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Ocasio-Cortez Demands Solar Company Rehire Workers Fired After Unionizing With Green New Deal in Mind

"This was retaliation for unionizing, plain and simple. Even at a supposedly progressive green energy company, greedy CEOs can violate fundamental workers' rights."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announce the introduction of public housing legislation as part of the Green New Deal outside the Capitol on Thursday, November 14, 2019. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

After learning that the solar energy company Bright Power fired a dozen construction workers who were inspired to unionize by the transformative vision of a Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday demanded that the corporation immediately rehire the terminated employees and formally recognize their union contract.

"Many have told me they think the pro-justice and worker provisions in the Green New Deal are 'unnecessary,'" Ocasio-Cortez, the lead sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution in the House, tweeted Friday. "Yet this example is why a just transition is vital. Without it, oil barons turn into energy barons, and  workers are hurt all the same. Bright Power must be held accountable."

"The total hypocrisy of their progressive mission as a green energy company is disgusting. They did everything that a big bad union busting company does. This is exactly what a coal company or any other evil company does."
—Chris Schroth, fired Bright Power worker

As Motherboard reported Thursday, the New York City construction workers voted in April to form one of the first unions in the burgeoning solar energy industry.

"Workers decided to unionize following a couple work accidents and pressure from management to work outside in extreme weather conditions in the winter," according to Motherboard. "When workers announced their intention to unionize, Bright Power hired Littler Mendelson—the world's largest labor law firm representing management with ties to the Trump administration—to handle its union negotiations."

On Monday, in the middle of negotiations for the first union contract, Bright Power announced its decision to fire the 12 workers—who made up the company's entire in-house construction crew—and replace them with subcontractors.

Bright Power denied that the firing had anything to do with the unionization effort, but one of the fired workers dismissed the company's claim.

"This is obviously retaliation for union organizing," Chris Schroth, a solar installer from Bright Power, told Motherboard. "The total hypocrisy of their progressive mission as a green energy company is disgusting. They did everything that a big bad union busting company does. This is exactly what a coal company or any other evil company does."

"This was some visionary stuff. This was the Green New Deal," Schroth said of the unionization push. "The people who talk about green jobs aren't actually in the field. They're not going to fall off a building and lose their life. But we are. The union wasn't about Bright Power giving us anything. It was about them respecting the voice of their workers."

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Hours after Motherboard published its story on the firings, Ocasio-Cortez's team sent an email calling on supporters to sign on to a letter demanding that Bright Power CEO Jeffrey Perlman rehire the construction crew and recognize the union contract.

"This was retaliation for unionizing, plain and simple. Even at a supposedly progressive green energy company, greedy CEOs can violate fundamental workers' rights," Ocasio-Cortez's team wrote. "Their example is an important reminder: as we push for more investment in renewable technology, we must also fight for good wages and the protections that all workers deserve."

The youth-led Sunrise Movement echoed Ocasio-Cortez's demand on Twitter:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate campaigning on a Green New Deal, also condemned Bright Power's decision to fire its construction crew.

"This is absolutely unacceptable and Bright Power must be held accountable," Sanders tweeted Friday. "All workers deserve the right to form a union free from harassment and retaliation."

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