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August 30, 2023

U.S.: Energy Department Aims to Build Quality Jobs Backed by Strong Labor Standards

Mohamed El-Zein

Earlier this year, the Washington, DC chapter of Labor and Employment Relations Association (DC LERA – hosted a roundtable discussion at the Embassy of Sweden with Betony Jones, Director of the Office of Energy Jobs at the U.S. Department of Energy, to discuss the clean energy transition within the Biden Administration. Ms. Jones spoke about the clean energy transition and building better quality jobs backed by strong labor standards and collective bargaining for workers.

Creating green jobs is about creating business and family-supporting opportunities

The Biden Administration's commitment to creating better jobs was on display through the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. These laws demonstrate on the ground to American workers that creating green jobs is about creating business and family-supporting opportunities that relate to climate change and can help American workers in the middle class thrive. The science of climate change and its impact on our world and economy has been marginalized in policy making. However, President Biden and his administration want this green transition to support the American middle class and workers by creating better quality jobs through efficient programs across America.

The role of the Office of Energy Jobs in creating green jobs

Ms. Jones’ work at the Department of Energy centers around how to create quality jobs that promote healthy labor standards, including a fair choice to unionize, and can also lead the U.S. to a net-zero carbon output. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law paved the way for massive investments in climate and energy infrastructure while the Inflation Reduction Act allowed for public funding (i.e., tax credits) to help stimulate investments in advanced manufacturing—making the U.S. a beacon for advanced manufacturing and clean energy companies. The manufacturing and construction industry has been negatively impacted due to COVID-19, and these laws will help make these industries be more stable, resilient and equitable.

Submission of Community Benefits Plans as part of funding applications

To achieve these goals, DOE developed a framework requiring applicants—usually private sector companies-- seeking DOE funds to describe their workforce plans and labor practices when they apply for funding. These private companies create Community Benefits Plans and submit them to DOE as part of their proposals for competitive funding. Community Benefits Plans are based on a set of four core policy priorities: investing in America's workforce; engaging communities and labor (including through project labor agreements); advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility; and implementing Justice 40. These key principles, when incorporated comprehensively into project proposals and executed upon, will help ensure broadly shared prosperity in the clean energy transition.

Applicants for funding create Community Benefits Plans and submit them to DOE for review in order to compete for funds to support the commercialization of particular technologies. Applicants must make commitments to creating quality jobs with a plan for attracting, investing in and retaining the skilled workforce necessary to achieve project success. These plans must focus on relevant workplace issues such as wages and benefits, health and safety, investments in training and affirmative support for worker organizing and collective bargaining. In addition, these plans need to detail efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and access such as providing childcare benefits to get more women in the workplace, ensuring better access for workers who have had trouble within the legal system in the past, supporting pre-apprenticeship programs that allow for access into the middle class without a college degree, and breaking barriers to entry to work for individuals in underserved and marginalized communities. These are examples of pathways for American workers to the middle class.

The implementation of Community Benefits Plans, including through the use of collective bargaining agreements and other legally-enforceable community benefits agreements has enabled proactive outreach from companies to labor unions fostering dialogue and signing MOUs and neutrality agreements, which unions report is unprecedented.

Policies to support economic and energy transition in fossil fuel dependent communities

The discussion raised concerns regarding the transition to clean energy and its effects on well-established communities that have relied heavily on the fossil fuels industry. Ms. Jones emphasized that these policies aim to include, not alienate, these communities and enable them to transition from the traditional energy sector with economic diversification and equally good jobs in the clean energy sector. Some of these clean energy policies are driving investments to fossil fuel dependent communities to support the economic and energy transition.

Historic federal energy investments will help transition the United States into a greener economy through providing direct funding and tax credits for companies to create and sustain just and equitable manufacturing and construction jobs for the American middle class. You can learn more about these programs and other initiatives to create an equitable and just economy for American workers in the hyperlinks below.


Mohamed El-Zein

Research Associate Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office Washington, DC

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