With clean energy programs under political attack in the U.S. and Canada, support from traditional industry is more important than ever. Without the strong voice of labor groups, the call for a stable, long-term commitment to renewable energy is weakened.
One of the most vocal supporters of strong clean energy policies is the United Steelworkers, the largest industrial labor union in North America. As a founding member of the BlueGreen Alliance, USW, has been pushing progressive climate-stabilization and renewable energy policies, even while representing one of the most carbon-intensive industrial sectors.
The organization, which makes up more than 700,000 workers in the North American steel industry, has come out strong on various issues — supporting a comprehensive U.S. climate bill, backing a national renewable energy target and calling Canada’s exploitation of tar sands an “embarrassment on climate change.”
Speaking to Climate Progress at the Greenbuild Conference in Toronto, Ken Neumann, national director for USW Canada, calls climate change “our greatest threat” and reiterates the union’s support for green jobs:
“We find that the green economy is very crucial to us…solar and wind, these are all manufacturing jobs. Many of our members are producing the steel in some of these facilities.”
When asked about whether green jobs exist, Neumann replies: “Yes, of course they do…. We see the benefits.”
With numerous solar and wind manufacturing facilities being built in Ontario due to the province’s domestic content requirement, the sector has seen a substantial increase in activity. But here’s the problem: Neumann admits that it’s difficult to track the exact number of jobs created in the sector due to renewable energy.
It’s still early in Ontario’s feed-in tariff program, so no new steel facilities have been constructed to service demand. Existing steel mills are making products to serve the equipment and construction needs of companies setting up shop in the province, but Neumann says it’s tough to pinpoint exactly how many jobs have been saved or created so far.
“Our members are creating products for these facilities. But I think it’s difficult to say exactly what is a green job and what is not. But there’s going to become a point when they are not going to be ‘green’ jobs. We have to keep focused on the environment and on the big picture. That’s what we intend to do because we know they are a natural part of building this industry.”
Yet again, we run into the same problem when counting green jobs. While some of these positions are obvious and trackable, many more are diffuse and disguised.
We know they exist and are seeing explosive growth. That’s why leaders in the steel industry are so interested in them. It’s just not always easy to separate a traditional job from a green job. And that’s why the “debate” over these jobs is so heated.