US economy

Building Solar Farms May Not Build the Middle Class


On an afternoon in mid-May, several laborers coming off their shift at Assembly Solar said they were grateful for the work, which they said paid $16 an hour and provided health insurance and 401(k) contributions. Two said they had moved to the area from Memphis and two from Mississippi, where they had made $9 to $15 an hour — one as a cook, two in construction and one as a mechanic.

Jeff Ordower, an organizer with the Green Workers Alliance, a group that pushes for better conditions on such projects, said that out-of-state workers often found jobs through recruiters, some of whom make promises about pay that don’t materialize, and that many workers ended up in the red before starting. “You don’t get money till you get there,” Mr. Ordower said. “You’re borrowing money from friends and family just to get to the gig.”

The Assembly Solar workers described their jobs installing panels: Two workers “throw glass,” meaning they lift a panel onto the rack, while a third “catches it,” meaning he or she guides the panel into place. Another group of workers passes by afterward and secures the panels to the rack.

One of the men, who identified himself as Travis Shaw, said he typically worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week, including overtime. Another worker, Quendarious Foster, who had been on the job for two weeks, said the workers motivated themselves by trying to beat their daily record, which stood at 30 “trackers,” each holding several dozen panels.

“Solar is like a moving assembly line,” said Mr. Prisco, the staffing agency leader. “Instead of the product moving down the line, the people move. It replicates itself over and over again across 1,000, 2,000 acres.”



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