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A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a time.

Labor unions form new group to combat climate change in Maine

Downeaster.-Photo-by-Jill-Brady-1280x720.jpg
Jill Brady
/
via Maine Monitor
Amtrak's Downeaster train from Boston to Brunswick.

Labor unions in Maine say they have a lot of ideas on how the state can combat climate change and create clean energy jobs.

More than a dozen unions have created a new Maine Labor Climate Council, which they officially launched Tuesday. The unions say Maine has an opportunity to tackle climate change, the economic fallout from the pandemic and income inequality all at once.

The unions partnered with Cornell University to study climate change and have set 11 goals for creating clean-energy jobs in Maine.

They recommend Maine build high-speed rail service to Bangor, install 25,000 public electric vehicle charging stations by 2030, and retrofit half of all residential units around the state with more energy efficient materials.

They also suggest installing solar panels at Maine's K-12 schools and electrifying school and city buses.

Cynthia Phinney, president of Maine AFL-CIO, said the recommendations could generate 10,000-to-20,000 jobs per year for the next two decades in Maine, depending on how far the state takes them.

"As we create a roadmap to transition to a planet-sustaining economy, we see the opportunities to create good jobs that help end that economic divide," she told reporters Tuesday. "As the transition will impact what works get done and how it will get done, we see the necessity of bringing labor's voice to the center of plans to transition."

Mike Frager, a bus driver for the City of Portland and the vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 714, said Maine needs to expand public transportation routes and invest in more electric vehicles. Workers, he said, have the best ideas on how to make those investments successful.

"We're the eyes and ears on the ground who will keep the new electric buses running smoothly in Maine's cold winters and on our salty roads," Frager said. "We know best how to expand our transit system so that quality jobs will keep our kids in Maine."

The new council has met with members of Gov. Janet Mills' administration, said Matt Schlobohm, the council's new executive director. The council's report dovetails nicely with the goals outlined in the governor's "Maine Won't Wait" action plan, he added.

"The piece that we really bring to the table is a laser focus on how do we advance job quality standards and equity in these jobs that will be coming online," Scholbohm said. "To date, a lot of the renewable energy jobs in Maine and across the country have been OK jobs, pretty meager benefits in some places, and comparatively with fossil fuels, not the same level of quality jobs. We need to raise that up. We have a tremendous opportunity, but it only happens if we attach job quality standards, if we attach training requirements and we organize workers in these sectors."

Members of the new climate council include the Maine AFL-CIO, the Maine Education Association and the Maine Service Employees Association, among others.

Phinney said the new council will launch a targeted campaign this spring, which will urge the state to invest in carbon-free schools and buildings.

Note: Most of Maine Public's news staff are represented by the MEA.