Can unions deliver good green jobs at Tesla?

tesla injury ratesThe “Driving a Fair Future” website has documented the complaints against Tesla for years – including an analysis of  Tesla injury rates between 2014 and 2017 at its Freemont California plant, which showed that injuries were 31% higher than industry standards.  In June 2018, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board  began to hear some of the workers’ complaints of safety violations and anti-union harassment, with the United Auto Workers representing them.  Two themes have emerged in the saga of Tesla’s bad labour relations:  1. how can the apparently “green jobs” become decent, good jobs?  and  2. would unionization at Tesla give a toehold at other precarious Silicon Valley workplaces such as Google, Amazon, and their like.

“Tesla’s Union Battle Is About the Future of Our Planet” (Oct. 9) in Medium describes the union drive at the Freemont California electric vehicle  manufacturing plant, in light of its environmental mission. The article contends : “ This case isn’t just about Tesla. It’s about the future of an industry that sees itself as key to addressing the climate crisis. Clean tech companies peddle a progressive vision of a low-carbon future, but Tesla’s anti-union fervor suggests that some in the industry have lost sight of their work’s bigger point.”

Workers from Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo New York  expressed similar sentiments in interviews with the  local news organization . Taking pride in their green jobs, they are seeking better pay, benefits, and job security through a unionization drive announced in December.  The Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo received $750 million in taxpayer funding for the state-of-the-art solar production facility, promising new jobs in a high unemployment area; the unionization campaign involves about 300 production and maintenance employees in a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers. The drive is endorsed by the Labor Network for Sustainability , which states: “We are hearing a lot about the need for a Green New Deal that will provide millions of good jobs helping protect the climate. These Tesla workers represent the Green New Deal in action.” Follow developments on the Facebook page of the Coalition for Economic Justice Buffalo.

Implications for High Tech workers: Why Elon Musk’s latest legal bout with the United Auto Workers may have ripple effects across Silicon Valley” is a thorough overview  about the UAW unionization drive at Tesla’s auto  manufacturing plant at Freemont California, from CNBC   in early December.  Similar themes appeared in  “What Tesla’s union-busting trial means for the rest of Silicon Valley” appeared in Verge in September 2018,  chronicling the arguments of the UAW and Tesla management – including Elon Musk and his tweets – during the NLRB hearings  in June 2018.   The article concludes that “Tesla’s case [is] a bellwether — particularly for Amazon. … Tesla might be a car company, but it’s also a tech company — and if its workers can unionize, tech workers elsewhere are bound to start getting ideas.”

What is life like for these high tech workers? A New Kind of Labor Movement in Silicon Valley” in The Atlantic (Sept. 4  )  gives a good overview, and introduces nascent groups as Silicon Valley Rising  and Tech Workers Coalition  .

 

GM Oshawa closure – a sign of the disruption to auto manufacturing

chevy boltAfter the November 26 bombshell announcement that the GM plant in Oshawa will close at the end of December 2019, Unifor President Jerry Diaz has demanded that GM allocate product to the Oshawa plant, putting his faith in the newly-signed USMCA trade agreement and stating  “Oshawa has been in this situation before with no product on the horizon and we were able to successfully make the case for continued operations.”  But in a CBC interview, “Why can’t they make the future in Oshawa?‘”(Nov. 27),  the Canadian Vice President for Corporate and Environmental Affairs states firmly that there is no hope for further production in Oshawa.  “This decision has to do with simply being able to make the transition to the future and reallocate capital into the massive investments that are needed for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.” He forecasts that about half of the existing Oshawa workers will be eligible to retire with enhanced full pensions, some (but not all) others may find work at GM plants in Ingersoll or St. Catharines, and the rest will be covered by whatever compensation, benefits and timing is negotiated with their union, Unifor.  In a more recent CBC article, “GM Canada president says electric vehicles are the future — but they won’t be made in Oshawa” (Dec. 4), the president reiterates that there are no changes planned for the CAMI plant in Ingersoll or the St. Catharines facility, and points to the growth of the new GM Canadian Technology Centre opened in Markham in January 2018, which has already hired approximately 450 software engineers and coders, with plans to hire more.

Although Ontario Premier Ford somehow blamed the previous government’s cap and trade policies for GM’s decision, others are recognizing the GM closure as part of the disruption and transformation of the auto industry.   From the Energy Mix, “GM Plant Closure Shows Industry Transition Catching Canada, Ontario Flat-Footed” (Nov. 30) ; (also of interest: “Lost Opportunities Show Cost of Canada’s Moribund Cleantech Manufacturing Strategy”   (Nov. 30), which discusses the dilemma of electric bus manufacturers in Canada).  In “GM and Canada’s transition to a zero-emissions fleet”  in IRPP Policy Options (Dec. 3) , author  Ryan Katz-Rosene of the University of Ottawa  states that  “ the 20th-century auto-sector model (in which a handful of global automakers commanded the market and much of the supply chain associated with it) is pretty much dead now.” The article asks, “Where does this leave Canada in terms of its preparedness to participate in the 21st century automobile sector, which is largely centred on electric and autonomous vehicles? And, what role (if any) should governments, at all levels, play to improve Canada’s industrial positioning in that sector?”   And Barry Cross of Queen’s University asks “Have we reached peak car?” in The Conversation (Dec. 2) – a quick view of the future of autonomous vehicles and car sharing.

Good news and bad news about electric vehicles: B.C. mandates, Oshawa plant closing

Electric vehicles Wikimedia Commons 768x512The Good News: British Columbia:   In the latest encouragement to electric vehicle ownership in British Columbia, the Premier announced on November 20  that he will introduce legislation in Spring 2019 to phase in targets for the sale of zero-emission vehicles in the province –  10% ZEV sales by 2025, 30% by 2030, and 100% by 2040.  This will be accompanied by funding to expand charging infrastructure, and for consumer incentives in addition to the existing incentives under the Clean Energy Vehicle program . The new policies are  in line with the Intentions Paper on Transportation,  part of a public consultation in Summer 2018.  (For background, read  “Fuelled by strong demand, B.C. adds $10 million to electric vehicle incentive program” (Sept 27) and “B.C. proposes mandate for electric vehicles”  (July 27), both in the National Observer.) Mandates for EV sales are already in place in Quebec, California, and other U.S. states.

gm oshawaThe Bad news: Ontario:  Mandates for EV sales in the U.S. was part of the modernization strategy  by General Motors in its comments  to the U.S. government under the  Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule on October 26, 2018.  According to the  National Observer  at the time, “Transport Canada welcomes GM’s electric car plan”. Apparently, Transport Canada didn’t know what was in store.  As of November 26, GM’s  global modernization strategy came crashing down on Ontario auto workers – announced in the November 26 corporate press release:  GM Accelerates Transformation . The brief and unexpected press release names the GM Assembly plant in Oshawa Ontario as one which will be “unallocated” in 2019, along with  Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ( Detroit) and Lordstown Assembly (Warren, Ohio). The Toronto Star makes the connections in “GM plant closure in Oshawa part of company’s shift to electric, self-driving autos”   (Nov. 26) .

Unifor, which represents approximately 2,500 GM Oshawa workers who will lose their jobs, was only informed of the decision one day ahead of the public announcement, and has stated  : “Based on commitments made during 2016 contract negotiations, Unifor does not accept this announcement and is immediately calling on GM to live up to the spirit of that agreement.”  Ontario’s Premier Ford issued a statement  saying: “As a first step, I will be authorizing Employment Ontario to deploy its Rapid Re-Employment and Training Services program to provide impacted local workers with targeted local training and jobs services to help them regain employment as quickly as possible….we are asking the federal government to immediately extend Employment Insurance (EI) eligibility to ensure impacted workers in the auto sector can fully access EI benefits when they need them most….We are also asking the federal government to work with their U.S. counterparts to remove all tariffs so that impacted auto parts suppliers can remain competitive after the Oshawa Assembly Plant closes its doors.”

 

 

Labour union voices at the Global Climate Action Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), which brought together the world’s politicians, business leaders, and civil society organizations in San Francisco, concluded on September 14 .  The final Call to Global Climate Action calls on national governments to urgently step up climate action, including by enhancing their UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020.The GCAS final press release summarizes the many announcements and 500+ commitments that were made; even more comprehensive is  A Chronology of Individual Summit and Pre-Summit Announcements , in which Summit organizers list all important actions and documents, dating back to January 2018.  Plans were announced to monitor actions flowing from the Summit  at a revamped Climate Action Portal, hosted by the UNFCC –   focused  around an interactive map as the key to aggregated  data about  climate action by region and sector.

richard-l-trumkaLabour unions at the Summit:    Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, delivered a speech to the Summit on September 13, “Fight Climate Change the Right way” , in which he highlighted the passage of Resolution 55 at the AFL-CIO Convention in October 2017. He emphasized that the climate change/clean energy resolution was adopted unanimously…”with the outspoken support of the unions whose members work in the energy sector. That part is critical–the workers most impacted by a move away from carbon fuels came together and endorsed a plan to save our people and our planet….”

Trumka also spoke on September 12  at  Labor in the Climate Transition:  Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond , an affiliate event sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, along with the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Confederation, and BlueGreen Alliance.   In that speech,  titled Collective Action and Shared Sacrifice Key to Fighting Climate Change,  Trumka cast the AFL-CIO climate record in a positive light, repeated the success of Resolution 55 at the 2017 Convention, gave a 100% commitment to fighting climate change, and stated: “…we must be open to all methods of reducing carbon emissions—including technologies some environmentalists don’t like.” He concluded: “When the movement to fight climate change ignores the issue of economic justice, or treats it as an afterthought, when we seek to address climate change without respecting the hard work and sacrifice of workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors whose jobs are threatened—we feed the forces who are trying to tear us apart…. If we don’t get this right, we could find that our democracy fails before our climate…as rising fear and rising hate converge on us faster than rising seas.”

John Cartwright

The Berkeley event also featured panels on Just Transition, chaired by Samantha Smith, Director, Just Transition Centre of the ITUC, and included Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour,  as a speaker, and a panel on Energy Efficiency  in buildings , which included John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council (pictured right)  as a speaker.  Videos of  the Berkeley event are here  , including one of the Trumka speech.

ITF statement 2018 green-and-healthy-streetsFinally, as part of the main Summit announcements, the International Transport Federation (ITF) released a statement in support of the Green and Healthy Streets Declaration by the C40 Cities, which  commits signatory cities to procure zero emission buses by 2025 and to ensure that major areas of cities are zero emissions by 2030. (Montreal and Toronto are the two Canadian signatories).  The ITF statement,  Green & Healthy Streets: Transitioning to zero emission transport , is motivated by the benefits of lowering air pollution and occupational health and safety for transport workers, as well as the economic justice of providing transit opportunities for workers to commute to work.

The ITF and its affiliates commit to: “Working in partnerships with mayors and cities to ensure that the transition to fossil-fuel-free streets is a just transition that creates decent jobs, reduces inequality, and drives inclusion and improvements in the lives of working class and low income people. • Building partnerships with mayors and city authorities to develop and integrate just transition plans that drive decent work and social action, including labour impact assessments, safeguards and job targets for men and women workers. • Mobilising workers knowledge and skills to shape and enhance the supportive actions needed to meet the commitments in the Declaration. • Working in partnerships with mayors and city authorities to deliver a just transition to zero emission buses, including developing plans for relevant worker training.”

Other progress for workplace concerns  at the Summit:

Amid the announcements from the formal meetings, one new initiative stands out: the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs, which commits renewable energy companies to ILO core labor standards and ILO occupational health and safety standards for themselves and their suppliers, as well as social dialogue with workers and unions, wage guarantees, and social protections such as pension and health benefits. The BTeam press release “Companies step up to Deliver a Just Transition”  lists the signatories, and also  quotes Sharan Burrow, Vice-Chair of The B Team and General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who states: “We will not stand by and see stranded workers or stranded communities.…  We have to work together with business, with government and workers. We can build a future that’s about the dignity of work, secure employment and shared prosperity.”  The BTeam press release also references  Just Transition: A Business Guide, published jointly by the B Team and the Just Transition Centre in May 2018.

Another announcement related to the workplace: 21 companies announced the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance “dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies and the fourth industrial revolution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020.”  The press release   references “the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution, which encompasses artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the declaration acknowledges the role its signatories can play in demonstrating and enabling progress both in their immediate spheres of influence and “collaboratively with others— across all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, civil society, and governments.”    Signatories include several established climate leaders: Akamai Technologies, Arm, Autodesk, Bloomberg, BT, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lyft, Nokia, Salesforce, Supermicro, Symantec, Tech Mahindra, Uber, Vigilent, VMware, WeWork, Workday.

U.K. government releases strategy to reduce transportation emissions, stimulate clean vehicle manufacturing

The U.K. Committee on Climate Change (CCC) submitted its 2018 annual report to the British Parliament on June 28, marking ten years since the Climate Change Act became law in 2008.  On the plus side, the report highlights a decoupling of economic  growth:   since 1990, emissions have fallen by 43% and the economy has grown by over 70%. Since 2008, the UK has achieved a 59% reduction in emissions from electricity generation. Yet despite that progress, other sectors, notably transport, agriculture and the built environment, have not achieved reductions – transport emissions have actually grown and at  28% of total UK emissions, are now the single largest emitter.    Reducing UK emissions – 2018 Progress Report to Parliament  outlines four high-level, messages for government and calls for immediate policy action in residential energy efficiency, development of Carbon Capture and Storage, and stronger consumer  incentives for electric vehicles.

black cabsNo sooner said than done: on July 9, the British Ministry of Transport  released  a long-awaiting document, The Road to Zero Strategy , with the goal that all new cars and vans will be effectively zero emission by 2040, at which time the government will end the sale of new conventional gas and diesel cars and vans. The press release highlights and summarizes the proposals .  Some specifics: commitment to continue consumer purchase incentives for plug-in cars, vans, taxis and motorcycles; commitment that all  the central Government car fleet will be zero emissions by 2030; the  launch of a £400 million Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund and  as much as £500 incentive for  electric vehicle owners to help them install a charge point at their home; increasing the grant level of the existing incentives for Workplace Charging stations.

Stimulating the motor vehicle industry:  Notably, the strategy aims to improve emissions in road transport in the U.K. while putting the U.K.  “at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles.”  Measures announced to support industry include: public investment in auto technology R & D, including £246 million to research next generation battery technology; and  working with the industry training group,  Institute of the Motor Industry,  “to ensure the UK’s workforce of mechanics are well trained and have the skills they need to repair these vehicles safely, delivering for consumers” .

However, “Road to Zero or Road to Nowhere: Government revs up green vehicle ‘ambition’ ”  in Business Green newsletter compiles reaction from business and environmental sources, all of which agree that the 2040 target date is too late. The quote from the Policy Director of Green Alliance sums up reaction:  “It’s rare for the oil industry, mayors and environmentalists to agree on something, but we all think 2040 is far too late for a ban on conventional vehicles…Moving it to 2030 and setting a zero emissions vehicles mandate would encourage car companies to build electric cars in the UK, and give the country a head start on its competitors across Europe. While there are some welcome measures, including on charging infrastructure, the Road to Zero strategy is on cruise control. As it stands, it won’t help the UK build a world leading clean automotive industry.”

The full Road to Zero policy document is here ; the accompanying technical report,  Transport Energy Model   provides data about the GHG emissions, energy requirements, and pollution associated with cars, trucks and double decker buses using conventional fossil fuels as well as biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.