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Unions Working to Create Middle-Class Jobs in Green Economy

Micah Mitrosky is an Environmental Organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 in San Diego.  She is focused on the renewables sector and talked with CleanTechies about unionization plans for the green industry.

CleanTechies: What is the mission of IBEW Local 569?

Micah Mitrosky: Our mission is to make sure that as our economy shifts to a low-carbon, sustainable economy, that we’re creating middle-class jobs with health care benefits, skilled career opportunities. A lot of what you think of as the fossil fuel sector are middle-class, union jobs. We want to make sure that, as we’re bringing in these new greener technologies and new green ways of doing things, that we’re replacing those with better middle-class career opportunities.

CleanTechies: What’s your biggest challenge in doing that?

Mitrosky: We’re running into the same things with industry that we’ve always run into. They’re working hard to keep wages low, off-shore jobs, cut corners on safety if it means a few cents more in profits.  It’s the same old story that unions have faced for a century.

CleanTechies: What is the educational level of the people you’re trying to recruit?

Mitrosky:  What we’re finding is that a lot of the building blocks of the green economy are really the same skills that union craftspeople have had through their apprenticeship training. So, for example, when you talk about green building, you don’t necessarily need new skills. It’s just buildings are going to be built in a different way, more efficiently.  But fundamentally, the building blocks of how to work with these technologies and to install them and use them are the same.

CleanTechies:   Renewable energy projects take a lot of money upfront and a lot of them never make it to the finish line. What are companies saying about their reluctance to pay these middle-class wages you’re seeking?

Mitrosky:  I think that they’re giving the same excuses that we’ve heard in every industry. But the reality is, as I mentioned before, that companies are always going to look for ways to cut corners on safety and middle class wages. And it’s up to us to hold them accountable and require that these are good middle-class jobs with skilled career training opportunities.

CleanTechies:  What’s your typical day like?

Mitrosky:  I’m working on everything from policy to media work to organizing, talking with non-union workers, planning events.

CleanTechies:   What are your current projects?

Mitrosky:  We’re looking at the electric car. I know that’s going to require a lot of skilled electrical work.  Houses are going to need to be upgraded. Charging stations will need to be built. In this case, a lot of this work will require the skills that IBEW electricians have in order for it to be done in a quality way and make sure everything is working properly and safety is the highest priority.

I’m looking at some energy efficiency retrofit possibilities. Are there some ways to partner with municipalities here in our region?  Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit. It’s a way to create jobs quickly, save electricity right away, reduce your greenhouse gases and there’s a lot of public funds and utility funds available for that. And also this spring, looking at ways that we can partner more closely with environmental allies and work more closely with them.