Clean-energy workers demand assurances on abortion care benefits

Most cleantech and renewables firms have avoided public statements on the rollback of abortion rights. Now employees are asking them to clarify their stances.

a group of protestors holding sign. A woman holds a sign that says "Keep your laws off my body"
(John Parra/Getty Images for MoveOn)
  • Link copied to clipboard

On Monday, a coalition of women working in clean energy called for companies to step up support for employee access to abortion and reproductive health care.

Last month’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ended the constitutional right to abortion care and carved a new legal landscape in which reproductive rights vary wildly from state to state. Some 20 states have banned or will soon ban abortion, according to a Washington Post tally.

That’s an immediate problem for people living in the Republican-controlled states where abortions have suddenly been outlawed. But the ruling also forces employers to figure out what to do for workers in places affected by the shift. That’s certainly the case for the up-and-coming clean energy industry, which operates not just in progressive strongholds like California, Massachusetts and New York, but in the sunny and windy states across the Great Plains and the Southwest.

Subscribe to receive Canary's latest news

If you look at the states where solar is growing rapidly and look at the states where abortion is restricted, there’s unfortunately a pretty large overlap,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a Thursday interview. 

Now clean-energy workers are pushing their industry to commit to employees’ access to abortion. A group of professionals published an open letter Monday with proposed best practices for the industry, advocating for the kind of strong response seen from many leading corporations that have pledged to pay for abortion-related travel costs. That group includes tech giants Amazon, Meta and Microsoft, as well as companies ranging from Ikea to JPMorgan Chase to Walt Disney. Even oil giants BP and Shell updated their employee benefits in the days following the Dobbs decision to cover out-of-state travel for health care.

We were expecting a strong response like we’ve seen from a lot of companies that came out publicly within a day,” said Rebecca Glazer, an organizer of the letter who also serves as senior director of growth initiatives at AES Clean Energy. But most clean energy companies have remained silent. A lot of folks felt like their companies were not responding.” 

The letter grew out of conversations among roughly 75 women from across the clean energy sector, where women remain a minority in the workforce and in leadership roles.

The thing that unified all of us was feeling like we weren’t being heard,” said Glazer, speaking on her own behalf. We’re trying to impress upon leadership the breadth of this [Supreme Court] decision, how it impacts people. We’re trying to make it more salient and more real for them.”

The ask: Clarify and expand benefits

The first thing companies need to do is tell employees what’s covered by their current benefit packages. All companies should clarify for their employees whether their existing insurance plans cover travel expenses for out-of-state medical care, and whether that policy would cover abortion care,” the letter says. 

That we view as table stakes,” Glazer said. Everyone should be doing that; that’s not even a question — but some companies still need a reminder.”

The clear next step is for employers to ensure health benefits do in fact cover the costs of out-of-state treatment. But this needs to be done in a way that protects employee privacy, the letter writers say. Providing that care through health spending accounts managed by third parties subject to health privacy rules would be one way to achieve that.

The letter goes further in calling for stipends for employees who want to move to a state where the right to abortion still exists. And for people who choose to stay in states where abortion is outlawed, the letter asks companies to give their employees extra time off for volunteering and activism to restore abortion rights, and even to cover legal fees for employees who might face penalties for accessing or advocating for abortion care.

The letter also calls on companies to proactively assure employees that they will not face repercussions for protesting in favor of reproductive justice, or for seeking abortion care.”

Early action from Tesla and Arcadia

Few leading clean energy companies have made public commitments regarding their health coverage for abortion in the wake of the June 24 Dobbs decision.

Two exceptions are Tesla and Arcadia. Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling, Tesla had declared that it would cover transportation costs for employees who need to travel out of state for abortions. Four days after the ruling, community-solar platform Arcadia published a statement in support of reproductive health care with the following commitment: We offer every employee, their partner, and dependents — regardless of participation in our health insurance plan — financial support to access reproductive care, including abortion, no matter geographical or financial constraints.”

Canary Media solicited comments from large clean energy employers; companies that did not respond with comments in time for publication include AES, Generate Capital, Invenergy, NextEra Energy Resources and Sunrun. 

For Glazer and others, the relative silence from clean-energy leaders is at odds with the values of an industry known for striving to make the world a healthier place.

People really want to see this industry do things that some might view as controversial but ultimately are right and just,” Glazer said.

Hopper noted that it can take time for companies to fully unpack the legal and technical implications of a ruling this consequential. While reviewing internal policies for the trade group she runs, Hopper discovered that some changes to health insurance need to be negotiated with insurers, meaning they won’t be enacted until the next benefit year. 

But this is necessary work for clean energy companies that want to maintain skilled and engaged staff, Hopper said, at a time when filling roles and retaining workers is reportedly difficult across the board.

My industry wants a reliable and a growing workforce, and that only happens when we make sure people have access to health care,” she said.

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.