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Only 18% of Vineyard Wind’s union workers reside in New Bedford – and a local union chief says the developer’s actions have led his workers to lose jobs in the port.
Vineyard Wind released its latest annual job report to widespread political acclaim this month, as Gov. Maura Healey and local state representatives applauded the offshore wind developer’s improvements in hiring local and union workers. Gains over the previous year’s numbers met or exceeded some benchmarks, but New Bedford’s mayor says there is room for improvement on hiring at New Bedford’s port – and a local union leader says the developer has caused his union to lose work elsewhere in the port.
“I’m personally not happy with the progress,” said Kevin Rose, president of New Bedford’s longshoremen’s union, ILA Local 1413. “Not at all.” A document obtained by The Light shows that Vineyard Wind’s decision to not employ union labor for some operations has caused the union to lose work with another port operator.
Vineyard Wind issued its press release on Dec. 15 with the headline that it has so far hired 937 union workers – exceeding its stated target to create 500 union jobs. Nine legislators, two heads of statewide departments, and the governor all submitted praise that was included in the press release.
“Vineyard Wind nearly doubled its commitment in job creation,” said Gov. Healey. “This is exactly the kind of economic development we are looking to foster.”
But in a release largely dedicated to celebrating a win for union workers, no union representatives were quoted.
Rose, the longshoremen’s president, said he was not happy with the amount of local, union jobs that Vineyard Wind has created. “Which unions are you talking about? The ILA local one?” he asked.
New Bedford’s mayor, Jon Mitchell, told The Light in a statement: “We appreciate Vineyard Wind’s partnership in bringing this emerging industry to New Bedford.” He continued, “While the data on jobs for Bristol County residents is encouraging, there is still work to be done on hiring more New Bedford residents and people of color.”
A spokesperson for Vineyard Wind would not agree to speak on the record with The Light.
The jobs report itself, which was conducted by UMass Dartmouth and Springline Research Group, found that employment on the Vineyard Wind project has not yet reached original projections. However, the total economic output – a term that combines the project’s cost with other spending and taxes – has already exceeded expectations.
Furthermore, only 18% of union workers on the project reside in New Bedford – a figure that includes people who relocated to New Bedford temporarily. This finding was not included in Vineyard Wind’s press release or the report itself, but was confirmed by David Borges, one of the authors.
Why Vineyard Wind is spending more than it expected
Vineyard Wind’s high economic output, while good news for the region, also reflects the challenges the developer faces.
Borges said that economic conditions – including inflation, cost of manufacturing, and cost of labor – have led to the increased economic output, compared to estimates made in 2017.
“Vineyard Wind is paying more for its employees and even its locally sourced parts than we thought in 2017,” said Borges, of Springline Research. “It’s taking the same amount of people [to build the project], but those people cost more.”
These economic conditions are representative of the major headwinds facing the offshore wind industry, which have caused three large developers to cancel their contracts in Massachusetts and Connecticut. These economic woes were summarized by Michael Brown, CEO of Ocean Winds North America, during opening remarks at a major industry conference in October: “This industry will happen, but it might be slower than we might have hoped.”
Offshore wind is an essential component of Massachusetts’ energy plan, which calls for rapid adoption of wind power to address the realities of a warming climate.
Vineyard Wind is currently the only Massachusetts-based offshore wind project in development. The company, owned by Avangrid, agreed to a historic Project-Labor Agreement (PLA) in July 2021 that promised employment to unions, women, veterans, people of color, tribal nations, and local residents.
But the project is now coming online in a very different economic climate than when the agreement was made.
“This is a first mover project,” said Borges, the Springline researcher. “The pipeline [of wind farms] is not what we thought it would be … [And] they’re still learning and still figuring out ways to keep that impact and those jobs here in Mass.”
Union says Vineyard Wind causing it to lose work
The longshoremen’s union president says Vineyard Wind’s attitude toward local unions isn’t as friendly as the recent press release would indicate. Some of the developer’s dealings in New Bedford have even led the historic longshoreman’s union to lose work, Rose says, citing a letter from a local marine terminal.
Vineyard Wind made an agreement with a local fishing company in January that Rose said has undermined his union. The New Bedford-based Quinn family, the longtime fishermen, agreed to provide port services for the transportation of gear, fuel, and crew members to the offshore wind farm. This agreement, which includes building a terminal on Pope’s Island in New Bedford for crew transfer vessels, will not use union work.
Rose says that has caused a chain reaction. Another port operator, the Foss Marine Terminal, has stopped working with the company that employs the longshoremen’s union – which covered all loading and unloading work done at the Foss terminal. Foss’ president, Andrew Saunders, sent a letter directly to Rose in October citing Vineyard Wind’s agreement at Pope’s Island.
Terminals “operating in the Port of New Bedford on the Vineyard Wind 1 project have decided to not utilize the services of Local 1413,” read Saunders’ letter, which was obtained by The Light. “This dynamic has put our terminal at a competitive disadvantage…. The New Bedford Foss Marine Terminal must remain market competitive, and our decision is intended to level the playing field within the port.”
This means that while Local 1413 is now unloading the massive turbine components for the Vineyard Wind 1 project (at the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal), the local union will not be employed for support services for Vineyard Wind, such as loading and unloading fuel and gear. Citing competitive concerns, the Foss Terminal has also decided to no longer employ the union’s workers at all.
Rose said the Quinn family has undermined his workers. “They’re doing our work,” he said. “This is stevedore work. We don’t go over there and try to take your scalloping work.”
The net effect of Vineyard Wind to the longshoremen – between jobs provided and lost – is unclear. But with the overall increased activity in the port, Rose said, “We should have a lot more of the jobs.”
On the New Bedford waterfront
Rose explained what it’s like for him and his fellow workers in New Bedford, the first U.S. port to stage construction for a commercial-scale offshore wind farm.
After a vessel comes into port, about 25 members of his union unload and transport the turbine components.
When no vessels are in the port, about 14 longshoremen work at the Marine Commerce Terminal, mostly moving parts around or preparing for the next shipment. Welders, electricians, and other tradespeople also ply their trades beneath the giant turbine blades.
“It’s a lot of out-of-town folks,” said Rose. “Just go look at the license plates on cars in the parking lot … There’s definitely a lot of people from out of state.”
The recent jobs report breaks down where employees reside, and there’s a stark difference between where the union and nonunion workers hail from.
Nearly 70% of nonunion employees do not reside in Southeastern Massachusetts, which is defined as the four counties of Bristol, Barnstable, Plymouth, and Dukes. About 40% of nonunion employees don’t live in Massachusetts. And the nonunion jobs make up the majority of all employment on the project, both in terms of total headcount and “job years.” (A “job year” means one year of full-time employment.)
This “job years” metric, in particular, shows that nonunion employees have secured more long-term and permanent positions than their union-based counterparts. The 370 total job years for nonunion employees is more than triple what union employees have worked – 103 job years.
The union jobs are more likely to be in construction-related activities, which are often short-term. Still, of these union jobs, only 18% are New Bedford residents – which Borges said includes people who temporarily relocated to New Bedford.
Vineyard Wind’s press release focused on a broader category, and highlighted that 70% of the union jobs were given to residents of Southeastern Massachusetts.
When looking at the whole picture – including both the union and nonunion employees working on this first-of-a-kind project – the slice of local, union-based workers is smaller.
When asked how many people at the work site are local, Rose responded, “I bet you it ain’t 50%.”
Mixed progress on women, people of color
The mayor’s statement on the jobs report called for more hiring of people of color, which highlighted the developer’s agreements for hiring in protected classes, including people of color, women, veterans, and tribal members.
The jobs report shows varying levels of success in reaching the developer’s targets.
Hiring of workers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) nearly met the stated goal, at 19.6% of the union workforce – or just about its 20% target.
Women only made up 3.6% of the union workforce, which misses its 10% target by a wide margin. Apprentice workers were 12.4% of the union workforce, which also lagged behind its 20% goal.
The company made no public commitments to hiring in protected classes among nonunion workers, the group that constitutes the majority of the Vineyard Wind project.
The company set no specific goal or threshold for hiring in New Bedford. The data obtained by The Light – that 18% of the union workforce resides in New Bedford – was shared with the mayor’s office before Mitchell issued his statement.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office did wonder why the company hadn’t shared that data earlier, as the company’s release had specifically mentioned New Bedford: “Together, we’re showing the world that a clean energy future means good jobs for workers and economic opportunity for historic port communities like New Bedford,” said Avangrid CEO Pedro Azagra.
A spokesperson for Vineyard Wind would not agree to answer questions on the record, and directed The Light to review the press release.
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