BOSTON/Chinatown – A driving rain couldn’t prevent about one hundred activists, government, union, and business leaders, and curious passersby on Tuesday November 9th from attending a kick-off ceremony in front of the Chinatown Gate launching the first in a series of home weatherization pilot programs for cities and towns around Massachusetts.
Negotiations with utility companies, city and state officials, and unions over the scope and details of the weatherization project have been going on for 15 months, said Chinese Progressive Association Executive Director Lydia Lowe. “Many different partners have brought us to this point today, and we’re so grateful to all of these partners.”
Funding and other resources for the project are being provided by a number of different sources including the Barr, Solidago, and Miller Foundations, utilities such as NSTAR and National Grid, as well as the City of Boston, and the state and federal governments.
Lowe also pointed to the fact that Chinatown is built on landfill. As global climate change causes sea levels to rise, she said, this part of Boston faces potentially devastating consequences.
OMB Audio Lydia Lowe, Chinese Progressive Association (3:53)
A major goal of the project is to match unemployed and underemployed residents of Chinatown – and eventually other Boston neighborhoods and cities in Massachusetts – with mentors from the construction trades who will teach the new hires how to make houses and apartments more energy efficient. Methuen, MA based Aulson Company, an industrial construction, painting, and roofing firm, has been hired to train and manage the new workers.
Plans call for each worker to gain enough experience to earn membership in the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Organizers of the Chinatown pilot project – non-profit advocacy groups the Chinese Progressive Association and Community Labor United; two member organizations of the three year old Green Justice Coalition - plan on weatherizing as many as 130 housing units. The exact number of families receiving items such as compact fluorescent lighting, energy efficient windows, and roof insulation, won’t be known until work begins next year.
Mark Liu, Chinese Progressive Association Green Justice Coordinator said the pilot project “is going to address many of the problems in our communities in a holistic manner,” including weatherization upgrades to people's homes “to help families cut utility costs and keep warm this winter.”
To afford the work, Liu said families can apply for grants from the state’s Mass Save program (up to $2,000) and the City's Renew Boston program, which offers grants of up to $1,500.
The effect on energy use and impact on the environment and economy will be profound, say organizers with the Green Justice Coalition.
“As recent elections prove, Massachusetts doesn’t go the way the wind blows,” said Darlene Lombos, Co-Director of Community Labor United. “We can buck the trends and do what’s right and that’s what makes this state so unique.
“Massachusetts with a governor who has been and will continue to prioritize innovation and expansion of the green economy will again be on the forefront of doing not what is easy, but what is right and just.”
OMB Audio: Darlene Lombos, Community Labor United (3:24)
Activists collaborating on the details of the pilot weatherization project insist that local workers receive the training necessary to be hired for jobs paid at living wages and benefits. Testifying during Tuesday’s kick-off event, in Chinese and with a translator, Wen Wei Zhou, now a crew chief working for the Aulson, Company, said “…he was excited for the opportunity to be part of this new industry.”
Prior to this new job, Zhou said he worked 14 to 16 hours a day as a bus driver for only $100 a day, and added he was fired when he asked for better wages and conditions. “He is grateful,” said Zhou, “to his new employer for giving him the chance to show a new model of what it could be like to be an immigrant worker.”
He said he earns $18 an hour currently.
OMB Audio: Weatherization Crew Chief Wen Wei Zhou (with translator, Alice Leung, Chinese Progressive Association Steering Committee) (1:43)
In an interview just prior to the Chinatown event, Aulson Inc. President Alan Aulson said so far the company has trained fifteen workers but that job assignments have been slow in coming.
“We’re hoping that some of the work comes forward; it’s been a slow, slow, process. I think we’ve been working three or four people for a year now, just to get that core [group of workers] ready to go. So when we get it kicked off, we’d like to at least move it up to ten or twelve people.”
Since the inception of the Green Justice Coalition, organizers have made it a priority to insure that workers look like the people living in the neighborhoods where energy efficiency work is done. Aulson said his company has a history of affirmative action and would try to hire at least 90% of new workers from the pilot project neighborhoods.
Of course, added Aulson, the crew from Chinatown eventually will work in other parts of the city.
“Oddly enough, we’re looking to take that group [from Chinatown] and move it throughout the city. So we could go to another neighborhood and not look like the neighborhood at all because we’ve got the neighborhood and who’s our team and partners now with us.
But we’ve done an awful lot of that over the course of time, hiring from the neighborhood…but right now we’re working very closely with this group…and we’re very happy; we’re very proud if it."
OMB Audio: Alan Aulson, President of Aulson Company (4:00)
Green Justice Coalition partners NSTAR and National Grid both sent representatives to the Chinatown event. Penni Connor, Vice President for Customer Care at electrical utility NSTAR said the project has been “a long time coming.”
“NSTAR is proud to work with the Chinese Progressive Association. We know that community mobilization initiatives are most impactful because they do neighbor to neighbor to neighbor communication and outreach. So we’re going to be able to reach so many folks that we have not been able to touch in the past. And we’re excited about that.
But what is even more gratifying to me is that we are creating local jobs here. The green economy is powerful, there’s a lot of opportunities we have to create more [energy] efficiencies, help our consumers save money, reduce waste of energy, and we’re doing that with local folks who are delivering the weatherization in Chinatown and that’s powerful.”
OMB Audio: NSTAR, V.P. for Customer Care, Penni Connor (1:40)
Connor said she believes the environmental and economic projects established in Boston and around Massachusetts will become models for programs throughout the U.S.