Illinois lawmakers push for more union jobs in renewable energy industry

The Climate Union Jobs Act aims to increase union work and diversity in the wind and solar energy fields.

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A wind farm silhouetted by a setting sun.

The Climate Union Jobs Act aims to get more union workers hired in renewable energy jobs in the state and diversify the industry.

AP file

Several Illinois lawmakers unveiled legislation Monday aimed at getting more union workers hired in renewable energy jobs in the state and diversify the industry.

The Climate Union Jobs Act would set union labor standards for energy companies that are switching to green energy and prevent employers from interfering with unionization.

The bill, which was proposed by the labor organization coalition Climate Jobs Illinois, would also address racial and economic changes in the industry and try to ease the impact on communities that rely on fossil fuels for jobs.

“We cannot look back, the clock only moves forward,” said state Rep. Marcus Evans Jr., D-Chicago. “Right now, we want to take bold actions, and this bill does that.”

The bill would set labor standards and diversity hiring goals for the industry. It also would provide $55 million to job training programs and the Illinois Works program as well as $150 million annually to provide energy rate relief to low-income families.

The bill would also provide $50 million annually to install solar energy in 3,330 Illinois public schools and $30 million annually for five years to convert school buses to electric — a change the coalition says would save schools up to $2.3 billion.

State Reps. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, and Lawrence Walsh Jr., D-Joliet, and state Sens. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, and Sue Rezin, R-Morris, supported the bill at a news conference Monday.

Climate Jobs Illinois coalition includes the Chicago Federation of Labor, which has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

Some funding for the bill would come from the state, but further funding is unclear. Illinois legislators said Monday the legislation would create higher cost for some ratepayers, but they want to work with the Illinois Commerce Commission to make these changes “with the least amount of impact to the ratepayers.”

Last August, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an eight-step plan to begin transitioning the state to renewable, green energy. The Climate Union Jobs Act comes as a response to solar and wind farm projects across the country that are underrepresented by union labor.

The coalition said of 28 U.S. wind farms being built, 21 are not unionized; of 61 U.S. solar farms being built, 40 are nonunion.

Climate Jobs Illinois said it has talked with several climate groups — including The Climate Jobs Coalition, Clean Air Now, and the Path to 100 — to ensure the bill is equitable and efficient.

“If we’re going to reach our clean energy goals as a state, it’s going to require significant investment.” coalition executive director Joe Duffy said.

The proposal also seeks to help communities that rely economically on fossil fuels by creating tax incentives to spur investment for areas with coal plant closures.

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