Fresh off the Women’s March in Washington, New York City and all over the world, people in insurmountable numbers joined the resistance against the hate, prejudice and greed that are at the core of the incoming Trump administration.
These incredible shifts in Washington occupy my mind today, however, I believe that one of the best ways to fight back is to push our cities towards bolder commitments to value women in our society; not just in words, but with action. NYC’s public solar program is one way our city will have the opportunity to deliver. This is why on Monday I will stand with workers and community groups from across the city to smash a piñata in front of CIty Hall representing the anti-labor, anti-environment agenda of the new federal administration. Proactively, right after this action, we will be part of a city council hearing that will be highlighting the need for investment in NYC’s public solar program. We are calling on the city to #Let Justice Shine in the face of climate denial and inequality.
I am a proud member of the I.B.E.W. Local 3, which represents over 29,000 men and women in the electrical industry. I have been a member for the last 10 years, and have spent the majority of my career working with solar PV (photovoltaic) systems. The projects I’ve worked on have played an important role in leading the way towards a transition to renewable energy, including the first “Net-Zero” energy school in our city. At time when many see a bleak future for our communities and our economy, I have witnessed how our neighborhoods and our children can benefit from knowing about how they can conserve and create energy, and can take pride in an institution that was built by trained union workers and women. I am proud of the work I do to make our city greener and healthier, and I am happy to say that more and more women are looking to join this incredibly rewarding field.
In New York state, women make up almost 27 percent of the solar workforce in New York State, but they only make up 8.6% of the total construction workforce. It is great to see that women have made significant inroads into this new construction industry, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. The unionization rate in the solar industry is at 18 percent well below the 33 percent unionization rate of the construction industry as a whole.
This means that many women in the solar workforce do not enjoy the same working conditions that I enjoy as a union member. Being a union member has meant family-sustaining wages, benefits, a safe workplace, and career mobility. These women deserve jobs where they are respected and their labor is valued.
Now don’t get me wrong: I unequivocally stand for high quality jobs for every worker regardless of gender. I work side by side with many hardworking men in the field who deserve the best working conditions too. But solar is a growing part of our economy where women can break new ground in bringing more diversity to the construction industry. So let’s make sure that we don’t let the solar industry become another low road industry in our city. Because it’s one thing for the solar industry to recruit more women within their ranks, but it’s not worth celebrating if women are relegated to low pay and few benefits. We cannot forget that the majority of minimum wage earners in our state are women.
Our city can help lead the way for economic justice for working women, and all working people for that matter, by ensuring that every single public solar project is done with not only the highest labor standards, but also connected to workforce development programs that can train and recruit even more local women and disadvantaged workers for good jobs. The city has committed to installing 100MW of solar on public buildings by 2025, which will translate to work on hundreds and hundreds of buildings throughout the five boroughs in the next decade. But we still need firm and clear commitments on how these projects will directly benefit working people and our communities along the way. The City Council is holding a hearing to investigate how the city achieves not only climate sustainability through solar power, but how are we also seizing opportunities to close the gap on inequality. I will be at the hearing to let the city know just how incredibly important these goals are for workers and our communities, and that we will support them in their efforts to transform the way our city embraces clean energy.
So if the city is looking for ways to fight back against the Trump agenda, I can certainly tip them off on quite a few things we can be doing. How about starting with having a whole bunch of women winning on workers rights while fighting climate change?
Allison Ziogas is a member of IBEW Local 3. See more about this topic in this report from the Climate Works for All Coalition, Restart Solar:How NYC Can Renew Its Solar Program to Benefit Workers and Community