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Illinois lawmakers must act to save nuclear energy jobs

Thousands of Illinois union jobs are on the line because the General Assembly has not passed legislation to protect and grow clean energy — including carbon-free nuclear power.

Exelon’s Byron nuclear power plant.
AP

No one needs a reminder of the dire and seemingly endless challenges that our country has faced over the past year. On top of remaining vigilant in the fight against COVID, we must turn to the next challenge: helping those Illinoisans who are worried about receiving their next paycheck.

Sadly, thousands of Illinois union jobs are on the line because the General Assembly has not passed legislation to protect and grow clean energy — including carbon-free nuclear power. IBEW members face devastating job losses if both the Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants prematurely close this fall as planned. Illinois’ LaSalle and Braidwood plants are also at high risk for premature closure without legislative action.

The governor and Legislature have about a week to pass clean energy legislation that, among other things, preserves the state’s nuclear fleet. Illinois cannot afford inaction from our elected leaders. IBEW members were essential in safely keeping the lights on at health care facilities, businesses, and our homes when we needed them the most. Coming together to pass legislation giving them job security and long-term stability should be the Legislature’s priority.

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IBEW members operate the Illinois nuclear fleet at world-class levels. They rely on them to support thousands of jobs that pay on average 36 percent higher than the local prevailing salary rate. Facing increasing uncertainty, my members have already begun accepting jobs outside of the state.

In 1975, as a member of IBEW Local 145, I started as an apprentice wireman in Rock Island and helped build strong labor partnerships while working at the Quad Cities station during refuel outages. I know firsthand how essential nuclear power plants are to communities throughout Illinois.

On average, each plant contributes $40 million in annual payroll and $470 million in revenue from buying local goods and services. The Illinois fleet also pays $136 million annually in local taxes that fund much-needed services for schools and roads. With communities scrambling to find funding, these resources and jobs are helping to sustain our economy, which simply cannot take another hit.

The economy is not the only thing at stake. So is our climate. Nuclear power makes up 90% of Illinois’ carbon-free energy mix. These retirements will jeopardize the progress the state has made in meeting its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

On behalf of the 50,000 Illinois members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, I am urging Gov. Pritzker, the General Assembly and all stakeholders: Please put aside your differences and pass legislation by May 31 to stop the premature closures of Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants this year and give needed certainty to the LaSalle and Braidwood stations. Thousands of union jobs, families and communities are depending on you to enact a pro-worker, pro-climate agenda.

Lonnie Stephenson, International President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Additional assistance

As Chicagoans face the possibility of evictions in August, I’m relieved to hear of the additional rental assistance announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot [“City to offer $80 million in assistance to renters,” May 24]. This relief from the city and President Joe Biden’s proposal to build affordable housing in the United States are both a help for renters in danger of losing homes. Yet even these actions won’t meet the need that was already an American housing crisis before COVID-19 started.

Housing Choice Vouchers, America’s largest rental assistance program, allows low-income renters to find safe housing they otherwise cannot afford. Yet inadequate funding for federal rental assistance means help only gets to only one in four eligible renters.

The pandemic has made clear that there are far too many Americans just one crisis away from eviction. I urge Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as Illinois Representatives Bobby Rush, Robin Kelly, Mike Quigley, Rodney Davis and Jan Schakowsky to expand assistance to all eligible renters.

Cynthia Changyit Levin, St Louis, Missouri