The Job Collar Is Always Greener On The Other Side

A few hours ago the U.S. Senate passed its version of the <a href="">economic stimulus plan</a>. The plan will unquestionably -- depending on your economics ken and party affiliation -- either create millions of jobs or bury the country further in debt and hopelessness.

Kevin Ferguson, Contributor

February 10, 2009

3 Min Read

A few hours ago the U.S. Senate passed its version of the economic stimulus plan. The plan will unquestionably -- depending on your economics ken and party affiliation -- either create millions of jobs or bury the country further in debt and hopelessness.A compromise plan must now be reached between President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Will the final law create green jobs? Of course it will. Will those jobs pay a decent wage, and will there be enough of them to jump-start our stalled fossil-fueled economy while we trade it in for a cleaner-burning model? No one knows, no one ever can.

The Institute for Energy Research -- the independent think tank that is hosting an exclusive luncheon hosted by George F. Will at the Houston Petroleum Club later this month -- was quick to latch onto a report issued by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and authored by Good Jobs First and commissioned by Change to Win, the Sierra Club, the Laborers' International Union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The report, says the IER, reveals wide variations in wages, benefits, and labor conditions, with some green-collar jobs paying as little as $8.25 an hour without benefits. "It's hard to make a case for quality green jobs on the same day your own allies admit there's no such thing," says IER president Thomas J. Pyle. "The Stabenow-Inslee Report admits that the president's heavily touted green jobs will be low-paying and below union leader's expected standards."

Did it say all that? It absolutely calls into question that many green jobs will be low-skilled, low-paying positions. I've said the same thing. But until you read the report, the legislators' press release, or listen to the unions, you would think that labor isn't backing the economic stimulus plans. In fact, Laborers' International Union general president Terry O'Sullivan stressed that as taxpayers invest in the green economy, the government is obligated to ensure those investments support communities and families. "This report shows how green jobs, if not true to their purpose, can drive down our economy, impoverish families, and put the hope of a halt to global warming and prosperity out of reach," says O'Sullivan in a press release issued by Change To Win, a 6-million-member partnership of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Brotherhood Of Teamsters (IBT), the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and the United Farm Workers. "We will only succeed if we make sure the people who build the green economy and keep it running have jobs that allow them to fully participate in that economy."

The difference is huge. Says Change To Win:

"Low wages were found in the construction industry, where significant green job growth is anticipated. The authors report that half of nonunion workers in basic construction trades earn less than $12.50 per hour, while a third make less than the federal poverty wage for a family of four ($10.19 per hour)."

But, it continues:

"The report authors also found examples of green-collar jobs that provided middle-class wages and benefits in each of the industries surveyed. These include: production workers in a Salem, Ore., solar plant where the average hourly wage is $22; union plumbers who earn $36 an hour plus full benefits in Portland, Ore.; and workers organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who start at $20 an hour in a cutting-edge San Francisco recycling facility."

The challenge, the IER rightly notes, is to ensure that there are sufficient high-paying jobs and that those jobs are not simply occupied by currently employed job-hopping skilled workers. I can't find anyone who disagrees.

More on the stimulus plan, green job skills and related matters as the week progresses.

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