Union Leaders Agree on Need to Rebuild and Reform New York State's Energy System

Union leaders discuss deficiences revealed by Hurricane Sandy
Cornell University: Worker Institute: News: NYS Energy System
Monday, January 7, 2013

The Worker Institute at Cornell convened key energy sector union leaders on Monday, April 15 to discuss the future of New York State's energy system.

Union leaders highlighted the problems with NYS's energy system that were revealed by Hurricane Sandy. They then responded to the feasibility of a complete conversion of NYS's energy system to wind, water and solar by 2030 in order to address the climate crisis. 

The meeting marked the inaugural convening of the Worker Institute's newly launched Project Sandy. This project seeks to amplify labor's voice in the public debate on how to rebuild and restructure New York's energy system to address the climate crisis, meet communities' need for high-quality, affordable energy service, and protect workers' rights and strengthen unions.

John Duffy, Vice President of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), kicked-off the meeting with an alarming account of the problems with New York State's energy system that were revealed by Hurricane Sandy. As a result of Hurricane Sandy, over eight million people lost power, many for weeks. Many New Yorkers continue to deal with substandard electrical service. In a recent white paper on Hurricane Sandy and Con-Edison, the UWUA found that the human infrastructure of New York's energy system has been significantly undermined by a neoliberal approach to energy that prioritizes profits over providing high-quality energy service to the public. The UWUA's report revealed serious deficiencies in Con-Ed's ability to respond to Hurricane Sandy.

John Duffy's remarks on how the human infrastructure of NYS's energy system has been undermined by understaffing, privatization, and lack of investment in the physical infrastructure of the energy system, were echoed by other key leaders of NY's energy unions – Christopher Erikson, Business Manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3, John Murphy, Business Manager, UA Local 1, and Ellen Redmond, International Representative, IBEW.

Emmaia Gelman, Policy Coordinator for the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding (AJR), highlighted some of the main proposals AJR is developing to ensure transparency and accountability in NYS's energy decision making. AJR is a group of over 70 labor, community, faith and environmental organizations working to ensure Sandy Relief funds are distributed in a just and equitable way. They do this by lifting up affected communities and workers to have a voice in the process. Low-income communities of color were disproportionately affected by Hurricane Sandy. Some 402 public housing buildings, 35,000 units, were damaged by Hurricane Sandy – more public housing than exists in the any other place in the U.S.

Professor Robert Howarth, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, began the second part of the meeting with a report on a new study examining the potential to completely transition NYS's energy system to wind, water, and solar by 2030; the report was co-authored by Howarth and several others, including Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University. Responding to the need to rapidly decarbonize NYS's energy system, Vincent Alvarez, President of the NYC Central Labor Council and James Slevin, Vice President of the UWUA Local 1-2, acknowledged the importance of workers and the labor movement stepping up to the challenge of climate change. In fact, they noted that this challenge presents an opportunity for labor to grow and strengthen in the U.S. According to Jacobson's 2030 wind, water, solar plan, 4.5 million new jobs will be created during construction of a renewables-based energy system as well as 58,000 permanent jobs.  

Project Sandy is a multi-dimensional research, education and policy initiative that aims to develop and amplify labor's voice in the public debates on how to build a sustainable, low-carbon and equitable energy system in NYS.

The Worker Institute at Cornell, launched in September 2012, is a broad forum for research and education on contemporary labor issues. The Worker Institute believes strengthening the labor movement and workers' voice is a core element of a muscular democracy and a socially just, sustainable society.