“The jobs he was talking about yesterday were construction jobs,” said Phil Smith, a spokesman for United Mine Workers of America, the day after Biden’s speech. “We don’t see anything concrete that our members can look at and say, ‘OK, I’ll fit in there.'”
The complaints underscore the difficulty Biden will face in pursuing his two most ambitious goals: reinvigorating the labor market by creating millions of jobs for unions – which traditionally thrive in old industries – and transforming the US into a clean economy with electric vehicles and battery storage replace coal, natural gas and oil as energy sources.
Environmentalists defend the plan as a necessary move away from old technologies to combat climate change. And others say Biden’s plan included tax incentives for manufacturing and a vision for developing a supply chain that could provide the kind of highly skilled workers who used to be in power plants.
“My American employment plan will get hundreds of thousands of people to work … pay exactly the same price a union man or woman would get,” Biden said from a union hall in Pittsburgh on Wednesday when announcing his proposal. “It also works to level the playing field, empower workers, make sure the new jobs are good jobs to raise a family in, and ensure free and fair choices to organize and negotiate together. “
While unions strongly support the government’s stance on work, they fear that the ultimate goal, if not properly implemented, could have a devastating effect on their members.
“In our view, this plan will fail if there are no jobs when the mine closes,” said Smith. “There is a very big gap between what the aspirations are here and what will actually happen on the ground.”
Biden struggled to get employees back into the democratic community after the party lost them to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential contest, and the administration is trying to prove that this can be both the most work-friendly and carbon-friendly presidency in history. But the reality can prove problematic. As soon as the expansion of carbon-free power sources is completed, the permanent jobs in power plants will have largely disappeared.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in power generation have declined 50 percent over the past 20 years as renewable technologies take hold. Renewable energy rose from 6 percent to 18 percent of the energy mix during this time, while labor-intensive coal production rose from half of total generation to 18 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.
“Right now, when you look at traditional renewable energies, historically it has not been a hopeful place for American workers to go into these sectors of the economy to work and have family support jobs,” said Roxanne Brown, international vice president of United Steelworkers. “That wasn’t American history.”
Some labor economists say that because of the long-term nature of Biden’s plan – investments are to be spread over eight years – the interruption will not be so abrupt.
“If we’re doing the serious transformation it takes to truly decarbonize the economy, it’s not something that will be done in five years, it’s a decade-long thing and that’s why we’re going to keep building new things,” said Josh Bivens , Research Director at the left-wing Institute for Economic Policy.
Bivens said the more pressing concern should be the quality of jobs that the infrastructure boost has created.
“Basically, the fossil fuel sector has historically been fairly unionized. It was a place that created pretty good jobs, especially for the kind of workers in it, ”he said.
Biden’s infrastructure proposal seeks to address these concerns by providing incentives to bring manufacturing to the US. Offshore wind components come to the USA from Europe. Most of the supply chains for batteries and solar modules are located in China and Southeast Asia. The president hopes to encourage companies to build new factories through a number of tax incentives, in particular an expanded production loan initiated by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) And Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) that would encourage companies to build the location of closed coal mines and coal-fired power plants.
The government seeks to maintain unions support by binding labor standards to these and other clean energy tax credits and the Right to Organize Act, which paves the way for workers trying to unionize, full and fully supported. Officials say work will be part of an ongoing conversation about politics.
“The labor movement has been and is a partner when it comes to the political initiatives prioritized by the administration,” said one administration official. “The guidelines and objectives are being developed in partnership and in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including the workforce. The impact of these proposals is continuously taken into account. The ability of the employment plan to create high-paying union jobs across the board was critical. “
And some unions support the plan, especially those who are ready to expand the carbon-free network.
“The American employment plan would fulfill Joe Biden’s promise to American union workers,” Lonnie Stephenson, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electricians, said in a statement.
But some of Biden’s most work-friendly policies are vehemently opposed by the business lobby and Republicans – who say they restrict free choice of workers and harm businesses – and are likely to spark a controversial battle in Congress.
The Republicans are already proposing the proposal as a new Green New Deal and are trying to move the government towards tighter, bipartisan law.
“President Biden’s so-called” job “proposal is a clear attempt to transform the economy by advancing progressive priorities in unprecedented ways. The proposal would aggressively reduce the use of traditional energy resources and eliminate well-paying jobs in West Virginia and beyond the country “Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW. Va.), the Republican senior woman on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “I am ready to be a partner in the cross-party development of infrastructure legislation – just as in the past.”
Environmentalists say looking beyond the coming boom is ahead of the problem. There are still millions more unemployed Americans than there were before the pandemic, and the short-term spending built into the package is designed to get the economy going again. But even in the long term, the package aims to overtake the economy, including incentives to build offshore wind and battery supply chains in the US.
“The most important technology story of the 21st century is the tremendous change the global economy is going through to decarbonise and drive the innovations for the new technology that will bring us there,” said Nat Keohane, senior vice president, Environmental Defense Fund. “The economy is not made up of a fixed number of sectors. The economy is incredibly dynamic and the economy of 2030, 2040, 2050 will be very different. So the question is whether or not we are positioning the US economy to compete?”