Solar Power Plants Take on Labor Unions

Solar projects are feeling the heat from labor unions, pressuring them into using union workers to build solar farms.

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Solar projects are feeling the heat from labor unions, pressuring them into using union workers to build solar farms. One such company is Ausra, which rejected demands to use only union workers for their plan of building a large solar power plant in California. It faces complaints from the union about the environmental impact the plant has on creatures such as the ferruginous hawk and the kangaroo rat.

Its competitor, BrightSource Energy, also filed plans for a much larger solar plant that can affect the desert tortoise habitat. But the California Unions for Reliable Energy, the same union group that filed complaints against Ausra, is not against the project and instead wants it to be approved as soon as possible. This is because BrightSource has promised to hire labor-friendly contractors for their project.

Developers have raised concerns about union groups pressuring them into signing agreements pledging to use only union labor for their projects. Once they reject the offer, they face demands for unnecessary environmental studies that can delay the project. But if they commit on using labor union, the environmental complaints will not materialize.

Labor unions state that they are only concern about the sustainability of California’s power industry and the impact of such projects on the environment. Their leaders deny that they’re using it as a negotiating tactic.

This is not a new issue for the union group. Even with fossil-fuel power plants, they are accused of pulling the same strong-arm tactic to force companies into signing deals with them. B ill have been considered in the California legislature to bar labor unions from participating in environmental assessments but they were never approved.

The California Unions for Reliable Energy, a group of construction unions, are targeting solar power plants projects, which are being hurried to meet California’s green power goal. Lawyers representing the union negotiate labor agreements, and at the same time participate in the environmental review of proposed projects.

The union insists that they are just concerned with the long-term interests of its members. When solar energy projects maintain their high environmental standards, more will be built in the future and this will mean more jobs for the union.

Environmental groups are worried that the union could delay green energy projects, but most of them are hesitant to publicly criticize the labor unions. The BrightSource Energy project has been scrutinized by environmentalists, but the union has not done anything about it.

Do you think that the unions are concerned about the environment, or are they using environmental issues to force firms into signing deals with them?

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