly would significantly lower the high unemployment rate that has plagued the country for far too long, encourage investment and otherwise jolt the lagging economy.
Construction workers have been hit particularly hard by unemployment, and it is they who have the skills and knowledge "that could be put to work cutting greenhouse gas omissions and making our cities cleaner and more efficient places to live," notes Christine Owens, NELP's executive director.
She says many construction workers, as well as other workers, also are needed to improve existing commercial buildings "in a common-sense way while also meeting the challenges of climate change." NELP says more than three-fourths of all the electricity produced in the United States is used to operate the buildings, "making improved energy efficiency an increasingly recognized part of reducing the nation's greenhouse gases."
Simply providing jobs would not be enough. NELP argues that government policy makers supporting green retrofitting and the jobs it creates should make certain they are "good jobs with strong workplace standards and fair pay and job security." That's an absolute necessity if jobs in the retrofit industry are to be truly sustainable. At a minimum, that would call for providing workers increased pay and better chances of being promoted to higher-paying jobs.
NELP cites three cities – Los Angeles, Seattle and Milwaukee – that have developed programs which have won the support of workers, environmentalists and commercial building owners, in large part by backing retrofitting projects that, while creating jobs, also help owners cut their costs and increase their income.
Los Angeles has adopted a city ordinance that calls for retrofits of city-owned buildings, a process for settling labor conflicts that arise during the work, and an effort to ensure that Los Angeles residents have access to training for retrofitting work.
In Seattle, the city has an agreement with retrofit contractors on setting pay and providing job training for their employees.
Milwaukee has a new energy-efficiency program that offers building owners the chance to qualify for financial aid in exchange for using contractors committed to hiring local workers and "adhering to quality workplace standards."
It's now time for other cities nationwide to take action. There's no legitimate reason for inaction. We have a great need to modernize and expand our infrastructure, diminish environmental pollution and provide work for the jobless. We have shown it can be done. So let's do it!
Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based columnist who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.