The Dernogalizer

April 20, 2009

Opinion Column Cherry-picks

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 3:37 pm
Tags: , ,

I was shown a very tricky opinion column today written by Brady Yauch of “The Big Money”, a financial news and analysis website.   At the center of Yauch’s column is the notion that maybe green jobs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  That they won’t pay well, will be outsourced, are heavily subsidized, and that green companies fight unionization etc.  Yauch draws his facts from a report called “Good Jobs First” which was written by the Sierra Club, the Laborers International Union of North America, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  I was very interested in where Yauch was getting his facts, I thought it might be from an anti-green think tank, but it wasn’t.  This caused me to actually read the report Yauch was referencing to see how much legitimacy there was to his numbers.  

It turns out Yauch misrepresented this report in some ways.  The point of the report’s authors was to say that while they want green jobs, they think there needs to be investment in green jobs, and that green jobs will benefit the American economy…that we need to be diligent in ensuring that all the new green jobs we are creating are also humane and fair jobs, because there are some examples in green companies not treating their employees well.  This is an important conversation to have, and a very good report to reference.  We do need to make sure we don’t get caught up in the numbers of how many green jobs we are creating, but also to ensure that their quality makes them preferable to other jobs.  Fair and just green jobs are a key piece of making the clean energy economy appeal more to workers than the traditional exploitative fossil fuel based one.  

The issue I take with Yauch is that he ignores averages and medians.  Instead, he pulls the most extreme examples out of the data, otherwards known as statistical outliers.  Let me give you a few examples.  

Yauch says “The report by the D.C.-based labor think tank notes that it’s not uncommon for workers in the green field to earn as little as $8.25 an hour. Wages at a number of wind and solar manufacturers are far lower than those at their more traditional counterparts — falling well below the income levels needed to support a single adult with one child.”

What the report says on pg 4/46…  ” the lowest wage we found was $8.25 an hour at a recycling processing plant”.  Instead of “uncommon” try “lowest”.  This is obviously a problem, and the report notes it as such…that some jobs don’t pay as much as they should.  Yauch of course neglects the next page where the report talks about the brighter side of things… 


We found examples of solid, middle-class jobs across all three industries where significant green job growth is anticipated.   These include:

• Production workers in a Salem, Oregon solar plant where the average hourly wage is $22.

• Union plumbers who earn $36 an hour plus full benefits in Portland, Oregon.

• Workers organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who start at $20 an hour in a cutting-edge San Francisco recycling facility.


Or take this…Yauch says…. “The green jobs initiative gets even stickier when it comes to unions — a major supporter of the Obama administration and his fellow Democrats. The Good Jobs First report noted that few workers at wind and solar jobs were backed by collective bargaining agreements. And in at least two cases, the company leaders were found to have run aggressive anti-union campaigns, aided by union-busting consultants.”

The report acknowledges this, but also says “While many green employers oppose unionization, several of the companies profiled in the report have taken a collaborative approach. Executives for a leading wind energy manufacturer (Gamesa), green developer (Gerding Edlen), and recycler (Norcal) all believe that partnerships with unions have added value and positioned the companies to grow in a green economy that will require new skills and approaches.”  There is no acknowledgement of this by Yauch.

Here’s one last example.  Yauch says of subsidies… “Take United Solar Ovonic as an example. After receiving generous government subsidies amounting to $277,000 for every new job created, the company refused to meet the prevailing wage rule in Battle Creek, Mich., and pay $16 an hour.”  This creates the impression that $277,000 is the norm.  In reality…

“On a per job basis, most of the subsidies range from$10,000 to $60,000, which is not out of line with common economic development practices.  Here are some outliers. United Solar Ovonic’s deal in Battle Creek is not only the largest in absolute terms but its $277,000 per projected job is the second highest on the list by that measure.”  

I highly encourage people to check out the report and compare it to the column.  Yauch makes it sound as though this report is made to dismiss the idea that we should create millions of green jobs.  In reality, the report’s authors explicitly state that this is something we need to do, and it’s something that’s good for business and labor, but only if we make sure it’s done right.  They make a lot of suggestions of how to make sure are jobs are not only green…but also good.  

Yauch needs to show both sides to be considered an honest writer in my book.  He cherry-picked, and I think it’s because of an underlying motive.


1 Comment »

  1. Yauch is a hack and keeps company with a dubious group of libertarian leaning free-marketeers as a part of a pseudo-environmental front group called the Energy Probe Research Foundation, but also goes by a half dozen other names. Reading their work reveals they are anti-renewable energy (primarily because it promotes the role of “big government”) and have called for oil companies to rally and stand-up against their critics. The group is about half a dozen individuals who range from climate skeptics to advocates for water privatization. You have to dig a little and read carefully (as you have) to really put this group in context.

    Comment by Alan Trebel — September 22, 2010 @ 12:26 am | Reply

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