AB 841 supports high-quality jobs, helps prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools, and fights climate change

September 9, 2020

By JB Tengco, Western States Director.

California, like the rest of the nation, is facing a number of gut punches including a pandemic, systemic racism, historic wildfire season, and unemployment.This September, BlueGreen Alliance is supporting a bill in California that, while not a silver bullet for all of our ailments, aims to move the needle slightly on every one of these issues.

The Healthy Schools, Healthy Air, Healthy Recovery Bill (AB 841), authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (AD-19), focuses on replacing critical ventilation (HVAC) and clean water infrastructure in schools, and expanding electric vehicle infrastructure. The bill achieves these objectives by authorizing a one-time re-deployment of unspent utility energy efficiency funds, and by deploying electric vehicle infrastructure more quickly.

This important bill passed the legislature and now awaits the approval of Governor Newsom. Our coalition of labor unions and environmental organizations urges him to sign AB 841 into law now. Here’s why:

1. AB 841 focuses public infrastructure and public health investments in working class communities of color.

Investments in charging infrastructure and public school HVAC and water systems can simultaneously reduce greenhouse gases, promote school health and safety, increase access to high-quality careers for workers in disadvantaged communities, focus environmental benefits in those communities, and deliver economic stimulus. This is a win for students, workers, and communities.

2. AB 841 will create good jobs replacing critical ventilation and clean water infrastructure in schools.

These are critical updates that can improve our children’s health in our schools. California public schools have a systemic problem with outdated and inefficient heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. As we know, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases arise from indoor transmission due to inhalation of airborne particles. For this reason, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends “Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning [HVAC] systems, [to] reduce airborne exposures.”

With most California school buildings closed for the foreseeable future, we can use this time to upgrade HVAC systems to reduce disease transmission and exposure to wildfire smoke when our kids finally go back to the classroom. Importantly, these HVAC improvements will also improve poor indoor air-quality in working-class communities that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution.

In the process of improving school HVAC systems, AB 841 will generate demand for thousands of high road construction careers for California’s disadvantaged workers. AB 841 contains provisions that HVAC contractors hire a skilled workforce with apprenticeship training, which generates demand for apprenticeship graduates—70% of whom are People of Color (PoC) in the state of California—while also ensuring that unionized workers have access to jobs. Requirements for a skilled HVAC workforce also ensure high quality work performance, family-sustaining wages and benefits for workers, and safe and timely completion of state-funded projects.

While COVID-19 transmission and air pollution from wildfire smoke are of high concern right now, AB 841 also addresses another lurking public health crisis: leaky and lead-laden plumbing fixtures in California public schools. A sister program to AB 841’s HVAC improvement program draws down unspent IOU energy efficiency funds to fund school plumbing improvements. This program also benefits from good jobs requirements and priority for school districts in disadvantaged communities.

3. Signing this bill will build high-road careers by accelerating electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure and reducing pollution.

AB 841 takes on another environmental issue through significantly ramping up installation of EV charging infrastructure. The California Energy Commission estimates we will be short 80,000 chargers, or roughly one third of our 250,000 public EV charging station goal, by 2025. AB 841 would address this issue head-on by streamlining the state’s process of approving EV infrastructure projects (currently conducted on a case-by-case basis), thus accelerating EV charging installations considerably.

This bill grows good jobs through requiring California’s charging infrastructure be installed b workers who have receive a nationally recognized certification jointly developed by industry, government, and workers. Workforce training requirements also create opportunities for workers of color in the state’s growing apprenticeship system.

4. We’ll all benefit from AB 841.

These benefits have led AB 841 to be supported by schools and teachers, public health experts, labor groups, businesses, and environmental organizations. All supporters, including the BlueGreen Alliance, agree that lawmakers have acted to take advantage of this rare and limited window to improve the health and safety of schools, address climate change and create good jobs—right now.

Now, it is up to Governor Newsom to sign this bill into law and put Californians to work building a safer, sustainable future.