Duluth sees real evidence of the new ‘green’ economy


It wasn’t many years ago that union members and environmentalists didn’t mesh very well. Things have changed on many levels now and unionized construction and manufacturing workers are seeing the benefit of a “green economy” as job losses multiple in more traditional employment sectors.

A new report, “Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy,” says investing green will yield two million jobs in just two years.

In Duluth traffic has been slowed often recently by huge tractor/trailers carrying windmill parts and other equipment designed to take advantage of alternative energy sources. Lay-down yards around the harbor are full of windmill parts in fact.

At a press conference at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority Sept. 9, John Doberstein of the Blue Green Alliance said the Green Economic Recovery Program will yield over 37,000 new jobs in Minnesota if political leadership follows the lead of governors in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and other states.

Norm Voorhees, a Market Development Representative for Ironworkers Local 512, says their membership is seeing “a lot of man hours of work from erecting windmills and environmental upgrades.” He said Ironworkers nationwide are experiencing the benefits.

“Responsible development is where a lot of economic growth is at today,” Voorhees said at the press conference. “But it’s not just all new green technology, a lot of it is from our long time partners who have made this area what it is today.”

He pointed to all the environmental improvements to air and water quality that have been made by retrofitting places like Murphy Oil, Sappi, Georgia Pacific, the mines, power plants, and many other long time facilities.

“All those places are complying to environmental regulations that make this a better region to live and work in,” said Voorhees. “All our construction unions have benefited from those jobs, as have the the workers at those plants, and the general public.”
Christopher LaForge came to the press conference as the newest member of IBEW Local 242. The owner of Port Wing-based Great Northern Solar, LaForge said his work has started to bring him into more contact with union contractors in the area and he decided it was only right that he be union himself. He does training for contractors’ employees who install the solar units he sells.

“The future is now, and it demands bold action,” LaForge said. “There is a lot of good work for labor and unions, and we have the educated workforce to bring this type of manufacturing home to Duluth.”

LaForge and Spencer Roth of Environment Minnesota both said political leadership must be pressured by the public to continue moving towards energy efficiency and making America less reliable on foreign oil. LaForge said a green investment tax credit bill is currently being held up in the U.S. Senate.

“We have a strong labor presence here and can create high quality union jobs, lower energy costs, while making less of a carbon footprint,” said Roth, if we can get leadership to follow.

“Green Recovery” was prepared by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst under commission by the Center for American Progress. The report shows that, in addition to creating 2 million jobs nationwide over two years, this $100 billion green economic recovery package would:

• Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.

• Create roughly triple the number of good jobs—paying at least $16 dollars an hour—as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.

• Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7 percent (calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).

• Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction em-ployment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million jobs over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.

The recovery program aims to boost private and public investment in six energy-efficiency and renewable energy strategies: retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency; expanding mass transit and freight rail; constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems; and increasing the production of wind power, solar power, and next-generation biofuels.

The report shows the vast majority of the 2 million jobs would be in the same areas of employment that people already work in today, in every region and state of the country.

The green recovery program investments would fund:

• $50 billion for tax credits. This would assist private businesses and homeowners to finance both commercial and residential building retrofits, as well as investments in renewable energy systems.

• $46 billion in direct government spending. This would support public building retrofits, the expansion of mass transit, freight rail and smart electrical grid systems, and new investments in renewable energy.

• $4 billion for federal loan guarantees. This would underwrite private credit that is extended to finance building retrofits and investments in renewable energy.

Larry Sillanpa edits The Labor World, Minnesota’s oldest labor publication. Visit the Labor World website, www.laborworld.org