The business manager of Buffalo, N.Y., Local 41 Michael Gaiser is a key attendee at a daylong White House summit Oct. 7 on the importance of raising workers’ voices.

The event, billed by as a chance to highlight the value of collective bargaining, examines challenges facing workers trying to organize, brings attention to new, innovative ways that workers are coming together to have a voice in their workplace and highlights ways companies are creating meaningful partnerships with their workers.

Gaiser will speak about the project labor agreement the Buffalo building trades signed for the construction of Solar City’s new solar panel factory, which will be the largest in the Americas.

Buffalo, N.Y., Local 41 has signed a PLA for the construction of Solar City’s new solar panel plant that is a model of how increasing worker power is good for everyone.

When complete and running at full capacity, the plant will be larger than 21 football fields and produce enough solar panels in a year to generate 1 gigawatt of power, enough for more than 800,000 homes. Currently, Solar City -- the nation’s largest installer and leasing agent for residential and commercial roof top solar systems – buys nearly all of its solar panels from Chinese manufacturers.

“Buffalo used to be the eighth largest city in the country and we fell a long, long way down,” Gaiser said. “This project is just one of many signs that this town is rising.”

The factory is a project of Solar City and the State of New York. The state is spending nearly $700 million to build and outfit the factory, for which Solar City will pay $1 a year on a 10-year lease.

In return, Solar City and the builders of the factory committed to creating 5,000 jobs (1,400 in the factory, 2,000 other positions, including sales and installers, 1,600 in related industries and suppliers) and paying out $6 billion for tooling, supplies, and wages over the life of the lease.

For the builders, LPCiminelli, the state required a PLA. In return for a union only workforce, the trades agreed to a no-strike clause and an aggressive construction schedule.

Construction began early this summer and delivery is scheduled for early 2016.

“It is tight, but we are not only prepared to meet the schedule, we’ve been waiting for this kind of work,” Gaiser said.

For the moment the factory is a massive concrete shell near the Buffalo River on the site of the former Republic Steel site. Since work began, 450 construction workers have been on site. Now that the building is weather sealed, the workforce will triple, including 300 members of Local 41.

White House Summit on Worker Voice

The summit is scheduled to open with President Obama speaking about the importance of increasing worker power on the job through organizing and collective bargaining. The president is also expected to highlight the many new ways, outside of unions, that workers are using to increase their power.

Gaiser will be on a panel making the case that what is good for workers is good for everyone.

“This is not a surprise to anyone in the IBEW. We know that we only succeed when our employers do well,” Gaiser said. “I want to make sure that everyone in that room understands that the only way to speak up at work – about conditions, about safety, about wages and benefits -- without fear of being fired is if you have a collective bargaining agreement and protection of a union.”