Bright Power Fires Workers for Organizing
The solar company fired their employees just weeks before the holidays for organizing with Local 3 IBEW
Solar is one of the fastest-growing electrical industries in the country. As the effects of climate change become clear, consumers have made the decision to add solar panels to their homes. Cities and local governments have also hoped to reduce their electricity costs by adding these panels to parking lots and putting them on top of their buildings.
While the solar industry has exploded, almost all of these installers are non-union. One such non-union outfit is Bright Power, a solar energy and efficiency company based on Wall St in New York. At Bright Power, 25 of their employees that worked in New York, decided to organize with Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). This organizing drive came after two workers were severely injured in on the job accidents.
The first accident took place in October of 2018. On the fateful day, a crew was pulling wire 6 stories up on a job. The heavy wire, which is made up of four strands that are each, about an inch wide, fell down after a rope that was stabilizing it broke. The wire fell six stories onto a worker who was beneath it on a ladder. In addition to being hit by the wire, the worker was knocked off of the ladder. To make matters worse the company refused to call an ambulance and instead brought him to the hospital in the back of an Uber. More than a year later, he is still out of work. Another employee was shocked on the job in January after he was working on a live wire with no safety precautions.
Another major issue at Bright Power was the low pay. The workers were averaging $17.50/hr in New York City, where the minimum wage is already $15/hr. Even experienced electricians weren’t making much more than the minimum wage. According to Mike Devan, an organizer with Local 3, one worker who had 22 years of experience as an electrician was l stuck making $17.50 an hour. While companies like to treat solar installers as if they are doing an easy job, it is actually quite dangerous. These employees are working on the tops of apartment buildings, office buildings, and public housing. Plus, they are dealing with AC and DC power which can deliver a serious shock. The injuries mentioned above are just a few examples of the dangerous work these installers are doing.
All of this caused the 25 employees to realize that they needed a voice on the job so they reached out to Local 3. Within a few weeks’ cards were signed and they filed for an election. Instead of accepting the union, Bright Power contracted the services of Littler Mendelson, one of the nation’s largest union-busting law firms. The employees were forced to take part in captive audience meetings where management told them that “if they leave the Bright Power Family for the Union Family, there is no coming back,” said Chris Schroth, one of the fired solar installers from Bright Power.
Even after 75% of the workers voted to support the union, Bright Power continued to be adversarial with the union. They slow-rolled negotiations spending the entire summer in negotiations but getting little done. Then on Monday, November 18th, the entire union workforce was fired. In a companywide email, Bright Power CEO Jeffrey Perlman wrote “We have come to the conclusion that our resources have been spread too thin with so many different kinds of work all being done in-house. It makes business sense to return to a fully subcontracted solar installation model.”
Of course, Perlman had to come to that decision at the worst possible time. It is just a week before Thanksgiving and just a few weeks before Christmas. I guess Perlman is proving to be just another Grinch.
You can check out this week’s UCOMM Live to hear a full interview with Mike and Chris.