SWPA Unions Join Shale Cos. to Back House ‘COVID Comeback’ Bills

Back in March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to enter the public consciousness, some 500 people from labor unions and industry met in Pittsburgh to launch an organization called Pittsburgh Works Together (PWT), dedicated to fighting back against those who want to end southwest PA industries including steel, natural gas, and petrochemicals (see CNX CEO Backs New SWPA Group to Counter “Elites and Extremists”). The alliance is going strong. Last week MDN editor Jim Willis had the pleasure of interviewing (via phone) Jeff Nobers, Executive Director for both the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania and PWT.

Jeff is participating in a panel discussion at the next (virtual) Think About Energy event this Wednesday (Oct. 28) at 12 noon (register for free here). The session on Wednesday will focus on the recent announcement of the “Commonwealth’s COVID Comeback” initiative–a package of bills introduced by PA House Republicans aimed at revitalizing the PA economy by incentivizing manufacturing to return to Pennsylvania. Jeff and the PWT organization were on hand for the announcement, in full support of the bills announced.

Jeff Nobers

The session on Wednesday will outline the bills being introduced and explain how they will help PA to regain momentum following the worldwide shutdown from COVID-19. We won’t describe the bills in detail here. The aim of our interview was to learn more about this unique organization, PWT, how it came to be, and how labor unions in the Marcellus/Utica have partnered with and support the shale industry.

Jeff told us that the umbrella organization for PWT is the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, a labor organization covering 16 trades (with nine contractor associations) with a mission to promote the construction trades.

The shale energy industry reached out to the Builders Guild and Jeff to ask for support and PWT was born. Key early supporters of the new organization include Range Resources, CNX Resources, Energy Transfer, and utility companies Duquesne Light Company and Peoples.

PWT is a coalition of labor unions (United Steelworkers, IBEW, Steamfitters, Ironworkers and others), companies, and contractors coming together to protect “legacy” industries like manufacturing, construction, and energy. Jeff said today much of the emphasis (from the media) is on technology companies and tech jobs (think Google and Uber). He calls it an “over-emphasis” on high tech, pointing out that without manufacturing, construction, and energy, high tech would not exist.

Part of the mission of PWT is to push business and political leaders to promote manufacturing, construction, and energy in the Pittsburgh region in a bid to bring jobs back to the region and reduce the region’s high employment brought on by the pandemic.

A couple of issues work against jobs in Pennsylvania. Jeff said the state does not have a good corporate tax structure (it is one of the highest in the country). In addition, extremist environmental groups scare companies away from the state. (Jeff is careful to say that PWT talks to some environmental groups. The organization’s disagreement is with far-left environmental groups.)

PWT “tries to respond to the most blatant accusations from the environmental left,” said Jeff, via op-eds and working with state legislators.

On Oct. 14 House Republican legislators announced the Commonwealth’s COVID Comeback package of bills, including a revision of the state corporate income tax, a new effort to develop workforce apprenticeships and integrate them into two- and four-year college programs (an effort to create “new collar” jobs), a bill to incentivize buying PA products first, getting businesses to expand or build in PA, and more.

Jeff and PWT stood on the podium with Republican legislators at the COVID Comeback launch announcement on Oct. 14, for which he got pushback from Democrats who traditionally identify with labor unions. Jeff’s response is that “you work with those in power, and Republicans control the legislature.” He understands that a few weeks before a national election Democrats don’t want to be seen helping to promote the other party. PWT maintains it is nonpartisan and will work with both parties to advance an agenda of putting more people back to work in the Commonwealth. Jobs are not a partisan issue for PWT.

Jeff commented on the recent visit by Dept. of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette to Pittsburgh region. A reporter asked Brouillette about employment statistics for the energy industry, pointing out energy represents “only 8%” of nationwide GDP (gross domestic product). True, said Brouillette, but here’s the thing: It is the *first* 8% of GDP, without which you don’t get anything else. Without energy, there is no manufacturing, no construction, no nothing. Energy makes it all possible. Jeff liked Brouillette’s take on the role and importance of energy–in particular fossil fuel energy.

We ended our discussion by talking about the petrochemical industry. Jeff said Shell is recruiting now for permanent positions to operate the cracker plant being built by his members in Beaver County. The Shell cracker represents “millions of man-hours” which are all union jobs. Jeff said there are a fair number of workers who have traveled from outside the area to help build the plant. However, “no city in the country could have built it with all local workers,” he said. Jeff is grateful for the number of local workers Shell employs to build the plant.

Shell, said Jeff, has been “a great corporate neighbor.” They have kept the local community informed every step of the way. They have superb safety protocols. Yet if Shell were to begin all over again today, Jeff is not sure they would have built the cracker in PA given the extremism from the environmental left with their constant lawsuits.

Jeff is hopeful there will be more crackers in the region. One cracker “won’t maximize” the abundant resources we now have in the Marcellus/Utica. If we can just counter the environmental left…