EmPower Solar, a prominent New York-based commercial solar developer and installer, recently furloughed 40% of its workforce into 2025, and others into 2026. The layoffs came one week after employees voted to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 259.
According to union documents filed with the National Labor Relations Board, a December 21, 2023 vote was taken by 49 EmPower Solar employees, driven by concerns over working conditions and safety, as well as job security and equitable compensation. Of the votes, 29 were in favor of unionizing, 16 were opposed, one vote was challenged, and the last few votes were left uncounted.
Only two days before the official union vote, Empower Solar filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the union engaged in “coercion, incl’g statements or acts of violence,” in violation of Section 8(b)(1)(A) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Since the furlough, workers have picketed the EmPower Solar facilities.
EmPower Solar told the New York Focus, “The decision to furlough had nothing to do with the UAW or results of the union vote.” Company leaders cite macroeconomic factors such as high interest rates and inflation as the primary reasons for the reduced demand for their services.
However, the timing of these announcements – just after a significant unionization event – is strategically inopportune for the company. The UAW and the affected employees, have categorized the actions as deliberate, retaliatory union busting.
At the time of furloughing these employees, EmPower’s website listed 13 positions for new full-time employees. The following positions were still listed on the company website as of January 11, 2024:
Under the NLRA, Section 8(a)(3) strictly prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for unionizing. This section forbids firing as a form of penalty due to union activities or sympathies. Simultaneously, the NLRA protects employers from union coercion, as stated in section 8(b)(1)(A). This section prohibits unions from restraining or coercing employees in exercising their rights under the act, including the right to refrain from union activities.
The Solar Energy Industry Association shows that community scale solar coming online has slowed in 2023, while commercial installations have stayed constant.
Recently, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Laborers International Union of North America, and the International Union of Operating Engineers have signed a national tri-trade solar agreement. The agreement specifies the roles of each union in utility-scale solar projects across the United States (California excluded).
This article was amended to reflect that while the website listed many open positions at the time of furlough, the website has now been updated to show just one open position.
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