Are Green Jobs Good Paying Jobs?

During an address to Congress last month, President Obama said, “To truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.” In other words, we need a “green” economy. However, will the jobs created by the greening of the economy be “good” jobs?
The pay rate for green jobs varies, according to a recently released study, High Road or Low Road: Job Quality in the New Green Economy by Good Jobs First. The pay rates at many wind and solar manufacturing plants is lower than wages at other manufacturing industries. However, some companies pay decent wages, such as a plant in Salem, Oregon where average hourly wage is $22, or a recycling plant in San Francisco where workers start at $20 an hour.

The study recommends ten ways to make sure that the jobs created in the coming green economy are good jobs:
1. Attach self sufficiency wage requirements to subsidies.
The job quality standard most commonly attached to subsidies is requiring workers employed by recipient company be paid a certain rate. Usually the rates are based on the federal poverty line, minimum wage rates, or market-based wages. However, poverty levels remain low and “result in sub-par pay levels,” and minimum wage levels have remained stagnant. Market-based wages standards are not always adequate in an economically depressed area or in a low-wage service sector industry. Instead, state and local governments need to “backstop the market-based wage rates with a living wage.”
2. Strengthen prevailing wage requirements.
The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 requires private contractors on public works projects to pay its workers at a level consist with market rates. However, nine states have repealed their prevailing wage laws, but other states extended theirs to any project that receives government money. Contractors should be required to report payrolls to the federal government.
3. Adopt the best value contracting.
Traditionally government contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder which means that companies that underpay workers get contracts. The Best Value Contracting (BVC) is an alternative approach which recognizes the need to consider performance and cost.
4. Expand the use of project labor agreements.
Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are agreements between contractors and unions over public construction projects. They establish wage rates, benefits and other employment conditions.
5. Add labor criteria to LEED standards.
Presently, LEED rating systems do not consider labor practices. The U.S. Green Building Council needs to add labor criteria to the LEED system.
6. Build community campaigns.
Public pressure is needed to reform regulatory systems.
7. Use clawbacks to enforce job quality standards.
Job quality standards, once in place, need to be enforced through the clawback, which would require companies that receive government money to repay if they fail to meet job standards.
8. Use web-based disclosure.
Transparency is another way to ensure standards are met.
9. Use domestic sourcing to buy American.
Companies that receive federal money for green projects should purchase products, for the projects, that are manufactured in the U.S.
10. Pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
The Employee Free Choice Act, introduced in the Senate this week, would provide a “fair and direct” way for unions to achieve “majority sign-up” and “strengthen penalties for violations of workers’ rights.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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