Why the Donald Vial Center was created

The Challenge

In response to growing concern about climate change and its potential effects, a “green” economic sector is growing rapidly in California to provide consumers with products and services ranging from solar panels to plug-in hybrid cars to environmentally certified building materials.  The State of California has passed the innovative Million Solar Roofs Initiative (SB 1, 2006) and is about to implement the strongest anti-global warming legislation in the country, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32, 2007).  New bills, such as SB 1760 and SB 1672 are proposing to inject billions of dollars into the effort to foster cleaner technologies, greener businesses, and job training to those ends.  At the local level, cities and counties are developing initiatives to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and attract new business in emerging technologies, such as the East Bay Green  Corridor Initiative recently adopted by the mayors of Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley and Richmond. 

Employers, economic development planners, workforce professionals, educators, and unions want to know what these new policies and the new green economy will mean for them.  Affected industries will include cement manufacturing, oil refining, steel production, construction, solar electronics, energy generation, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing, and many more.  While not all these sectors are high-tech, incipient changes will demand improved methods, better engineering, and new job skills.  Many of these industries have been organized by trade unions which have generated higher wages and benefits in the skilled trades.

The opportunities are many: a chance for California to lead the way in environmental policy and climate change; an occasion to train a new generation of engineers and technical workers in green technologies; an opportunity for labor, business, and workforce development and economic planners to help develop a new array of well-paying jobs with good benefits; and an opening at the ground level to make quality jobs accessible to low-income communities.

The challenges are also clear.  Green technologies will not flourish without a well-trained technical and supporting labor force.  Unions will resist green policies if it means trading in old jobs that pay well for new jobs of lesser quality.  Green entrepreneurs will be afraid of negotiating away their flexibility and profit margins if wage and regulatory demands are too great.  Local community groups will not support “brownfields” redevelopment if they don’t see jobs made available to their residents.  There is potential for a “win-win-win” strategy in this growing facet of California’s economy, but it will require careful strategies, educational efforts, and coalitions.

The University Role

The University of California’s public mission is to provide research, education and guidance for the people of the state.  It has long offered the intellectual leadership needed to steer California business, government and society towards new vistas, from electronics to biotech.   Its origin as a land grant university has resulted in a long history of dissemination of applied research and know-how for the public good. 

Already in the works is a university-wide Institute on Climate Solutions.  UC Berkeley, in particular, is out in front of the pack with major initiatives in climate change, triggered by concerns over global warming, including such research centers as the Berkeley Institute of the Environment, Energy Biosciences Institute, the Green Building Center, the California Climate Change Center, and the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability (CERES).  The UC-wide Energy Institute is also run out of the Haas Business School on campus.  Now the campus needs to take a forward position with respect to economic and employment change that will follow in the wake of systemic adjustment to climate, oil markets and the rest.

To this end, we propose to create a center to be named after Don Vial, the founder of UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education (CLRE).  This center would be housed at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), a major research arm of the university.  The goals of the Vial Center will be to:

  • Undertake research on the emerging green economy and climate change policy in California, as these relate to the labor market.  Develop a clearinghouse for the best national and international research findings related to climate change induced economic shifts and their employment effects.
  • Link research and dissemination on new green technologies to the workforce and education needs associated with these new technologies.
  • Provide educational forums and training sessions for labor unions, employers, nonprofits and government agencies who wish to engage the green economy and its labor market implications.
  • Provide technical assistance to those engaged in developing policy related to green economy employment.  Showcase best practices that have been developed for green jobs training programs, green certification programs and green economic development programs.
  • Bring together labor unions, employers, community groups, and educational institutions  in order to foster workforce development partnerships to retrain workers and improve the quality of jobs in the green economy.
  • Develop joint programs and projects with other climate and economy-related research centers on the Berkeley campus, blending our expertise on employment with theirs.

To elaborate on our mission:


The field of research on climate change and employment is relatively new.  In the United States, a few advocacy groups, such as the Apollo Alliance, have produced reports on jobs in energy efficiency and green buildings, renewable energy and renewable fuels; some cities, such as Los Angeles, have had academics evaluate the green technology and “green collar” occupations that have potential to create high-quality jobs in their communities; and climate change research centers, at Berkeley and elsewhere, have undertaken several macro-economic studies in an attempt to predict the impact of on climate change, energy conservation, and the like on the labor market.  So far, most of these studies have findings so broad that their usefulness is limited for strategies to address job creation, elimination or transition in specific industries.  We have the wherewithal to do finer-grain and more meaningful analysis of the impacts of AB 32 and subsequent economic shifts.

One of the first tasks of the Vial Center will be to assess the gaps in this research field and design a research agenda that will be useful to scholars, labor leaders, builders, policy makers, environmental groups, and others.  In addition to broad economic modelling, areas of study will likely include: new skills that will be needed by workers to perform jobs in expanding green sectors; training and apprenticeship needs for the changing economy; and the impact of climate change policies on unionization rates in industries.  

A further concern will be the social and equity impacts of moving to a greener economy in California.  One cannot ignore potential job losses as old sectors decline, occupational changes that put older workers at a disadvantage, and shifting wage and benefit structures as the labor market is reconfigured.  These may have serious effects on working families and communities across the state, particularly those with fragile income streams and irregular employment.  California will require policies to promote access to training and jobs for low-income people, people of color, immigrants, and others who face barriers to profiting from new types of employment. 

Our initial research project will be a report on AB 32 that will cover the following topics: a review of academic literature on AB 32’s economic impacts; an analysis of the industries likely to be most significantly affected by AB 32, in terms of job creation, elimination and change; and a survey of local labor unions to determine their knowledge and interest in AB 32 and other climate change legislation; a discussion of threats and opportunities for working people, depending on how AB 32 is implemented; and recommendations for action.

The Vial Center will also serve as a clearinghouse for the best research produced nationally and internationally on climate change, labor and employment, and on related public policies.  There may be lessons to be learned from the experience of Europe and other regions where greenhouse gas controls have been implemented; researchers in the United States are just beginning to gather and assess this emerging body of data.

The Vial Center will also serve as a research hub for linking activities that encourage the adoption of new green technologies to planning for the workforce education and training that will be needed as these technologies are adopted in the wider economy. 


The Vial Center will pursue a variety of activities to educate professional associations, labor unions, community groups, conservation advocates, and policy makers about the impact of climate change and climate change policy on jobs in California.  A major challenge for labor, workforce trainers, and educators will be how to adapt courses, apprenticeship programs, continuing education, and other training to provide workers who are skilled in the new technologies and greener approaches to problem solving. 

To this end, the Vial Center will hold educational events in Berkeley and throughout the state, inviting representatives from many fields to discuss the trends in energy conservation and alternative fuels, green building design and construction, public transportation policy and practices, and the like.   The Center will also work closely with researchers at UC Berkeley at CERES, CITRUS and the Climate Change Center, among others, to offer a range of educational events over the next five years, helping to make Berkeley the leading force in adapting to the new conditions of a more climate-friendly and sustainable future in California.

The Labor Center at IRLE, in collaboration with the College of Natural Resources, has already organized one such event at UC Berkeley on “Green Collar Jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area” and another on “Labor and Climate Change Legislation – Can Cooling the Climate Also Create Jobs?”  The Labor Center is also co-organizing a Green Policy and Green Jobs workshop track that will be offered at the California Labor Federation’s Workforce and Economic Development Conference in Los Angeles in June 2008.

In addition to organizing events, staff of the Vial Center will attend meetings of Central Labor and Building Trades Councils, architectural and engineering professional associations, and environmental groups such as the Bay Area Open Space Council and Greenbelt Alliance to provide education and training on the topic of climate change policy and its impact on the economy and jobs.  In conjunction with the Labor Center, our staff will develop a training module on the topic that can be adapted to a variety of settings and timeframes.

Technical Assistance and Workforce Development

Throughout California, community groups, environmental advocates and labor unions are organizing coalitions to promote economic development, job creation, and training programs in the context of climate change policies and other environmental legislation.  For example, in Contra Costa County, community groups, labor unions and elected officials are looking at “green” redevelopment of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station.  A similar process is underway in Alameda County at the former Oakland Army Base.  At the state level, the California Labor Federation, Apollo Alliance and Ella Baker Center for Human Rights are working with legislators on a Green Jobs bill that would fund training programs for green collar jobs.

Nonetheless, most labor unions, professional associations, schools and community organizations lack the expertise to help them prepare the workforce or represent their members over the next decade, a critical period for the implementation of climate change legislation.  For the most part, they are not yet at the table of planning and policy making on climate change and environmental legislation that will have a real impact on the labor market.  Most want to be a part of the conversation, but to do so they need good research, education and technical assistance in order to be effective advocates for quality jobs, better training, and improved environmental standards.

There is an emerging consensus in the workforce development field that the best way to approach training and education is through workforce development collaboratives (sometimes known as sector initiatives or high road partnerships) that bring together businesses and worker organizations in a particular sector, to help access the resources of the community colleges and other public training and education infrastructure.  These collaboratives, often staffed by an intermediary organization, can work with employers and other stakeholders to help build a skilled workforce and solve other sector challenges. 

The Vial Center, with its expertise in this area and web of relationships in the work force development world, would be well-positioned to provide needed technical assistance to these kinds of efforts.  Depending on the needs of the local project, the Center could convene employers, community colleges, unions and other stakeholders in specific sectors and regions to create workforce development collaboratives; conduct economic research pertinent to local conditions; hold convenings to educate members of these coalitions on issues such as new regulations and standards, new technologies and job skills; provide information about best practices for green economic development and job training programs; facilitate discussions between elected officials and community members about the potential of green jobs; and explore policy solutions to bridge the gap between local workers and quality jobs.


There are many gaps in communication and coordination on green economy and climate change questions among stakeholders in California.  Local work is not always being shared with other localities; academics are not in consistent communication with community activists; community colleges, union apprenticeship programs, youth training programs and local economic development authorities may not be coordinating plans to develop the workforce needed for the future; new green businesses are often oblivious to labor standards and local labor market conditions; and environmental groups promoting green initiatives and sustainable practices are often not in communication with workers advocates and labor unions. 

The Vial Center will foster collaboration among these many participants in a greener California economy.  We will strive to create avenues of communication among different groups, from businesses to unions to government agencies, through in-person meetings, conference calls and email listserves.  We will disseminate research and information about best practices to interested parties and make sure it is all available and easily accessible on our website.  We will provide labor unions, community colleges and environmental organizations with the tools they need to be at the table as green policies are being developed—processes such as the East Bay Green Initiative or the work of the California Air Resources Board as it develops its plans for implementing AB 32.

Objectives for the Center’s First Six Months

  • Meet with people throughout the state to identify labor unions, job trainers, professional associations, academics, community leaders and others who are interested in the climate change and employment issues.
  • Produce a briefing paper on AB 32, and how it is expected to impact workers and jobs in California, and how labor can get involved in AB 32 implementation.
  • Collect studies done in the United States and internationally on the green economy and climate change legislation’s impact on jobs and develop a clearinghouse for the best research on the subject.
  • Connect with other UC Berkeley research programs on climate change technology and economics and begin to develop joint projects that include employment, worker training, and job quality components.
  • Work with the California Labor Federation on a green jobs workshop track at the Workforce and Economic Development Building Partnerships Conference and, more broadly, on a green jobs model for participating unions.
  • Provide technical assistance to the coalition of groups in Contra Costa County that are in the process of developing “green jobs” training programs and environmental economic development incentives.
  • Set the stage for a major Bay Area convening of labor, educators, professionals, conservationists, and policy strategists on green jobs and climate change.