Back in April, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ludicrous Green New Deal inspired a group of New York City construction workers to unionize, becoming one of the first unions in the solar power industry. It didn’t last long, though.
On Monday, the union’s employer, Bright Power, decided to fire the whole staff and replace them with subcontractors. All this happened while the union was trying to negotiate for their first contract, too.
“We have come to the conclusion that our resources have been spread too thin with so many different kinds of work all being done in-house,” Jeffrey Perlman, Bright Power CEO, said in a company email, according to Vice. “It makes business sense to return to a fully subcontracted solar installation model.”
Ouch. It was not revealed if the unionizing was the cause, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. The fired workers had been employed by Bright Power for the last four years, and they think the unionizing was the reason behind the sudden cuts.
“This is obviously retaliation for union organizing,” said Chris Schroth, one of the 12 fired by Bright Power. “The total hypocrisy of their progressive mission as a green energy company is disgusting. They did everything that a big bad union busting company does. This is exactly what a coal company or any other evil company does.”
Ocasio-Cortez was quick to back the workers after the news broke, but that should be expected considering her ideas are what may have led to the union in the first place.
“Bright Power must be held accountable,” she said in a tweet Friday.
Many have told me they think the pro-justice & worker provisions in the Green New Deal are “unnecessary.”
Yet this example is why a just transition is vital. Without it, oil barons turn into energy barons, & workers are hurt all the same.
Bright Power must be held accountable. https://t.co/HmP3IOAyzF
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 22, 2019
The firings came during a period of growth for Bright Power. The company, which installs solar panels in many areas of New York City, has been named one of 5,000 of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc. magazine.
But workers weren’t as quick to praise the company, and cited safety concerns as the main reason for wanting to unionize. In 2019, some workers were injured and some also claim that management was forcing employees to work in extreme weather conditions during New York’s brutal winters.
The job is grueling and dangerous as workers traverse tall buildings while handling high voltage equipment.
“We were belittled and ignored,” an anonymous worker told Vice. “They never told us we had to do anything but there was implied punishment if we didn’t.”
All this pushed the workers to unionize with Local 3 in New York after a 75% yes vote back in April.
“Bright Power says it’s progressive and cares about families,” said Raymond Kitson, Bright Power’s representative for Local 3 said. “Yet none of the company’s profits are passed onto any of the workers. Bright Power has sought to undermine the wages and benefits that are standard in this line of electrical work.”
The IBEW contract that the then-intact union was fighting for would have meant workers would earn $56 an hour and receive comprehensive benefits.
“This was some visionary stuff. This was the Green New Deal,” Schroth said. “The people who talk about green jobs aren’t actually in the field. They’re not going to fall off a building and lose their life. But we are. The union wasn’t about Bright Power giving us anything. It was about them respecting the voice of their workers.”
It didn’t work, though, and now the workers are having to walk away with only one week of severance pay.
“This is right out of the playbook of any union busting corporation. They know these men can’t afford to be out of work,” said Kitson. “They’ll make them squabble over a couple week’s severance just so they can make it to Christmas.”