State report shows clean energy jobs growing fastest

Jobs in the clean energy arena are growing faster than the general economy, according to statistics shared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Tuesday.

Growth in this area, which includes everything from installing solar panels to adding insulation to improve energy efficiency, reached 8.9 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to the state’s 2019 Clean Energy Industry Report. That rate was more than double the  rest of the economy, which experienced a 3.4 percent growth rate.

Green energy in New York has been a special focus of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has set ambitious goals for switching the state from fossil fuels to renewable and less polluting forms of energy.

Alicia Barton, NYSERDA president and CEO, said “Under Governor Cuomo, New York has staked out a clear global leadership position in advancing a plan to combat climate change and advance clean energy, and this report demonstrates that those efforts are already paying off. “

Green energy jobs employed 159,000 workers in 2018, NYSERDA said.

Key statistics:

  • Most clean energy jobs – 77 percent – fell in the area of energy efficiency.
  • In this fast-growing sector, jobs in grid modernization and energy storage technology outpaced all others, growing by 35 percent.
  • More than 80 percent of employers in clean energy said they’re having a hard time filling the jobs they have available. To that end, the state is supporting training programs for such jobs and has launched job fairs around the state to seek more people to work in the industry.


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State makes move to continue farm market sales to people receiving SNAP benefits

New York farmers, including those who sell at the Rochester City Public Market, will be able to continue selling to SNAP recipients after the state leap-frogged over a federal problem that could have halted farm market sales to people who receive public food assistance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded a contract for processing the sales from recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to a brand-new company that didn’t have the necessary mobile technology for making the transactions. As a result, the company that used to process those sales across the country was in danger of going out of business.  On Friday, New York State and the Farmers Market Federation of New York announced they have reached an agreement to have Novo Dia Group process farm market sales with SNAP benefits in this state through the rest of the farm market season.

Nearly $3.4 million in sales have been made at farm markets across the state to New York’s SNAP recipients.

“New York will not stand idly by as the federal government’s ineptitude takes food out of the mouths of New Yorkers,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a news release. “This is just another example of the Trump administration’s continued assault on the nation’s most needy. While the federal government doles out a contract to an untested company using outdated technology, we will continue to protect not only our most vulnerable residents, but our hard-working farmers.”

The state also suggested that New York’s solution could be a model for other states. Novo Dia had been serving 1,700 markets across the nation.

“We applaud Governor Cuomo’s quick action in shoring up Novo Dia Group for the remainder of the market season and making it possible for SNAP to be used at farmers’ markets,” said Diane Eggert, executive director of the market federation. “Losing access to SNAP through the Novo Dia Group would have been devastating to farmers’ markets. Low income consumers would lose access to fresh, healthy and locally grown foods, while our state’s farmers would have lost significant income that is critical to supporting our family farmers.”

Richard A. Ball, state commissioner of Agriculture and Markets, also praised the governor’s quick action and added: “The possibility of any kind of disruption of service for those who rely on the electronic benefits service is not acceptable, and we will continue to work with OTDA, the Farmers Market Federation of NY and Novo Dia toward a long-term solution for our communities.”

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Cuomo’s restaurant pay issue a contentious one

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to increase tipped restaurant workers’ wages to the same minimums as other workers will likely result in quite a public battle.

Restaurant owners are already gearing up to testify against the proposal. And some workers are ready to demonstrate in support of it.

Cuomo, in announcing that he will include the measure in his State of the State address, had said a single minimum wage for all workers, including restaurant workers, would help elevate working conditions and counter discrimination for a workforce that is disproportionately female and minority.

A representative of restaurant companies, however, predicted the measure would increase costs of consumers as restaurant owners raise prices to cover the difference between the current minimum of $7.50 an hour and the increased rate of $10 upstate and $11 in New York City. In addition, she said, many restaurant owners would institute a no-tip policy in order to compensate consumers for the higher menu prices. And workers will be paid less in the long run, she said, because tips can be lucrative.

“This is bad for everybody. Bad for the restaurants, bad for the employees, bad for the customer,” said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the 2,000-member New York Restaurant Association.

“People like tipping and like to decide how much to pay. I’m not sure they’re prepared to pay 15, 18, 20 percent more on all menu items,” Fleischut said. “We’re talking about a huge increase if (serving staff are) going to get paid what they’re currently earning. It would turn the industry on its head.”

Mohini Sharma, a former restaurant worker who now works as an organizer of restaurant workers for Metro Justice, painted a much different picture.

“No, it is not bad for workers,” she said. “In the seven other states in which there is one fair wage, tips either increased or stayed the same. There was no negative impact on tips in states that increased the minimum.”

She cited a study that found tipped restaurant workers are more likely to be sexually harassed than any other kind of worker because the pay situation sets up a culture in which customers feel they can comment on server’s sexual appeal and workers feel they must put up with it or risk starving.

The same study found local businesses thrived rather than suffered when restaurant workers made at least the same minimum wage as other workers, Sharma said.

“When most of your population can afford to consume, they go out. When restaurant workers made a living wage, in addition to their tips, they went out more,” she said.

Both groups intend to speak out about the governor’s proposal, which must undergo hearings before it can be enacted.

Members of the restaurant association will testify on the change’s impacts, Fleischut said. She said some have raised prices, reduced portion sizes, substituted technology for servers, and eliminated price-included extras.  More changes will come if the proposal goes ahead, she said.

“It’s not a dramatic impact yet, but if this goes through, it will be,” she said.

Sharma said restaurant workers will demonstrate, as they did in September, in Rochester and Albany to support the “One Fair Wage” initiative.

“We’re going to make sure restaurant workers voices are first and foremost because this is their lives we’re talking about,” Sharma said.

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