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New York's solar industry is booming, but workers may need more protections


The number of solar construction workers is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years in New York as it hopes to meet climate goals. But there are some issues with the jobs that are needed to meet the demand.

According to a new report from the Climate Jobs Institute at Cornell University, many of these solar workers are transient, don’t receive benefits, and are subject to racial disparities in pay.

“We really just want to make sure that we have stronger labor standards enforced and that there are mechanisms in place to protect these workers, whether it be for the sake of increasing benefit access or reducing racial disparities or just improving wages,” said Jillian Morley, a lead researcher on the project.

Morley said just a lack of health insurance is a worry for workers who face some unique risks on the job.

“Solar workers might be at risk for like musculoskeletal disorders, certain electricity hazards that they are dealing with,” said Morley. “So that kind of increases the need for benefits like healthcare, sick time, paid time off."

Among other findings, very few solar workers belong to unions, and many full-time installers also work other jobs. The report also says that paying workers per panel installed can create unsafe working conditions due to stimulant use.

There were upwards of 14,000 solar construction workers on the job in the Empire State in 2023. Morley said the number is expected to grow rapidly as climate goals approach in New York.

"I think that it's just about making sure that we're addressing these issues before the industry grows any larger," she said.

Solar installations have increased by more than 2000% in the last decade, but it’s only 1/10 of its projected need by 2050.

Copyright 2024 WRVO

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.