Local 50 project showcased in climate change report

A project completed by HFIAW Local 50 members was featured in a recently released report focusing on how labor unions can play an essential role in addressing climate change.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) held a virtual press conference on Sept. 29 to discuss the report highlighting various union projects that relate to green energy efforts to fight against climate change. According to the report, titled “United: Union Jobs Improve the Clean Energy Economy,” strong labor standards are imperative in a shift to a clean energy economy and produce better outcomes for workers and the environment. 

The report highlights stories about labor’s role in shaping the industries needed to shift to a cleaner, healthier economy. As Congress considers President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, some labor and environmental leaders are joining together to call for climate action with robust labor standards.

One of the projects showcased by the report is the work performed by Local 50 in Columbus at the Groveport Madison School District. When the decision was made to build a new high school, school leaders made energy efficiency a top priority.

A contractor signatory to Local 50 won the bid after the Local used an educational video to remind school board members of the economic and environmental benefits of high-quality, properly installed mechanical insulation for heating and cooling pipes and systems.

Representatives from Local 50 attended school board meetings and explained how making cuts to mechanical insulation or using inferior products will create greater long-term costs. They made similar presentations to the project architects to ensure the insulation is properly addressed in final project specifications.

Local 50 members spent about 12,000 hours onsite performing insulation work at the new high school.

According to the report, the Local is poised to turn their success at Groveport into more work, as their contractors are bidding on seven other school projects in the area. 

The members reputation for on-time, on-budget, high-quality work has spread around the area, as a $730 million expansion project at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus included specifications for workers trained in a certified apprenticeship program.

The NRDC study stated renovation work in Ohio in public buildings such as schools, hospitals, universities and municipal structures can reduce energy use in this sector by 20 percent, create or sustain 30,000 job years (a job-year is one full-time job lasting one year), reduce energy costs by $5.5 billion, and save more than 70,000 gigawatt-hours of energy by 2030.

During the virtual event, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) joined building trades, labor and environmental leaders in calling for historic federal climate action that prioritizes labor standards, which the new NRDC report says are essential for addressing the climate crisis.

“The Insulators did an incredible job at a school in the Columbus area, Groveport Madison’s new high school, a building retrofit,” said Brown during his opening remarks. “That is work for trades members, the Insulators brought down the schools utility bill by $80,000 in just one year.

“We want to see projects like this all over the country and those projects will and must include the labor movement. Congressman Ryan and I were talking last night, and we must put workers at the center of our economy and at the center of climate policy,” Brown added.

Unlike some trades, HFIAW members work to address climate change issues almost every day, which is why a Local was featured in the study.

“Most people don’t think about the impact of insulation on climate change, but it’s one of the most effective measures we can take to reduce carbon pollution,” said Insulators Local 50 Business Manager Dan Poteet.

“In addition to reducing the number of tons of emissions in the atmosphere, mechanical insulation is also vital to the health of buildings by preventing mold, slowing the spread of airborne disease and helping to stop fires.
Insulation makes our buildings healthier, more efficient and comfortable, and is absolutely critical in fighting
climate change.” 

Local 50 worked with the NRDC to share resources that were created for the Groveport campaign five years ago to garner the mechanical insulation work in the school district.

The marketing campaign and work performed by Local 50 members at the school can serve as a model for other Insulators Union Locals to garner work.

“Our unions are positioned to lead the way as we transition to the clean energy economy of the future,” said Ryan. “We know climate change is a dangerous and growing threat to our children, our families and our economy. The Build Back Better Act takes a direct aim at addressing climate change while strengthening our communities and economy by investing in clean energy jobs, technologies and initiatives – while putting
workers first.”

The other projects in the report similarly highlighted how unions and their members can be fundamental to a successful transition to clean energy economy, and that strong unions help industries aggregate the recruitment
and training capacity to make the shift.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity to fight the climate crisis with the boldest plan ever put forth at the federal level, but the communities at the frontlines are absolutely necessary in carrying out this plan,” said Brown.

“When more American workers see the benefits of being in a union, we will see communities transform and the work to transition to a clean energy economy will be more equitable and effective.”

As discussed in the study, building trades members are the best trained and most experienced in their fields, as millions of their own funds (not tax dollars) are spent to run training programs. Union registered apprenticeship programs are often longer and more thorough than non-union training programs. NRDC’s report points to the need for union training programs to keep up with the growing demand for labor in a booming clean energy economy.

The NRDC report concludes that Congress can foster high-quality jobs in the clean energy economy by:
• Creating an enforceable federal safety standard to protect all workers.
• Passing long-term updates to clean energy tax incentives with high labor standards.
• Significantly increasing funding for clean energy policies and programs.
• Updating federal grant and loan programs, including those supporting clean energy, to require hiring from disadvantaged communities.
• Passing new worker training programs.

“High-quality union jobs are absolutely necessary for a sustainable future,” said Natural Resources Defense Council Director of Federal Affairs Marc Boom. “A transition from an economy reliant on fossil fuels to one that is cleaner and more affordable, like a recovery from the devastation of the pandemic, will require us to take a hard look at how we can rebuild in a better way, with stronger outcomes for everyday Americans.”

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