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Texas Democrats ask U.S. government to prioritize union workplaces for clean energy funds

Office of Representative Joaquin Castro

The Texas Democratic congressional delegation, led by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, submitted a letter last week that called on the U.S. Department of Energy to prioritize federal funds for hydrogen energy development for union businesses.

The federal government is spending billions of dollars on the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs Program, which, the letter said, will involve hydrogen production, delivery, processing, storage, and end-use and create jobs.

Businesses who want a piece of the funding must apply for it, and the letter laid out several things the Texas Democrats want the DOE to consider when doling out the funds.

They include “written confirmation” from businesses that they will offer good paying union jobs, a “signed community workforce agreement with participating Texas labor organizations and disadvantaged community groups,” a “written labor peace agreement” as workers decide whether to form unions, and a “written plan for existing unionized fossil fuel workers to transition into unionized hydrogen jobs.”

Texas AFL-CIO president Rick Levy, who spoke in support of the letter in a press release from the Texas Democratic delegation, said with the recent passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and all of its funding for clean energy infrastructure development, workers have a narrow window of opportunity.

“This is the moment, and this is where we’re setting the course for these industries for decades and even generations to come,” Levy said. “And that is why we are so committed to putting the resources in to make this happen, because this is going to shape the future for a long, long time. And if we miss this boat, we’re going to be swimming for a long time.”

Levy said one of the reasons creating union clean energy was so important to him was that it offered unionized fossil fuel workers a way to retain high-quality, good-paying jobs as that industry eventually winds down.

“They know the world is changing under their feet. They see evidence of it every day,” he said. “And what they need to understand is that there is a path forward.”

He said one of the problems with how the clean energy industry is currently run is that it lacks unions — meaning low-wage jobs are pervasive.

“The solar industry is plagued with low-road employers, contingent employment, just a transitory workforce,” Levy said. “So when somebody tells [fossil fuel workers]: ‘Hey you don’t need to work in your refinery where you get $40 an hour and benefits and union protection, you can go be a solar installer and make $12.25 an hour and get 1099’ed or whatever,’ no, they’re not going to be interested in that.”

But, he added, if these jobs become unionized — which he and the Texas Democratic delegation say the federal government could incentivize if it prioritizes funding union workplaces — they could be just as good as the fossil fuel jobs that currently exist.

Levy said the clean energy revolution is coming, whether or not Texas politicians and workers want it to. The only question is whether Texas will be in the vanguard or left in the past.

“If you have leaders that run away from that responsibility, and are just kind of doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry, and not engaging in a proactive way to shape the future and have Texas continue to be the energy capital of the world, then we’re not,” Levy said. “We’re going to lose out.”

Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Josh Peck