Labor Groups See Natural Gas as Pennsylvania’s Future
It would be an understatement to say natural gas has transformed Pennsylvania’s labor community. Through training program, projects, and operations, trade unions have been an integral part of the state’s oil and natural gas industry.
This close relationship between labor and the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania was the spotlight of a recent conference session at Shale Insight, moderated by Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer.
Speaking at the panel, titled “Industry and Labor: A business partnership for America’s growth” were Tom Melcher, Business Manager of the Pittsburgh Building and Construction Trades Council, Jeff Nobers, Executive Director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, Jim Snell, Business Manager of Steamfitters Local 420 and Shawn Steffee, Executive Board Trustee of Boilermakers Local 154.
Unions like the Boilermakers Local 154, see energy development as a large part of their portfolio. Shawn Steffee sees the future of energy development going hand in hand with the future of the union:
“Local 154 has embraced the potential of the natural gas and we feel it’s just begun its potential. We definitely have the potential to be the energy hub of the Northeast and provide great family sustaining, blue collar jobs moving forward.”
It is easy to see the benefits natural gas has brought to the state, including rejuvenating communities. The closure of the Sun Oil Marcus Hook refinery, Jim Snell recalled, massively impacted the community, yet the shale revolution has brought the town back with a new natural gas liquids hub:
“All these mom and pop shops, they’re thriving now and the reason why [is] all the people, the men and women in the building trades that are working at that facility.”
Marcus Hook is just one example of a town revived by natural gas and the strong impact of labor and unions in the community.
Another example is the upgrading of Kimberly-Clarks’ mill in Chester, Pennsylvania. The company is refitting their onsite coal powered plant to a natural gas plant allowing “hundreds of in-house unionized workers to continue working at that site,” according to Jim Snell. Not only has this benefited this specific union, but “it also benefited the entire region, tax revenue and everything else,” he said.
Ensuring a skilled workforce
Labor unions and the natural gas industry have provided generations of Pennsylvanians with high-paying, quality jobs. For future generations, the shale revolution has provided the perfect opening for expanded training opportunities, Jeff Nobers says:
“The ironworkers have been able to expand their training facility. The carpenters have expanded their training facility. The laborers have been able to do the same with theirs. And a great deal of this is a direct impact from those man-hours generated at the Shell cracker plant.”
Training opportunities also go beyond on the job training. Labor unions and the industry are some of the top employers of trade school graduates, providing “highly technical skilled professions.”
The marriage between labor union and natural gas has benefitted Pennsylvania, not only by providing jobs but also by revitalizing communities. And there is hope that this will continue for future generations, as Shawn Steffee explains:
“If we would just embrace our energy and our natural gas right here in Pennsylvania, both Democrats and Republicans, our potential would be unbelievable. And if we could get a commitment for all of us in the building trades, we’d all have a piece of that pie. If we could get a commitment our job growth would be phenomenal and we could grow our trades with future apprentices.”