Labor and Sustainable Energy: Organizational Bottlenecks and Bottom-Up Dynamics

Power workers

Faculty-led Team

Team Leads: Cihan Tugal, Professor, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley; Eylem Taylan, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley; Thomas Gepts, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley

As ecological disasters intensify, community struggles follow suit. Absent from much of this conflict is organized labor. Many unions take the side of companies accused of ecological damage. Simultaneously, emergent policy frameworks grant labor an increasing role in the transition to sustainable energy. We ask: How do energy employees experience this social, political, and ecological scene? Our theoretical framework approaches energy-sector employees not only as “workers,” but as whole human beings with multiple identities (parents, citizens, neighbors, etc.) and conflicting stakes in the transition to a green future. How does this complexity influence their relationships with their unions and companies? PG&E provides an ideal case to explore these questions. The company has contributed to many calamities throughout the years, but its largest union has sided with PG&E in resisting the restructuring of the company. How do rank and file workers react to debates about PG&E’s future? Have they taken actions on these issues? Are there movement, racial, gender, or community dynamics that might allow them to pull the union in an alternative direction? Our research team will conduct 60 one-on-one and 7-8 focus group interviews to answer these questions. We will situate our analysis of these interviews within a study of the structural history of PG&E and its unions. By attending to the views of energy sector workers, we will contribute to existing political and scholarly debates by better evaluating the challenges and prospects of an ecologically and socially just transition to renewable energy.


Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash