Labor, community and environmental organizations are organizing to make sure the $113.5 billion the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides for clean energy is used most effectively and that workers are ready to meet the new challenges.

“In both the scale of the spending directed to clean energy and good jobs programs and in its specific goals, the stimulus bill reflects years of work by the national Apollo Alliance coalition of labor, environmental, business and social justice organizations,” the Alliance said on its web site.

Calling the bill’s provisions “the largest investment in clean energy development in our history,” Apollo Alliance chair Phil Angelides added that the measure represents “only the start of the economic transformation” needed to ensure prosperity and provide “good family-supporting, green-collar jobs.”

Included in the Recovery Act: $34 billion to improve energy efficiency, $17.7 billion to modernize and expand transit systems, $7.9 billion for renewable energy development, nearly $11 billion to modernize and expand the electric grid, and over $29 billion for roads and bridges, most of which is expected to go for repairing existing infrastructure. Some $500 million is earmarked for green jobs training.

The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department and its new Center for Green Jobs said last month they are beefing up training to develop the skilled workforce needed for a clean energy future and to provide new opportunities for workers who have faced barriers to employment.

One facet of that effort is the training of current building trades workers in “green skills.” The California Federation of Labor and California Building and Construction Trades Council announced recently they will administer $1.2 million in state funds to prepare workers for the shift, and to help keep California competitive in green economic development.

“A lot of changes are happening in the kinds of materials that are used, the kinds of building standards that are shifting to green,” Tim Rainey, head of the Labor Federation’s department of workforce development, said in a telephone interview.

Initially the program will involve over 1,000 workers at six training sites in different parts of the state. Plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, sheet metal and iron workers will be among the first participants, Rainey said, but the program will grow to include laborers, operating engineers and others. Federal funds through the stimulus bill will also help expand the training.

“A very important piece of this is making sure that contractors are bidding on green work,” he added. “You can’t simply train people for green economy jobs that don’t exist; we have to make sure the jobs are there.”

Another facet of the Recovery Act is making sure the flood of new funding is used as effectively as possible. The newly formed California Green Stimulus Coalition has set forth principles to make sure the new jobs are high quality and projects are as green and as consistent with environmental justice standards as possible.

The coalition of nearly 30 organizations includes the California Labor Federation and Building Trades Council along with the Apollo Alliance, Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. It aims “to make sure the stimulus money that comes to California is used in as equitable and as green a way as possible,” said Nwamaka Agbo, policy director for the Ella Baker Center’s Green Collar Jobs Campaign.

“Working with different groups like labor to address the need for high standards and quality jobs, working with environmental organizations to make sure the projects have low, if any, impact on the environment, working with community-based organizations to make sure there are community benefit agreements — that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Coalition members are pooling their expertise in energy, transportation, workforce development, water, parks and open space, and meeting with legislators and their staff, because funds are expected to be transmitted both to specific agencies and through legislative channels.

Among the coalition’s priorities are fixing existing infrastructure and investing in public transit, she said. Another objective is making sure the funding benefits communities that historically have been left behind and provides training and jobs for people with barriers to employment.

“As much as we need to invest in programs that are ready to go now,” Agbo said, “we also need to look long-term, because we will need a workforce to maintain and further develop the roads, the solar energy, the energy efficiency work that is done with the stimulus money.”

mbechtel @ pww.org

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