Democrats, unions and environmental groups are pushing back on the notion that jobs in the clean energy sector are inherently worse for workers, while acknowledging conditions and wages need to improve.
The effort comes as President Joe Biden visits Michigan in support of UAW workers on Tuesday and former President Donald Trump is expected to skip the second Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday and instead head to the state, where he will hold a rally in an attempt to court striking auto workers.
United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain and Michigan Democrats said Trump was not welcome on the picket line, but Trump said he wished to speak to workers that are being “sold down the river” by their union’s leadership.
Among Trump’s criticisms is that the UAW is not taking a stronger stance against electric vehicles, arguing that these jobs will be lower quality and that the administration is choosing the opportunity to reduce emissions over workers’ pay.
Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Ted Cruz of Texas have also used the strike as an opportunity to renew their criticism of the administration’s EV policies, which includes the goal that half of all new cars sold by the end of the decade are zero-emission models.
Automakers are in the midst of a massive transition to electric vehicles and other zero-emission models. While many announced voluntary goals of their own prior to Biden’s election, the shift is encouraged in part through federal tax credits included in last year’s climate, tax and health care reconciliation law known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
Supporters of the transition say the issue at the moment is not one of job quantity. Job growth in zero-emission vehicles has significantly outpaced internal combustion engine vehicles, according to a report released this month by the nonpartisan business group E2. While the gas and diesel powered vehicle industry grew by 1.6 percent last year, the electric vehicle industry grew by 26.8 percent.
Amid the transition, the UAW has expressed concerns that many of the jobs at these new facilities offer lower pay and fewer benefits to workers compared with jobs manufacturing internal combustion engines.
Jason Walsh, executive director of the coalition of labor unions and environmental advocacy groups known as the BlueGreen Alliance, said the issue applies across the clean energy sector, where emerging technologies typically have lower rates of unionization.
He cited Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing that the annual wage of the fossil fuel electric power generation industry is over $96,000, while solar and wind were roughly $64,000.
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