Strength in numbers: Coalition crafts pro-worker clean energy law

The Challenge
Historically, labor unions in Illinois took an “every man for himself” approach to scoring victories in Springfield, with individual unions advocating for their own agendas, sometimes in opposition to their counterparts. 

In 2020, the state’s leading labor unions representing over 900,000 working men and women decided to take a united approach, forming the Climate Jobs Illinois coalition to advocate for labor-friendly policies in the anticipated clean energy omnibus bill sought by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Culloton + Bauer Luce was enlisted to build a winning public affairs strategy to ensure that Climate Jobs Illinois’ priorities remained prominent in the months-long debate about what Illinois’ clean energy future would look like – and who would build it. 

Our Approach
In September 2020, CBL organized the official launch of Climate Jobs Illinois, which included a new website, social media profiles and a steady drumbeat of announcements to inject the coalition into the media leading up to the 2021 state legislative session.

In early 2021, CBL coordinated the statewide rollout of CJI’s legislative proposal calling for robust labor wage and bargaining provisions, protection of thousands of union jobs at the state’s nuclear plants and equity provisions to create clean energy union jobs for underserved communities. The rollout earned media coverage in every Illinois market.

In an effort to keep the coalition front and center in the ongoing debate, CBL supplied a steady stream of op-eds and letters to the editor and continued to grow the coalition’s digital following through frequent e-blasts and engaging social media. CBL also worked with supportive legislators to secure media interviews and share updates with their constituents, all of which resulted in thousands of emails being sent to legislators and the Governor calling on them to support CJI’s priorities. 

Leading into the final days of the legislative session, CBL coordinated a rally outside the State Capitol attended by over 800 supporters and a bipartisan group of legislators to push for critical subsidy funding to keep the state’s nuclear plants open.

However, when talks broke down between the lead negotiators in the waning hours of session, CBL shared a letter the coalition members sent to Gov. Pritzker that threw down “a final gauntlet.” This move helped reignite talks, and a final deal was secured and over 2,400 union jobs were saved. 

In spite of overcoming that major obstacle, the legislature ultimately wasn’t able to pass a final bill during the regular session due to an impasse over decarbonization thresholds for several downstate coal plants. Talks continued over the summer only to stall in August. CJI publicly signaled the impasse to inject a sense of urgency into the talks and to motivate the legislative leaders to take on final negotiations.

The move proved successful, and within several weeks a final deal was secured and passed swiftly out of the General Assembly. 

Proven Results
On Sept. 15, 2021, Gov. Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which includes the strongest clean energy labor standards in the country and sets a national model for other states seeking to enact new labor policies for building clean energy projects. 

The law also creates thousands of new clean energy union jobs, expands union apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities and increases energy efficiency for public schools. 

CBL’s zealous advocacy for the coalition proved successful, not only  garnering media attention throughout the state but also national media coverage and praise from federal officials, including U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.