NEW BEDFORD — In July, 2021, Vineyard Wind hosted a flashy ceremony on the New Bedford waterfront, signing the first labor agreement in the offshore wind industry, which committed the project to hiring 500 union workers. 

“We now have an agreement in place that will make sure local residents on the South Coast, Cape and Islands can reap the greatest possible benefit from this new and growing industry,” announced Lars Pederson, who was then Vineyard Wind CEO. 


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But the official document signed between Vineyard Wind and the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, called a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), was never publicly released. And since then, local employment agencies and organizers say, the unions with contracts in the offshore wind industry have largely overlooked workers from New Bedford. 

On Thursday, a coalition of community organizations announced a grant obtained from the state economic development agency for clean energy to design a training program — building out the local workforce pipeline for offshore wind and breaking down barriers to join the strong, but historically insular labor unions that have secured the contracts. 

“We are going to put our people in these unions,” said John “Buddy” Andrade, executive director of the Old Bedford Village Development Corp., which is working with People Acting in Community Endeavors (PACE) and others on the project. “This is a new industry, but we don’t want the same, old problems. The historic discrimination. If we’re at the table, that won’t happen. But right now, we’re not.” 

The $50,000 grant, which came from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), will be used to develop the training program with the goal of obtaining a much larger grant that will allow the organizations to then staff and run the program. It is part of the state’s initiative to build a “robust, well-trained, and inclusive workforce,” which it describes as “vital to achieving and sustaining the Commonwealth’s climate goals.” 


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The grant specifically aims to “connect the most underserved individuals in New Bedford and neighboring EJ [environmental justice] communities that may be missed by traditional workforce approaches to growing workforce development and economic opportunities created by offshore wind.” 

Andrade was there in 2021 when Vineyard Wind and the Massachusetts Building Trades Council signed their historic Project Labor Agreement. He was seated with a group of about 15 New Bedford students who he said were interested at the prospect of working in the offshore wind industry. They listened as the state’s top politicians, including U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, touted the labor agreement. And they listened as workers from the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, a coalition of labor unions based mostly in Boston, spoke of their careers in a burgeoning new industry. 

Some of the students seated with Andrade that day have since graduated, he said. Without a strong educational pipeline, none of them had the opportunity to build a career in the offshore wind industry. 

“If there is no transparency or accountability around the PLA and the union membership, then they are the ones who are hurting the causes of equal opportunity for New Bedford residents,” Andrade said. “They are the ones who are putting up the barriers.” 

Andrade said some of the unions under the council have been more receptive to recruiting a local workforce than others. The Piledrivers Local 56, which is based in Boston and part of the council, worked with Andrade to bring two New Bedford workers into its membership. John Dunderdale, business manager for Local 56, attended the announcement on Thursday and pledged to work with the community organizations. 


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“We have to build this workforce,” Dunderdale said. “We are going to need the people. The jobs are going to be there.” 

But until a local workforce is trained, the prospect of securing a career in the offshore wind industry is unlikely. 

“Our residents are not the ones getting the jobs. They are coming from out of town,” Elizete Perry of the Greater New Bedford Career Center said on Thursday. “They are busing people into work at our pier. How can that be?”

She continued: “We have to build the structure, the workforce, in order to help our community thrive.” 

The Old Bedford Village Development Corp. represents a community with strong Cape Verdean heritage. The specter of the city’s whaling history loomed large over the meeting on Thursday. 

“In the days of whaling, we were in the energy business,” said former mayor John Bullard, now president of the board for the New Bedford Ocean Cluster. “A lot of Cape Verdeans on those ships made our city great. So we have a heritage of local people, working in difficult circumstances in an unforgiving environment — harvesting energy.”

The event also featured other potential employers adjacent to the offshore wind industry, including the New Bedford Foss Marine Terminal, which is developing a portion of the southern waterfront into a staging area for offshore wind, and Thayer Mahan, a maritime surveillance company contracted by wind farm developers to do noise mitigation and screen for whales during construction. 

“This will be major for the young people that we have in here today,” said Ward 4 City Councilor Derek Baptiste. “Not only to have jobs, but to have careers.”

Email Will Sennott at wsennott@newbedfordlight.org.


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