CONCLUSION: MAJOR FINDINGS AND LESSONS
This report would not have been possible without the workers, advocates, and Indigenous leaders who shared their stories and insights into how to stop the pattern of leaving workers and communities behind. Their lived experiences—through unjust transitions, pandemics, and tremendous grief and loss—are an important testimony to what happens during economic transitions. As we stated at the beginning of this report, transitions are about more than just jobs, they are about people and the trauma that remains from being abandoned by workplaces and the government. As we face the enormity of the climate crisis, we must find a way to come together, build power, and ensure the energy transition is just. As one union member stated:
So, this study, this conversation is important. Having everybody at the table is important. We cannot be so angry with the way things are that we’re unwilling to listen to everybody’s perspective. We can’t be such die-hard labor activists that we completely ignore the plight of the environmentalist, and the same, you know, vice versa, that we care so much about the Earth that we want to not have people working, because we have to find a solution to work together.
This report is more than testimonials, it is a call to action. The window for reducing emissions to the level required to stop the worst impacts of climate change is closing and there is no time to waste. This urgency, however, does not mean that workers and communities must bear the cost and burden of emissions reduction alone. As noted throughout this report, transition does not have to be unjust; it is made unjust through poor policies and a lack of support.
Providing displaced workers with economic support, training, and retraining opportunities, and creating good, union jobs can protect workers while we reduce emissions. Ensuring jobs created in the low-carbon economy are available to all workers, especially those historically excluded from the fossil-fuel economy, and honoring and centering Indigenous communities is fundamental to a just transition. Furthermore, supporting communities through tax revenue replacement and seeding new industries reverses the past model of leaving towns and cities to slowly wither away.
To this end, we provide detailed recommendations based on findings from our interviews. These recommendations are presented below in three categories: recommendations for policymakers, recommendations for advocates, and recommendations for future research.
- Transitions are inevitable and constantly happening across the economy. Past transitions, driven by market forces, corporate entities, and shortsighted public policies left workers and communities largely behind with little to no support.
- The existing transitional policies are fragmented and inadequate, leading to the destruction of human capital as well as deep resentment and opposition to social and environmental policies
- Workers and community members from all regions of the country are suffering from an historic decline and lack of access to opportunities. Many also face the threat of losing opportunities in the near future. The COVID-19 pandemic and persistent structural racism and wealth inequality have exacerbated these realities. People affected by past unjust transitions are reacting harshly to climate action and policy, creating tensions between labor, community and environmental movements that often erupt into open conflicts.
- Individual and collective understandings of transitions range widely according to type of work, class, gender, race, age, political ideology, previous experiences with environmentalists or the climate justice movement, and relationships with unions and the community.
- Just transitions in any sector require both targeted short-term and proactive long-term policies.
- In the inevitable energy transition some, but not all, fossil-fuel workers will be employed in the renewable energy sector.
- Plans for supporting workers and communities in the transition away from fossil fuels must attend to local conditions and be rooted in the needs and aspirations of workers, unions, and disproportionately impacted communities.
Building on the themes of Go Big, Go Wide, and Go Far, we have drawn further recommendations from our interviews, and present them in three categories: recommendations for policymakers, recommendations for advocates, and recommendations for future research.
Recommendations for Policymakers
- Address immediate impacts of crises and transitions. This includes:
- Immediately pass a robust relief plan to support workers and communities suffering from a transition, economic or otherwise. The relief should include recurring direct payments until the economy has recovered, and any investment should be in low-carbon sectors and not double down on the fossil fuel economy of the past.
- Protecting displaced workers through a comprehensive set of policies appropriate for their circumstances, including wage replacement, alternative and comparable employment, health insurance coverage, relocation support, childcare, and pension and retirement contributions. Policies should also cover clerical, seasonal, and part-time workers impacted by the transition.
- Creating and expanding government rapid response teams in every state to address job displacement and mass layoff situations, such as the Rapid Response Team in Massachusetts or the Transition Center in the Lordstown auto plant shutdown. Transitional services should extend to spouses and include mental health support, retraining opportunities, relocation, childcare services, and assistance from caseworkers who can help people consider career pathways, available resources, and how to access them.
- Provide bridge funding for localities where the public sector is affected by the withdrawal of fossil-fuel tax revenues.
- Invest in long-term equitable economic transformation. This includes:
- Any decision-making bodies should include all affected parties including workers, Tribal, environmental justice, communities.
- Creating dedicated and robust funding to support transition efforts, including a Just Transition Fund.
- Expanding the Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA) to include climate and other dislocations. Increase program funding and benefits, and open eligibility as widely as possible.
- Seeding new sustainable industry growth in historically underserved regions, in addition to traditional fossil-fuel regions. This could be accomplished through legislation in the vein of the Green New Deal to create substantial numbers of new, high-quality low-carbon jobs and build significant low-carbon infrastructure. Any program must ensure Indigenous, marginalized, and disproportionately impacted communities have access to all economic opportunities and be protected from projects that degrade their living conditions.
- Targeting investment and procurement to under-resourced regions and urban areas to prepare them for the economy of the future, including broadband access expansion, public transit buildout, and repairing essential infrastructure such as drinking water systems.
- Ensuring that any federally funded projects advance equity by prioritizing the creation of quality domestic jobs which include targeted hiring of workers from historically marginalized communities and those displaced from the fossil-fuel industry. Such projects should ensure prevailing wages and Project Labor Agreements when possible, training and advancement opportunities, labor neutrality agreements, and promote and monitor affirmative action goals.
- Supporting community-based efforts to bring diverse interests together to reimagine transitioning regions. Include labor, environmental justice, tribal and community groups in decision making and oversight processes, such as the process that led to Colorado’s Office of Just Transition, as well as in the implementation of transition plans envisioned by Washington State’s Initiative 1631.
- Strengthening and expanding social protections, including universal access to health insurance and decoupling from employer-based health coverage, childcare, and increasing the living wage. Further, the government should serve as employer of last resort, ensuring a decent job for any person who seeks gainful employment. A new job in the waiting is typically the best transition plan.
- Protect the right to organize. Pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act so workers in all industries can have a voice on the job and bargain collectively with their employers.
- Subject all energy and infrastructure projects to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent when they involve Indigenous lands.
- Incorporate sustainability in every step of the transition process, from protection of pristine space to resource extraction through to waste management, including recycling.
Recommendations for Labor and Movement Organizations
- Labor unions, workers’ rights organizations, and advocacy organizations should build cross-movement relationships by forming labor-climate-community roundtables, networks and/or committees at the state and/or local levels to build and sustain genuine personal and political relationships over time.
- Labor unions should establish or expand any pre-existing environmental and climate committees, task forces, or other entities that can develop and deploy educational programs for members on issues of climate change; social, economic, and environmental justice; and just transition.
- Environmental and other advocacy organizations should create labor committees to develop and deploy educational programs on issues of labor, job quality standards, and just transition.
- Labor unions should adopt environmental and climate policy concerns as part of their advocacy agendas, and community organizations should adopt the right to organize and the promotion of strong labor standards as part of their advocacy agendas.
- All organizations should create more mentorship and leadership development opportunities, especially for women, people of color, Indigenous people, and immigrants.
Recommendations for Future Research
- Identify where fossil-fuel activity is occurring, such as fossil-fuel power plants and extraction sites, the timeline for drawing down these activities, and the workforce and economic impact of this drawdown. This data can help workers and communities plan proactively for transition ahead of closure, rather than dealing with the situation reactively once a closure has been announced.
- Analyze the environmental, social and labor practices of the emerging clean energy sector. A just green transition requires a clean energy sector with high standards and long-term provisions to prevent future unjust transitions.
- Review past and ongoing transitions in order to identify promising policies/practices, with particular attention to those treating workers and communities as a whole (and not only as economic entities) while erasing any patterns of marginalization.
- As noted, the energy transition is only one transition. Additional research is needed on ongoing sectoral transitions that will require just transitions, such as automation, digitalization, hybrid working, and health care.