The Electrical Worker online
April 2024

IBEW Signs Agreement With Other Trades to Protect Solar Work
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A new multi-trade project labor agreement for grid-scale solar projects will protect traditional IBEW work and put an end to jurisdictional battles in the sector.

A spate of disputes led International President Kenneth W. Cooper to negotiate with the Laborers' International Union of North America and the International Union of Operating Engineers. The resulting deal will improve efficiencies on the job and prevent union headaches that can lead to bad blood and legal bills.

"Our highest priority was protecting the high-skill, high-wage electrical work that makes up the bulk of the man-hours on these projects," Cooper said. "Contractors want reliable access to a skilled workforce and guarantees that their projects will be eligible for the tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act. They don't want their projects tangled up in jurisdictional disputes. This PLA protects our work and brings peace to labor."

Additionally, Cooper said LIUNA and IUOE agreed in a separate pact that the IBEW would maintain exclusive jurisdiction for all high-voltage underground transmission projects over 35 kilovolts.

Under the tri-trade agreement for solar projects larger than 1 megawatt, the IBEW will control the installation, connection, wiring and terminating of electrical and data cabling for solar panel modules, transformers, junction boxes and nearly all aspects of battery storage installation outside of concrete work.

IUOE and LIUNA workers will control materials handling, heavy equipment operation, roads and access, and the installation of racking systems and posts.

In total, the PLA designates work assignments for more than 70 job types.

Construction Director Matt Paules, who helped negotiated the agreement, said the work assigned to the IBEW covers about 60% of total hours on most large solar and solar-plus-storage projects.

"Construction technology and processes in the utility-scale solar industry are changing rapidly because developers are adopting any tool that promises faster schedules and lower costs. This agreement will keep union contractors competitive and assigns electrical work to union electricians," Paules said.

The agreement applies nationwide, except in California, where the five-trade consortium California Unions for Reliable Energy worked out its own assignment program in 1996.

"Our intention is that the tri-trade PLA is used on every job, but where there is an agreement already in place, that stands," Paules said.

The unions also agreed to backstop one another if there are open calls they cannot fill.

"We won't be running Gradalls, but we have plenty of people who can drive a forklift," Paules said. "And if we can't fill a call that doesn't require a licensed electrician, the work won't stop."

The IBEW has been building solar projects for decades, with the type of work depending on the timing and location of the project.

The scale and number of the projects have changed dramatically since the passage of President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The bills' tax incentives give employers who hire union workers an advantage, creating a gold rush when contracts are let to bid.

"It's exciting to have all that growth, but the thing about the Wild West is that it wasn't a place you could do business until there was some law and order," Paules said. "This PLA will be like Wyatt Earp coming to town."

This is not the first multi-trade agreement the International Office has signed for renewable projects. The IBEW is party to a five-trade agreement for all onshore wind generation, and in 2019 the union joined an offshore wind pact.

"I am confident this will put the recent spate of jurisdictional scuffles behind us," Cooper said. "This will make it even harder for nonunion contractors to successfully bid this work and, at the same time, encourage unreliable actors in the House of Labor to honor the traditional boundaries between the trades."


The IBEW has agreed on common language for utility-scale solar project labor agreements with LIUNA and the IUOE. The deal protects the IBEW's traditional work and keeps union contractors competitive in the fastest-growing energy generation sector.