WASHINGTON D.C. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a press conference call Wednesday to unveil the American Energy Worker Opportunity Act, which would provide critical resources and training opportunities to assist and empower workers whose jobs are affected by the energy industry’s move toward renewable sources.

“We can’t allow the workers who powered our country to be left behind as we adopt new technology and grow the renewable energy sector,” said Sen. Brown. “We know a lot of these workers’ skills translate well to new energy projects – it’s our job to put workers at the center of this transition and all the opportunities that come with it.”

David Bush Jr., the Electrical Superintendent for Davis Pickering’s Solar and Renewables Division was a guest on the conference call. An IBEW electrician, he spoke about his own transition from the oil and gas sector to the solar and renewable energy field. He thinks the legislation would be useful and said he hopes it moves forward.

“Right now we’re at the beginning of this huge transition,” said Bush. “We can accept the change and embrace it and become leaders in the field or we can fight the change and let other people dictate the direction we’re going and I’ve always hated having other people dictate the direction I’m going.”

The bill would create a worker transition program that would provide wage supplements, health care benefits, education and training funds, and an additional education benefit for children of laid-off workers.

“Building back better for Ohio means that we don’t leave any workers or communities behind,” said Lee Geisse, Regional Program Manager for the BlueGreen Alliance in Ohio, a group that endorses the legislation. “This bill will help ensure we are all part of a clean, thriving, and equitable economy. We thank Sen. Brown for his leadership."

It would mean:

  • Help for Eligible workers: eligible workers are those whose employment is terminated from a coal mine, coal-fired power plant, coal transport, or oil refinery, provided that the worker was employed continuously and full time for at least 12 months prior to layoff, with authority for the Secretary to add additional groups of fossil fuel-dependent workforces as employment impacts make it necessary. 
  • Wage supplement: workers will receive wage replacement or supplement in addition to assistance to maintain health benefits and contribute to retirement.
  • Worker education and training: workers will be eligible for grants for allowable education and training up to, and including, a four-year degree.
  • Education for the children of dislocated workers: direct educational grants for the children of dislocated workers deemed eligible by the program for allowable education and training up to, and including, a four-year degree.

“The worker-centered approach of this bill ensures investments in workers, families and communities for a brighter future,” said Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga. “The American Energy Worker Opportunity Act will position working people across Ohio to not only benefit from new energy opportunities but also spur the local economies throughout the Ohio River Valley.”

The proposal would also prioritize employers who plan to hire eligible workers for the clean energy grants created under the Build Back Better plan. It is endorsed by the United Steelworkers, United Mine Workers of America, the AFL-CIO, the Utility Workers Union of America, the BlueGreen Alliance, the National Wildlife Federation, League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund.