Very often the fossil fuel industry and its allies try to separate climate activists from blue-collar workers, as if our interest in a habitable planet where we can earn enough money to feed our families isn’t shared. one way or another. But from my own history, I know that is not the case.
I was born in Gillette, Wyoming, in one of the greatest mining regions in the world. I’ve spent my entire adult life working “in the field,” so to speak. My very first industrial job was working for a company called Cotter in my hometown of Canon City, Colorado. At its height between 1958 and 1979, and intermittently since then, including when I worked there, it was a yellowcake uranium processing facility. It is now a Superfund site.
After that, I moved into the scrap metal recycling industry, where I stayed for most of my adult life. There I worked on everything from disused coal wagons to everyday refrigerators. Over the years I have had to clean many vehicles that had just been shredded for scrap, which still had a lot of contaminants inside. Working conditions have never been favourable. My salaries were always lower than those of most of my male counterparts. Sometimes I was not treated equally, despite my skills in my field. And as a woman, I also faced countless sexist remarks and gender discrimination at work.
Six years ago, I started in a new industry that required my skills as a heavy equipment operator: renewable energies. My first job was at a solar field under construction next to the Commanche coal-fired power plant in Pueblo, Colorado. Since then, I have followed the renewable energy industry around the country, working on solar and wind installation projects.
Although I have a career to be proud of, things are still far from ideal. I am one of tens of thousands of voiceless renewable energy workers at work. Salaries are still insufficient. Working conditions mostly depend on Mother Nature, but could be better in some cases. And many of my colleagues have it even worse than me. While I have a permanent position, they jump from job to job without health insurance, sleeping in their car waiting for daily allowance checks to arrive. Things could certainly be vastly improved for those of us who have dedicated our lives to traveling for the construction of renewable power plants.
Without skilled and hardworking renewable energy workers, there can be no transition from fossil fuels to renewables. We are vital but ignored, in large part because 40 years of corporate power have drastically reduced union membership and made it nearly impossible for workers to organize. To get to where we need to go, we need to evolve the industry to match that of the auto and steel industries at their peak, with wages and benefits to match those good union positions. of the time.
Despite the challenges we face at work, we are optimistic about the possibility of a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Those of us who are members of the new US-based Green Worker Alliance come together to share stories, strategize on best practices, fight workplace harassment, share bargaining tips and fend off broken promises. And we collaborate and learn from our friends in the climate justice movement.
At this critical moment in the fight for our planet, the Green Workers Alliance joins the coalition of progressive forces demanding bold climate action at the federal level. We also hold those who control the energy grid – the utility giants – accountable for ensuring that clean energy workers receive compensation comparable to well-paying oil and coal jobs as they massively increase their production. renewable energy.
All my life – from my job at the uranium mill to my time in the scrap metal recycling industry – I have witnessed firsthand the ravages of the destruction of our environment. I am grateful that over the past six years I have been able to play a part in reducing our human footprint on the planet. Now I join my colleagues in demanding that our national leaders remember that clean energy is built by those of us who are willing to climb a wind tower, spend hours outside in bad weather, installing panels sunglasses or climbing someone’s roof. We deserve to have the resources to take care of our families while taking care of the planet.