Biden’s infrastructure and inflation reduction laws are transforming the boilermaker trade
Photo courtesy Boilermakers Local 627/Facebook
Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act has created 100,000 clean energy jobs, and my profession will be a growing part of that workforce.
As a third-generation boilermaker, the profession runs in my blood. My grandfather moved to Tucson in 1948 to help build the Hughes Missile site. My father worked in copper mines and power plants all over Arizona. It was inevitable that I, too, would pick up the family trade in 2005. Now, as the business manager for Boilermakers Local 627, I get to shape the workforce that has defined my family’s history.
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Comprised of Arizona, Hawaii, and part of New Mexico, the vast majority of my locals’ members — around 60% to 70% — are from the Navajo Nation. Like myself, many of our members get into the boilermaker profession because their family members are boilermakers. It’s a rewarding profession with a great starting wage, pension, paid vacation, and health care benefits.
I have to admit that our industry has been suffering for quite some time. Traditionally, our main source of work comes from constructing and maintaining coal power plants. But the past decade of coal plants shutting down has resulted in less work, and fewer people joining the Boilermakers union. We’ve seen a steady decline in members in our Local from around 1500 members in 1976 to 380 today
Throughout our history, boilermakers have evolved their skills to weather industry changes. Boilermakers got their start in the late 1800s working on steam locomotives. When steam locomotives were phased out in favor of diesel, the boilermakers transferred our skill sets to the growing electrical generation industry.
The decline of work in the coal industry was inevitable, but the question of how boilermakers fit into the clean energy transition was unclear. That is until the passage of the Biden administration’s Infrastructur
Biden signs $1.2T infrastructure bill: ‘America is moving again’
The infrastructure bill specifically provides $10 million in grants for union training programs to participate in infrastructure projects. It also allocates funds to develop regional hydrogen hubs that will hire union workers, pay prevailing wages, and utilize approved apprenticeship programs– many will be boilermakers. The development and maintenance of the eight hydrogen hubs will create thousands of good-paying union jobs for decades to come.
In Arizona, we have many coal-fired power plants and several communities that will be impacted by their closures. But with a southwest regional hydrogen hub already in the works, boilermakers have new work opportunities right around the corner. How I see it, it’s the best avenue for boilermakers to transition their developed skills in structural and pressure vessel welding, and certified rigging, into a new and burgeoning industry.
But I am most excited about the increased 45Q carbon capture tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act. For several years, coal-powered plants have hoped to install devices to capture carbon emissions. But it just wasn’t a financially viable option — until the IRA increased the tax credits for carbon capture. This one policy has opened the doors for hundreds of carbon-capture projects, all of which will dispatch boilermakers across the country. Giving these incentives to coal power plants is a massive win for boilermaker work while ensuring we have reliable energy sources for our power grid.
I can’t overstate how much these laws will benefit union workers all over the country. By utilizing union labor that provides health care and pensions, we take people off government programs like Medicaid. We provide workers who are well-trained and prepared through union trainings and apprenticeships.
It’s no secret that trades who work in coal and fossil fuels have struggled from environmental regulations. It is unrealistic to think that we would be able to bring these jobs back — but leaning into clean energy is already creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. With the opportunities, boilermakers have a shot to keep growing and evolving as our world transitions to clean energy. I’m more hopeful than ever for the future of my profession.
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