Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

Because our response to the climate crisis also needs to address the unacceptable inequality in our society and it has to contribute to racial equity, and be conscious of the people and places that are affected by these changes. And unions are the most powerful vehicle to deliver that progress across the board. 

When you look back at the early days of energy jobs, unions transformed low-wage, dangerous work in the carbon economy, industry by industry. We challenged the inhumane conditions and the relentless pace of production and made those jobs into good careers—with wages and benefits to support a family. That’s how unions built America’s middle class. 

So now the question is who will build and benefit from this next transition—the clean energy transition? It can’t be like it was in the past when working people suffered and were left stranded.

The opportunities of the clean energy transition are opportunities to create good, union jobs that will benefit local communities here in the U.S. for generations to come.

That’s what we mean when we say that the energy transition depends on a high-road and high-wage strategy. The emerging offshore wind industry in the U.S. is a major frontier for clean infrastructure and for growing domestic supply chains, too. From raw materials to offshore wind turbines and the components of those turbines we can make those here in the U.S., and as offshore wind continues to scale up, we have to make sure that the jobs scale up with it and we are creating union jobs in the United States.

Offshore turbine manufacturing can create a lot of jobs, but it’s not just the nacelles, the generators, blades, foundations, substations, cable and vessels. Offshore wind turbines are so massive, that the bill of materials is incredible—imagine if we made those materials here! 

It takes hundreds of tons of steel and copper and specialty metals to build a single offshore wind farm. That is why reshoring and growing the American supply chain can be such an engine for economic growth.

The number of small parts that goes into each component is very large. That is a huge opportunity for small manufacturers on Long Island and across the region. You think about the companies with sophisticated processes that have been in the fabricated metals space, aerospace, specialty electronics and other sectors, they are great candidates to supply the offshore wind sector. This is an historic strength of your economy.

We see the potential and are already leading in the offshore wind sector, of course here in New York and in New Jersey, but also Massachusetts, Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut and more. And Maine and the West Coast will be next with floating wind in deep water.

Just this month, construction began at the New Jersey Wind Port, the first facility purpose-built for staging, assembling and manufacturing related to offshore wind projects on the Atlantic Coast. 

That project has the potential to create hundreds of union construction jobs in the area and the groundbreaking ceremony included the signing of a project labor agreement between AECOM Tishman and the United Building Trades Council of Southern New Jersey, AFL-CIO. 

It’s so exciting to see so many of these projects already underway. The work is being done. We’re beyond the call to action. It’s all in motion and labor is not only at the table, we’re leading the way. 

The Long Island Federation of Labor alone has been building local movements and coalitions to support offshore wind for over a decade!

In Rhode Island, workers in the building trades unions built Block Island Wind Farm, the first successful offshore wind farm in the U.S. We did it with a high-road strategy alongside the developers. I know many of you here were involved in that project. 

In Virginia, a high-road, high-wage partnership between offshore wind developers and labor is on track to be a model to replicate in other renewable industries and in other regions across the country.

And here in New York, we’re seeing so many signs of progress and it is inspiring, we can do this. Building the state coalitions with stakeholders—labor, business, community and environmental groups to boost investment. Building support for the industry through the lease and permit process. Lifting up the Opportunities Long Island pre-apprenticeship program to make sure economic development provides long lasting careers and grows the middle class in local communities. 

This is so important for our economic recovery, especially for a gender equitable recovery. Because women lost almost a million more jobs than men due to the pandemic, with Black and Latina women suffering the greatest job losses.

Our apprenticeship programs are the bridge to high-growth, high-demand jobs. And we are laser focused on recruiting women and people of color. And highly-skilled union labor is the best way to ensure clean-energy projects are safe and successful.  

I know you’re also planning a National Offshore Wind Training Center so working people can earn a Global Wind Organization certification This is a perfect example of partnership, bringing together the Long Island Federation of Labor; the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties; IBEW; Utility Workers Local 1-2; Suffolk Community College; the BlueGreen Alliance; and Ørsted and Eversource.

And working with unionized manufacturing firms, academic institutions, the state federations and local representatives from key energy-related affiliates, we will make real progress around building a domestic, union-made supply chain.

This is how the labor movement will continue leading the response to climate change through high-road economic development because we know what it means to build and reimagine the future. 

The foundation of our movement is solidarity. The threat of a changing climate will impact all of us, brothers, sisters and siblings. No community is safe from this existential threat of climate change, until every single community is safe. And putting racial justice and gender equity front and center.

Today, I am thinking of Long Island’s own Tony Mazocchi, a labor leader who spearheaded a renewed call to action both for environmental justice and for occupational safety. He spoke out about the health problems workers faced from handling harsh chemicals and connected the dots and knew the environment would be damaged by them, too. He was one of the first to talk about solidarity between the labor and environmental movements; he saw that they had a shared root problem of big corporations putting profits above the health of workers and communities. In Tony’s words, we are here to struggle together for the “best aspirations of working people.” To me, that encompasses what a union-built clean energy future means. 

We know what solidarity looks like, the power it can hold to change entire systems for the better. This is the moment to grow and leverage our solidarity. The path to a clean energy future runs right through our labor movement. 

Thank you all for laying the foundation for offshore wind projects and with them a growing middle class on the Atlantic Coast. Not only will your work have ripple effects in this region and in the offshore wind industry, but it will be a blueprint for other parts of our country and other renewable energy sectors, too.

I am with you in solidarity for the long-run. Thank you!