A proposal to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production under public and worker ownership

gm oshawaTriple Bottom Line Preliminary Feasibility Study of the GM Oshawa Facility: Possibilities for Sustainable Community Wealth was released in September 2019 by Green Jobs Oshawa  – a coalition of workers, community leaders, environmentalists, labour and social justice advocates whose goal is to  re-purpose the soon-to-be-shuttered GM Oshawa auto assembly plant “for socially beneficial manufacturing.”

The call to convert GM Oshawa to electric vehicle production has been made before – notably by Sam Gindin, as part of a Lucas Plan-style conversion, and by journalist Linda McQuaig, most recently in her new book The Sport & Prey of Capitalists . But the new Triple Bottom Line feasibility study fleshes out these goals with facts and figures: it  estimates that a  public investment of $1.4 to $1.9 billion would be required to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) production, which, when supported by government procurement of the vehicles, would result in financial break-even by year 4, and create over 13,000 jobs (up to 2,900 jobs in parts supply and manufacturing) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.

The Triple Bottom Line study was written by Russ Christianson,  a consultant and active proponent of worker cooperatives. He uses “a triple bottom line evaluation”, including: 1. an economic analysis of the current and future auto industry market, capital investment required, skills and equipment available at the GM facility and in the community, and the potential new products that could be manufactured. 2. Social needs in the Oshawa community for well-paid, dignified work , and 3. “How production at the plant can address the defining issue of our times, climate catastrophe”.

Some Highlights from the report: 

“By paying a good wage to auto workers – this study proposes the existing GM Oshawa tier 1 wage of $35 per hour for assembly workers – it will be possible to gain the workers’ commitment by investing in their jobs through shared-ownership of the new organization.”

“Governments will need to negotiate alongside the workers and community to gain public ownership of the GM Oshawa plant. The financial forecasts include a start-up investment of $10,000 from each of the workers combined with community investment for a total of $37.5 million in Scenario 1, and Scenario 2 estimates $25 million in investment from workers and the community.”

“By the end of year 5, the forecasts show that BEVs will represent 30 to 40 percent of these governments’ total fleets, except for Canada Post, which (like the U.S. Postal Service) is expected to replace the majority of their delivery fleet vehicles with BEVs.”

The CBC reported on the launch of the feasibility study on September 21 in “Autoworkers at GM’s Oshawa plant ask feds for more than $1B to build electric vehicles”  and included commentary from supporters and detractors.  In support, the article quotes from an email by Olivier Trescases, head of the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre,  which stated: “I think that aiming for government owned EV fleets and electrified public transportation is strategically very important and more logical than trying to produce passenger cars though a Crown corporation.”

Norway municipal pension fund divests from Canada’s oil sands

On October 7, the National Observer reported  “Norway public pension fund severs final link with Canada’s oilsands” . The article describes that KLP, which manages the pensions of Norway’s 900,000 nurses, firefighters and other local and state government employees, has sold off US$33 million worth of equity holdings and US$25 million in bonds from Canada’s Cenovus Energy, Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil (majority owned by ExxonMobil) and Husky Energy, as well as Russia’s Tatneft PAO. This follows the June 2019 vote by the Norwegian Parliament to to tighten the coal exclusion criteria of Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), and the October 1 decision by the GPFG to divest from oil exploration companies (although it still maintains investment in downstream and integrated ventures).  The moves are seen as reflective of the instability of oil and gas investments, and it is notable that the KLP fund has had a 22.8 percent return so far this year, 1.5 per cent ahead of its benchmark.

In contrast to the Norweigian pension administrators, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) as recently as March 2019  invested $1.34 billion in a joint venture which will expand fracking in the western Marcellus and Utica shale basins of the U.S.. The CPPIB manages $400 billion to support the public pensions of Canadians, and continues to hold hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas companies, including Enbridge , Suncor  and Pembina Pipeline.   The Green Party of Canada platform in the 2019 election  commits to “regulate the CPP Investment Board to require divestment of coal, oil and gas shares and ensure that all investments are ethical and promote environmental sustainability.”

Another recent, high-profile divestment:  The University of California announced that by the end of September, the university’s $70 billion pension fund and $13.4 billion endowment  fund will have divested all investments related to fossil fuel extraction.  The reason given:  “The reason we sold some $150 million in fossil fuel assets from our endowment was the reason we sell other assets: They posed a long-term risk to generating strong returns for UC’s diversified portfolios.”  A September 18 article in Vox is one of many reporting on this high-profile decision.


The right policy mix determines the extent of job creation for California’s proposed offshore wind industry

floating offshore windCalifornia Offshore Wind: Workforce Impacts and Grid Integration  is a report released on September 27 by the Center for Labor Research and Education at University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. The report seeks to quantify what benefits for workers and communities would emerge from a major offshore wind power sector, given that the depth of California’s waters require floating platform wind installations, and floating wind is in its infancy. (According to the report, the only commercially operating project now is the 30 MW Hywind  project , opened in 2017 off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland). The author interviewed union leaders, offshore wind industry participants, workforce training professionals, and port and transportation specialists for their firsthand accounts of the impacts of offshore wind, as well as analyzing the research to date on the economic and employment impacts of the fixed-bottom offshore wind industry around the world. A press release provides an executive summary of the report.

The conclusion: state policy intervention is a crucial determinant of the level of benefit for offshore wind.  Excerpts from the report: The largest economic benefits would occur “if an in-state supply chain were developed for the primary components of wind turbine generators—blades, nacelles (hubs), and towers—as well as the floating platforms, thus creating thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs. But the offshore wind industry is highly globalized, with its supply chain centered in Europe, and by the mid-2020s, China is likely to become a major exporter of wind components. … policymakers should set a clear goal for offshore wind as part of the long-term renewable energy planning process (for example, a mandate for at least 8 GW over a decade). If the offshore wind planning process were to evolve in a more piecemeal basis, without strategic direction or fixed targets, wind developers and manufacturers would lack incentive to make major California investments…. Although the state has a strong workforce training system, including the construction industry’s state-certified apprenticeships, skills gaps are likely to be a challenge for offshore wind on the North Coast. The state should consider creating a High-Road Training Partnership (HRTP) for offshore wind to fill these gaps and broaden community access to offshore wind jobs. HRTPs are a new state program of industry‐specific training programs that prioritize job quality, equity, and environmental sustainability.”



European and U.S. studies discuss training needs for green and greenable jobs

The 2019 edition of the European Commission’s flagship analytical report Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE) was released in July, dedicated to the theme of sustainability.  On September 10, the European Trade Union Institute hosted a conference to discuss Chapter 5 of that report, titled “Towards a greener future: employment and social impacts of climate change policies”. The chapter, downloadable from this link , focuses on three aspects of environmental and social sustainability in the EU: 1. the definitions and discussion framework of green jobs and occupations in the EU economy;  2. the key findings of recent studies of the expected impacts on employment, skills, income and task structures of jobs in a clean transition;  and 3. energy poverty and the link between climate action, air pollution and human health.  In general, the chapter states that the transition to a climate-neutral economy is expected to provide additional jobs in growing, green(ing) sectors both in industry and services, including construction, waste management and sustainable finance, but will require significant reskilling and labour reallocation across sectors and occupations, with careful and early policy intervention required to ensure success.  Opinions from the ETUI discussants  is summarized here , including the view that the chapter may underestimate the costs of transition.

Training for “greenable jobs”

Chapter 5 of the EU report states that “Analysis of task content also shows that green jobs vary in ‘greenness’, with very few jobs only consisting of green tasks, suggesting that the term ‘green’ should be considered a continuum rather than a binary characteristic. While it is easier to transition to indirectly green rather than directly green jobs, greening is likely to involve transitions on a similar scale and scope of existing job transitions. Non-green jobs generally appear to differ from their green counterparts in only a few skill-specific aspects, suggesting that most re-training can happen on-the-job.”

Appendix 1  of Chapter 5 (p. 36) highlights four recent studies on the “greenness of jobs” with one North American study: Bowen et al.   “Characterising  green employment: The impacts of ‘greening’ on workforce composition” which appeared in Energy Economics in May 2018.  Using the U.S. O*NET database and its definition of green jobs, the paper estimates that “19.4% of U.S. workers could currently be part of the green economy in a broad sense, although a large proportion of green employment would be ‘indirectly’ green, comprising existing jobs that are expected to be in high demand due to greening, but do not require significant changes in tasks, skills, or knowledge.”

insulalater2-365x365O*NET describes itself as   “the primary source of occupational information” for the United States, part of the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration.  O*NET  counts any occupation that will be affected by greening as a greenable job, and defines three subcategories, according to the effect that greening will have on the tasks, skills, and knowledge required for the job –  namely changing skill green occupations (e.g. construction workers and farmers); higher demand green occupations (e.g. bus and train drivers and renewable energy engineers); and new green occupations (e.g. energy and sustainability auditors and sustainable finance managers).



With progressive policies, Canada’s clean energy sector will provide over 500,000 jobs by 2030

Two new economic studies project the potential for growth in the clean energy sector to 2030 in  Canada and in Nova Scotia.

fast laneOn October 3, Vancouver-based Clean Energy Canada announced  its new report, The Fast Lane , which predicts that “ Canada’s clean energy sector will employ 559,400 Canadians by 2030—in jobs like insulating homes, manufacturing electric buses, or maintaining wind farms. And while 50,000 jobs are likely to be lost in fossil fuels over the next decade, just over 160,000 will be created in clean energy—a net increase of 110,000 new energy jobs in Canada.”  That translates into a job growth rate of 3.4% a year for clean energy from 2020, compared to an overall job growth rate of 0.9% for Canada as a whole and a decline of 0.5% a year for the fossil fuel sector.

missing the bigger pictureNavius Research conducted the economic modelling underlying The Fast Lane, as well as a May 2019 Clean Energy Canada report, Missing the Bigger Picture  , which reports on clean energy investment and jobs from 2010 to 2017.  The more detailed economic modelling reports by Navius are available as  Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: A forecast of clean energy investment, value added and jobs  , and Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: An assessment of clean energy investment, value added and jobs (May).

The message for policy-makers is made clear in the introduction to The Fast Lane by Merran Smith, Executive Director of Clean Energy Canada: “The sector’s projected growth is modelled on policy measures either in place or announced in early 2019 at both federal and provincial levels. If climate measures are eliminated—as we’ve recently seen in Alberta and Ontario—our emissions will go up and Canadians working in clean energy could lose jobs.”

An article in The Energy Mix summarizes  The Fast Lane . It quotes Lliam Hildebrand, Executive Director of Iron and Earth , a worker-led non-profit which promotes upskilling and retraining for fossil fuel workers:  “It’s really important for people to know that most fossil fuel industry workers are really proud of their trades skills and would be excited—and are excited—about the opportunity to apply those skills to building a sustainable energy future …. But they need support in making that transition.”

A similar message comes through in “After oil and gas: Meet Alberta workers making the switch to solar”  , an article in The Narwhal which profiles three workers who have transitioned from jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The article also summarizes the policy environment in Alberta, where according to Statistics Canada, roughly 1 in every 16 workers in Alberta is employed in the category described as “forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas.” The Narwhal quotes  Rod Wood, national representative from Unifor, who states that the global energy transition “is going to happen in spite of Alberta…You’re either part of the conversation or you’re lunch. It’s just going to steamroll over you.” And  Mark Rowlinson of the United Steelworkers Union and BlueGreen Alliance Canada states: “ The market tends to move with its own feet. If the market sees that the future of the fossil fuel industry is not looking great, it will move quickly… And it will move without a plan. That means there will be wreckage left behind it, and that’s what we need to try to avoid.”

Clean economy policies could bring 180,000 jobs to Nova Scotia by 2030:

Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre submitted what it calls a “Green Jobs Report” to the province’s consultation on its proposed Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, just ended on September 27.  EAC proposed six policy choices, including supplying 90% of the province’s electricity from renewables by 2030, with a summary  here.  A detailed report, Nova Scotia Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act: Economic Costs and Benefits for Proposed Goals  was prepared by economic consultants Gardner Pinfold and estimates the benefits of each proposal,  with the conclusion that the proposed policies could create over 15,000 green jobs per year in Nova Scotia, for a total of just less than 180,000 job-years between now and 2030.