Unions Essential in Addressing Climate Crisis, Federal Climate Action


WASHINGTON (Sept. 29, 2021) -- A new report from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) demonstrates that union jobs are essential in the fight against climate change, and that with strong labor standards the shift to a clean energy economy can produce better outcomes for workers and the environment. “United: Union Jobs Improve the Clean Energy Economy” 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, labor and environmental leaders are joining together to call for climate action with robust labor standards. 

“Our unions are positioned to lead the way as we transition to the clean energy economy of the future,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH). “We know that 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.” 

NRDC logoThe climate crisis demands massive, immediate action and a transition away from fossil fuels. The stories in the new NRDC report show that unions and their members are fundamental to a successful transition to clean energy, and that strong unions help industries aggregate the recruitment and training capacity we need to shift to a cleaner, healthier economy. 

“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 U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “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.” 

The report explores cases where unions and their members are playing key roles in their communities in transitioning to a clean energy economy. 

“As union workers, we care about the communities we live in. We certainly believe that stronger labor standards will lead to better standards for all Americans. Giving workers a fair and speedy way to join a union and continue to expand high-quality good paying jobs must be a part of taking action on climate and transitioning to a clean energy economy,” said United Steelworkers Organizing Director Maria Somma.

Union workers are some of the best trained and most experienced in their trades and spend millions of their own funds to run training programs. Union apprenticeships are often longer and more thorough than other non-union training programs. NRDC’s report points to the need for union training programs in order to keep up with the growing demand for labor in a booming clean energy economy. 

“Building back better by retooling and rebuilding our manufacturing sector, repairing and modernizing our infrastructure, and growing clean energy and energy efficiency will build a clean, thriving, and equitable economy for all. The jobs we create with this once-in-a-lifetime investment have to  be good-paying, union jobs,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh.

As the report shows, the clean economy is already here and is increasingly being shaped by unions and their members. 

“Ohio’s union electricians are at the heart of projects that are making our state more competitive and a lot healthier. We are the backbone of an industry that is expanding at full speed, and our training programs are helping a new, wider and more diverse generation of union electricians get these jobs done,” International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International Representative Steve Crum. 

Across the country, growing numbers of union members are on the front lines of the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors, helping to reduce pollution and health hazards for millions of Americans. 

"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 Union 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." 

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 Marc Boom, director of federal affairs at NRDC. “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.”


NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) was founded in 1970 by a group of law students and attorneys at the forefront of the environmental movement. NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. They combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water and the wild.
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