Labor policies for communities in transition

Woman in business attire and hard hat in a factory

This fourth report in a joint research series by EDF and Resources for the Future examines U.S. federal labor programs and policies that can support fossil fuel workers through the energy transition.

The overwhelming majority of power plant and mine closures occur with very little proactive planning or training to ensure workers can find new, high-quality, local jobs. As the energy transition accelerates, driven by low-cost clean energy and an urgent need to tackle the climate crisis, federal policy can help safeguard fossil fuel workers with strong labor protections and find new quality job opportunities through workforce development services.

This report explores two key types of federal labor policies: 1) workforce development policies, which cover career services, job training, financial support, research and ancillary services such as childcare; and 2) labor standards to ensure fair compensation and benefits, unionization, occupational safety and transition assistance.

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Key findings

Our analysis on the role of workforce development and labor standards for workers in transition reveals several key insights for policymakers:

  1. Providing an accessible and centralized way to deliver resources and ensuring effective coordination are essential for successful workforce development programs. Creating an integrated, “one-stop” hub for workers where the federal government pools resources, known as centralized service delivery, is a key feature of major existing U.S. workforce development programs, like the network of local American Job Centers operated by the Department of Labor. Workforce development programs should be coordinated with other education and economic development efforts to ensure that program participants — especially workers in transition — can easily access the many programs designed to help them.
  2. Tailoring and targeting workforce training programs can improve outcomes for workers in transition. Evidence shows that workforce training programs are more successful when they are tailored to the specific needs of local economies, rely on local partnerships, and involve local stakeholders in decision-making. Likewise, targeting workforce training to specific populations can enable more effective delivery of federal resources to the communities that need it.
  3. Supplemental, or “wrap-around,” supports that are offered alongside workforce development programs, such as child care for workers in career training, may be especially important conditions for success. These services can reduce barriers to using workforce development programs and improve their effectiveness, making it more likely that displaced fossil fuel workers get the resources they need to find new, high-quality jobs.
  4. Federal labor standards are important in a just transition — not only to provide immediate protections for workers, but also to undergird a resilient economy and ensure new job opportunities are of high quality. There is extensive literature showing that labor standards promote economic productivity and growth, and can help economies avoid and recover from economic shocks.

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