Addressing climate change not only poses a challenge to society, it also offers opportunities to address inequality and strengthen the workforce, Maine labor unions argue.

Unions including the Maine AFL-CIO, electrical workers and teachers will announce Tuesday that they are forming the Maine Labor Climate Council to ensure that union workers play a key role in the work of preparing the state for climate change – and staving off some of the more drastic impacts of a warming planet – while creating a more diverse workforce.

“We really feel that the labor movement has to have a role in this,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO.

The new council, with representatives from about 15 Maine unions, will focus on the work that needs to be done to head off the worst of climate change impacts and deal with a warming planet, he said.

For instance, a report prepared by the Worker Institute at Cornell University says Maine will need at least 25,000 electric vehicle charging stations for the state to meet its goal of 219,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030 – including an all-electric fleet of state vehicles.

Installing and maintaining those charging stations will create dozens of jobs, the report said. It recommends that the state require labor agreements that ensure those jobs are union, as well as give an edge to Maine-based companies that manufacture and service charging stations.


The creation of new industries also could help the state address employment inequality in the state, the report said, by making sure companies hire a diverse workforce.

The report looked at the economic sectors most likely to be affected by climate change and mitigation efforts, the impact of federal infrastructure spending, job creation forecasts and the status of state legislation on a variety of topics, from income inequality to offshore wind power generation.

The efforts to cut carbon emissions and at least stem the increase in global warming range from switching to electric public and school buses to bringing high-speed rail to Maine and requiring more energy-efficient new construction.

If all the recommendations were adopted, it could create 200,000 new jobs in the state over the next two decades, the report said, although the authors concede that they set out very ambitious goals, including a significant increase in development of renewable energy, building thousands of units of energy-efficient affordable housing and retrofitting existing homes to use less energy.

Schlobohm said the AFL-CIO is backing a bill currently before the Legislature that would help establish and support apprenticeship programs to help broaden the pool of workers, and set prevailing wages to make sure new jobs pay well.

The involvement of the teachers’ union, he said, would help efforts to create healthy and safe schools that draw on solar energy, which would save money and create good jobs.


Schlobohm said the unions believe their effort in Maine will be boosted by support at the federal level because President Biden is a strong pro-union president who has backed efforts to address climate change.

Andy O’Brien, communications manager of the Maine AFL-CIO, said the effort can help create a stronger economy and reverse the trend of a shrinking middle class.

“We built a pretty strong middle class going back to the ’50s and ’60s when we built up our manufacturing base,” O’Brien said. “This is kind of rebuilding that strong workforce making family-sustaining wages.”

Schlobohm said the council will work with legislators and policy makers to ensure that labor’s voice is heard in the transition to clean energy jobs.

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