Labor goes green: Electrical union, tire company shift plans toward environment

Tim Landis

A wind turbine that began churning out electricity for the Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative at Auburn this spring was assembled from components manufactured around the globe.

Everywhere that is but the USA.

“The tower came from Mexico, the generator came from China, the blades were made in Germany and France,” said Dana Smith with RECC. He added that the engineer for the project came from Holland, and most of the technicians who made sure the turbine was ready to spin came from Iowa.

Iowa is one of the leading states for wind energy.

Co-op officials point out it was not by choice that equipment for the turbine at Farmersville was purchased overseas. At the time the equipment was ordered about three years ago, there were no domestic alternatives.

President Barack Obama used Earth Day this year to highlight his contention that 5 million “green jobs” can be created in the next decade by pushing for domestic production of solar, wind and other alternative-energy technology.

Last month, the president visited a former Maytag manufacturing plant in Newton, Iowa, that has been converted to production of wind towers.

Ever so slightly, that shift has begun, say local manufacturers, labor unions and elected officials, citing initiatives such as a green-jobs training program planned for a new union hall in Springfield and a Jacksonville company selected as one of the first in the nation for a new generation of green tractor-trailer tires that promise to increase fuel efficiency for over-the-road rigs.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 193 has begun construction of a new administrative office and training center at 3150 Wide Track Drive, just off Dirksen Parkway, in response to green trends in energy and job training, said business manager David Burns. The local represents about 800 workers in nine area counties.

“We just think that the green concept is more than right around the corner. It’s here,” Burns said.

In addition to use of geothermal heating and cooling, the solar panels on the roof are expected to provide most of the building’s electrical needs. Long-term plans are to add a wind turbine. Once the new hall is completed, the existing hall will be demolished to make way for green space, including landscaping and a retention pond.

But it’s the 12,500-square-foot training center that is the centerpiece of the green strategy for the labor union.

Plans are to offer hands-on training to apprentices in solar and wind technology. A “green jobs training curriculum” will include 70 lessons.

Burns said members already work on solar and wind projects, large and small, but that the training required will become more sophisticated along with the technology.

“We believe the demand is going to continue to grow,” Burns said. “As the technology gets better and better, we’re going to have to train people.”

Recycling and retreads have been a part of Rich Brahler’s business for more than 35 years. His company, Brahler’s Truckers Supply in Jacksonville, supplies tires, wheels and maintenance to the commercial trucking industry.

The company also is among the first in the nation selected for a green generation of tires certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as improving fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse emissions.

“What that means is that you use less fuel when you move down the highway compared to the old technology. Instead of getting 6.2 miles per gallon, you might get 8.2 miles per gallon, and in the trucking industry, that’s a big difference,” Brahler said of the “smart way” tires produced by Continental Tires.

Brahler said retreads, a common practice in the trucking industry, also go up to 1 million miles per tire casing thanks to better technology.

Brahler’s has six locations — four in Illinois and two in Missouri — and Brahler said he is counting on the shift toward green technology to help expand his work force of 100. “We feel like we’re going to get back in a growth stage,” he said.

The Farmersville wind turbine will require six- and 12-month checkups, and Smith said the plan for now is to continue relying on contract workers. But he said local workers likely would be trained in the long run.

“We’re still doing a little debating on that,” he said.

State Journal-Register

Jobs of the future?

A state list of “green jobs” outlines the top jobs that should be available in coming years or that will require retraining as alternative energy use increases. Additional information is available at http://www.ilworkinfo.com. Among the categories:

* Building retrofitting. Electricians, heating and air conditioning, carpenters, construction equipment operators, roofers, insulation workers, carpenter helpers, industrial truck drivers, building inspectors and construction managers.

* Mass transit/freight rail. Civil engineers, track layers, electricians, welders, metal fabricators, engine assemblers, electrical equipment technicians, machinists, team assemblers, construction laborers, operating engineers, power-line installers and repair technicians.

* Smart grids. Computer software engineers, electrical engineers, electrical equipment assemblers, electrical technicians, machinists, construction laborers, operating engineers, electrical power line installers and repair technicians.

* Wind power. Environmental engineers, iron and steel workers, millwrights, sheet metal workers, machinists, electrical equipment assemblers, construction equipment operators, industrial truck drivers, industrial production managers and production supervisors.

* Solar power. Electrical engineers, electricians, industrial machinery mechanics, welders, welders, metal fabricators, electrical equipment assemblers, construction equipment operators, installation helpers, laborers and construction managers.

* Biofuels. Chemical engineers, chemists, chemical equipment operators, chemical technicians, mix and blending machine operators, agricultural workers, industrial truck drivers, farm product purchasers, agricultural and forestry supervisors, and agricultural inspectors.

Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security, Green Jobs 2009.