TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—A report submitted this week on local labor and sustainable jobs calls for a universal requirement for developers to utilize local laborers in their projects receiving financial assistance in the form of tax abatements from the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency. 

The report, called the Green Workforce Report, was prepared by the Tompkins County Climate and Sustainable Energy Advisory Board and submitted to the county on Monday for discussion. It focused on jobs in three main sectors: building trades, energy and transportation, reasoning that those are the sectors most primarily responsible for greenhouse gas emissions currently. It left the door open for further analysis of other prominent industries, such as agriculture. 

The central thrust of the report, which you can read in full here, is that if Tompkins County is indeed serious about combating harmful emissions, it must utilize an approach that focuses on developing a skilled workforce and creating “green jobs.” Here, those jobs are defined as jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits which are aimed at beating back the climate crisis in an equitable manner and protecting the environment through harm minimization. Workers and activists rallied in support of the report’s recommendations on Monday

A pillar of the report, stated early on, is to use a wave of green jobs as a cudgel against inequality. Thus, the report advocates for not only making the jobs attractive economically, but targeting them at “communities that face barriers to employment,” namely formerly incarcerated people, LGBTQ+, women, people of color, veterans, Indigenous people and people who already have low income. Acknowledging that those communities traditionally do not have a large presence in the trades profession, the report includes a suggestion that training and pre-apprenticeship programs be focused on them. 

“Hiring practices, interview styles, job qualifications, job training affordability and location accessibility, industry reputation, workplace culture and the job experiences that influence retention all contribute to whether people of color and women are applying to or lasting in green jobs,” it states. “We must work to make inclusion central to these workplace practices.”

The establishment of a Green Jobs Training and Diversity Council, one of the overarching recommendations of the report, would seem to go hand-in-hand with the aforementioned diversity mission. Theoretically, that would feature significant input by the Building Trades Council and Tompkins Cortland Community College, particularly in the leadership of a “green work readiness” program that would provide a framework for people about to go into on-the-job training. 

Further, the council would work to secure grant funding to help training programs, develop the program’s curriculum, ensuring cooperation with the state for existing apprenticeship programs and more. Boosting enrollment at TC3, and providing more avenues to attract grant funding to the school, would be one of the ancillary benefits of the program, the report posits. 

Otherwise, the report also dives into a recommendation for a potential local labor policy with the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, which would make development projects employ a certain percentage of its workforce from local labor unions. To start, it suggests that local labor organizations, namely the Building Trades Council, be given a seat on the IDA to provide a stronger presence in labor discussions and decisions and tax abatement awarding. After laying out an extensive justification, the report recommends that 100 percent of all project workers be local (defined as living in Tompkins County or a contiguous county), with the possibility of a waiver. The developer would get one warning and have 10 days to either provide proof of an exception or fix a violation; if it remains unfixed, financial assistance for the project would be suspended. 

“Hiring locally both keeps money in our local economy and enables local green workers to reap the benefits of our energy transition,” reads the report. “While the TCIDA has long encouraged applicants to hire locally, in practice this has occurred inconsistently.”

Since there are a finite number of available workers in an area at a given time, developers may submit a waiver request if they are unable to find enough local union workers to sufficiently staff their project. 

The report stops short of requesting a requirement for project labor agreements for all projects and does issue some warnings about potential pitfalls that have come with instituting them, citing a PLA policy in Yonkers in New York City that seemed to stymie interest in new construction projects while developers waited out the policy’s one-year time limit. It does recommend implementing a PLA requirement for any project that is estimated to cost over $7 million to construct. 

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com