As members of the Maine Building and Construction Trades Unions we were disappointed to read Staff Writer Tux Turkel’s recent article in the Maine Sunday Telegram, quoting certain non-union construction contractors falsely claiming that they will be “shut out” of the renewable-energy industry if quality labor standards are required on large-scale wind and solar projects.

Chris Wissemann of New England Aqua Ventus speaks at a news conference in Portland on April 7, where an agreement with the Maine Building and Construction Trades Council was announced. “We are … excited to partner to build the floating offshore wind industry in Maine with a highly skilled local workforce and good-quality jobs,” John Napolitano writes. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

It’s become clear that climate instability and economic inequality are two of the most serious challenges facing humanity. We know that the Earth is rapidly warming, which is causing a dramatic increase in droughts, heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes and other extreme weather events as well as increased sea-level rise. The Gulf of Maine is also heating up faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, threatening the iconic lobster industry. At the same time, inequality of wealth, income, opportunity and power is growing. For working Mainers, inequality translates to stagnant wages while the costs of food, housing, health care, education and other basic necessities steadily rise.

Our response to the climate crisis must be swift, comprehensive and bold. It also must address the inequality crisis through the creation of high-quality jobs with rigorous training and career pathways, collective bargaining rights and opportunities for a diverse workforce. As a state we have to decide what kind of clean, low-carbon economy we build together: Is it a clean-energy, low-carbon economy based on low-wage jobs, or a high-road, low-carbon economy based on good-paying, good-benefit jobs? We’re working hard to build that high-road economy where we train skilled Maine workers and put them to work in good-paying jobs building a renewable-energy economy. This is the path advocated in Maine Won’t Wait, our state’s four-year climate action plan, which calls for the creation of high-quality jobs through “strategies that pair job quality standards with clean energy investments … including project labor agreements, community benefit agreements … and registered apprenticeship utilization.”

For our response to climate change to be viable, durable and just, we must make the jobs of the emerging sectors of the renewable-energy economy – solar, wind and others – as good as the fossil fuel jobs people work in today. That’s why we are so excited to partner to build the floating offshore wind industry in Maine with a highly skilled local workforce and good-quality jobs.

A project labor agreement is one policy to help achieve this goal. Project labor agreements are project management tools that allow developers, unions and contractors to come together to ensure a highly skilled workforce on a project so that it can be done on time and under budget. They ensure that developers use skilled labor, pay living wages with benefits and adhere to proper labor and job quality standards. Project labor agreements are also a great benefit to both major corporations and workers because they ensure benefits to workers and the community while guaranteeing that complex projects are completed quickly.

Contrary to the arguments of some, any contractor can bid on project-labor-agreement jobs, and non-union contractors sometimes win these bids. Project labor agreements do, however, discourage low-road contractors from underbidding more reputable contractors by cutting corners and using low-skilled labor.

Project labor agreements also advance economic and racial justice by creating career opportunities for historically marginalized people. The Maine Legislature is considering a bill (L.D. 1231) that would not only encourage project labor agreements on large-scale renewable-energy projects, but also develop a diverse workforce and hire people traditionally underrepresented in these jobs – Native Americans, people of color, women, veterans, individuals with traditional barriers to employment and Mainers from areas with higher rates of poverty.

We have a wonderful opportunity to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, build new industries like offshore wind, create thousands of quality jobs, transform our economy and build a skilled workforce of the 21st century. Project labor agreements are one of many tools in our tool belt to help make that dream a reality.

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