Alberta Federation of Labour’s 12-point Plan, and the art of communicating Just Transition

AFL-Final-logoThe Alberta Federation of Labour has launched a campaign “by and for Alberta’s workers” in advance of the provincial election in Spring 2019. The  Next Alberta Campaign website compares the party platforms of the NDP and the United Conservative Party (UCP) , characterized as  “pragmatists” and “dinosaurs” – with a clear preference for the pragmatist NDP platform.  In a March 13 press release, the AFL also released their own 12 Point Plan with this introduction by Gil McGowan, AFL President : “The old policy prescriptions of corporate tax cuts and deregulation .. are particularly ill-suited to the challenges we face today. And simply waiting for the next boom, as Alberta governments have done for decades, is not an option because it probably won’t happen. Like it or not, our future is going to be defined by change. So, the priority needs to be getting our people and our economy ready for that change, instead of sticking our heads in the sand.”

What exactly does the AFL propose?  Their 12 Point Plan includes initiatives around five themes: Support Alberta’s oil & gas industry; Diversify the economy; Invest in Infrastructure; Invest in people (by investing in public services, including expanding medicare, child care and free tuition, and expanding pension plans); and Protect Workers’ Rights.  With a very pragmatic orientation, the document has no mention of “Just Transition” or coal phase-out, and emissions reduction is proposed in these terms:  “Reduce carbon emissions, as much as possible, from each barrel of oil produced in Alberta so, we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent emission standards.” 

On the issue of the oil and gas industry, the Plan states:

We need to build new pipelines to access markets other than the U.S.

We need to incentivize and support oil and gas companies in their efforts to reduce emissions so we can continue to access markets with increasingly stringent environmental standards.

Our goal should be to make sure that Alberta is last heavy oil producer standing in an increasingly carbon constrained world.

On the issue of Infrastructure, the 12-Point Plan calls for:

procurement policies need to be revamped, for example, to use Community Benefit Agreements which emphasize the public interest by awarding contracts to companies that hire local, buy local and achieve thresholds related to environmental, social, and economic factors.

companies and contractors working on public infrastructure projects need to comply with labour standards, provide fair pay, and provide training for Albertans.

Research into communicating energy policies:   The Alberta Narrative Project  released a report,  Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta  in February,  documenting Albertan’s voices on issues of climate change, oil sands, politics, and more.  Some highlights are cited in  “Lessons in talking climate with Albertan Oil Workers” (Feb. 21), including:

“In Alberta, recognising the role that oil and gas has played in securing local livelihoods proved crucial. Most environmentalists would balk at a narrative of ‘gratitude’ towards oil, but co-producing an equitable path out of fossil fuel dependency means making oil sands workers feel valued, not attacked. Empathic language that acknowledges oil’s place in local history could therefore be the key to cultivating support for decarbonisation.

…..This project was also one of the first to test language specifically on energy transitions. While participants were generally receptive to the concept, the word ‘just’, with its social justice connotations, proved to be anything but politically neutral. In an environment where attitudes towards climate are bound to political identities, many interviewees showed a reluctance to the idea of government handouts, even where an unjust transition would likely put them out of a job. Rather, the report recommends a narrative of ‘diversification’ rather than ‘transition’, stressing positive future opportunities instead of moving away from a negative past.”

The Alberta Narratives Project is part of the global Climate Outreach Initiative,  whose goal is to understand and train communicators to deliver effective communications which lead to cooperative approaches.  The Alberta Narratives Project, with lead partners The Pembina Institute and Alberta Ecotrust,  coordinated  75 community  organizations to host 55  facilitated “Narrative Workshops” around the province, engaging an unusually  broad spectrum of people: farmers, oil sands workers, energy leaders, business leaders, youth, environmentalists, New Canadians and others.

pembina energy alberta 2019Pembina Institute communications seem to reflect the goal of an inclusive, constructive tone. For example, their pre-election report,  Energy Policy Leadership in Alberta , released on March 8, makes recommendations regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency,  coal phase-out, methane regulation, and “legislating an emissions reduction target for Alberta that is consistent with ensuring Canada meets its international obligations under the Paris climate agreement.”  Also, Pricing Carbon Pollution in Alberta (March 8), which places carbon pricing in the history of the province since 2007, stresses the benefits, and makes recommendations relevant to the current political debate.

 

Alberta unveils its Just Transition plan for coal workers

On November 10, the government of  Alberta released the Recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities – 35 recommendations to promote a just transition from coal-mining, necessitated  by the government’s Climate Leadership Plan to phase-out coal-fired electricity by 2030.  The Advisory Panel focuses on three areas: workers, communities and First Nations. The 18 recommendations regarding workers relate to income security and replacement, pension security, retraining and re-employment – and recommend a strong role for unions in planning and process.  Some examples:  … “Programs and training should be delivered, as much as possible, while workers are currently employed and should include accessible and flexible skills development models. This includes a role for employers to enable access to skills development during employment.”… “Employers and unions should play roles in facilitating the training or retraining of impacted workers. This could be reflected in employer cost sharing with government and union participation in planning and delivery of assistance.”… Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of severance provisions between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of early retirement benefits between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Immediately assess the direct impact of the transition on the funded status, solvency and operation of defined-benefit pension plans and take steps to ensure these plans are adequately funded. ”

In  a separate press release , the government announced more details about  a $40-million transition fund for workers and communities.  As described on the government website , benefits will include financial support for retraining (still under development), on-site employment counselling for individuals, and the provision of facilitators to  assist employers, employees and unions to establish a worker adjustment committee to develop a workplace transition plan, using labour market information or commissioned regional labour market studies.  In addition, Alberta is calling on the federal government to make changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program immediately, so that the provincial  income support will not reduce their EI income,  and to also extend the duration of EI benefits for coal workers.

The Coal Transition Coalition project, an alliance of unions led by the Alberta Federation of Labour, had previously published its recommendations in  “Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal workers.  The AFL response to the government’s announcements on November 10  calls the Transition Plan “a step in the right direction” and credits the Advisory Panel with listening to workers’  input.  President Gil McGowan warns, however, that   “Offering bridging supports to workers on EI and extending the benefit period for workers close to retirement are important elements of the plan, but they depend on the federal government doing their part,” … “Many coal-fired units in Alberta are closing due to federal government regulatory changes. They have a responsibility to these workers to help ensure a just transition.”

Union Proposals for a Just Transition for Alberta’s coal workers

The phase-out  of the Alberta’s  coal -fired electricity generation  is in the works, with regulations begun by the Harper government and continued by the current provincial government in its Climate Leadership Plan  . Approximately 3,000 workers at 18 coal-fired electricity plants and their associated mines will be affected by the end of the phase-out in 2030.  In September 2016, consultant Terry Boston submitted recommendations to the government on how to transition the electricity supply; for public consultation about transition issues for workers and communities, an  Advisory Panel on Coal Communities  was established, and is scheduled to release its report “in early Spring 2017”.

On March 3, the union-based  Coal Transition Coalition  unveiled its detailed policy recommendations for the Advisory Panel.    Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal Workers , aims  to influence discussion early on in the planning process,  to ensure that issues such as  pensions, severance, labour-retention strategies and

coal transition coalition

Coal Transition Coalition logo

economic diversification are built in from the start. Getting it Right chronicles government policies and the coal mines to be affected, then describes in detail four case study examples of coal transitions in the U.S. and the Rhuhr Valley in Germany .  These case studies form the basis of the    “Lessons learned”  section, which in turn form the basis of the recommendations.

The Coalition’s recommendations emphasize  the advantage of a long-lead time available, the importance of unique, community-led plans, and the importance of public and political acceptance of the Transition programs.  Income replacement and severance benefits are a central concern – calling for enhanced federal Employment Insurance program benefits, and a provincial pension bridging trust fund with adequate reserves to help workers just shy of retirement in 2030. The Coalition also recommends that the province conduct an audit of existing pensions and their coverage and gaps, and prepare a plan to ensure pensions are fully funded and mandated to  meet their obligations.  The report cites a separate report commissioned by the Alberta Federation of Labour, Pension And Benefit Plans In A Just Transitions Strategy For The Alberta Coal-Fired Electricity Industry (November 2016)), which is not available online.

The core recommendation is to establish an Alberta Economic Adjustment Agency , free of political interference, to develop “a just transition plan that places the interests of affected workers, their families and communities as its highest priority”.  Programs would be funded through an  Alberta Economic Adjustment Trust Fund, governed by an independent board of trustees to guard against any  political or industry interference, and financed through  contributions “on the order of $10 million to $20 million per year” leading up to 2030.   The report is silent on who will provide the funding.

The Coal Transition Coalition is led by the Alberta Federation of Labour and includes the following unions:  Canadian Energy Workers Association, CSU 52, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers,   Ironworkers Local 720 , Unifor, United Steelworkers, and United Utility Workers Association.

Alberta Federation of Labour and the Conference Board agree: Refineries provide jobs

A report by the Conference Board of Canada, Is There Value In Adding Value: An Assessement of the Sturgeon Refinery,  released on December 5, evaluates the business case of the first phase of the Sturgeon Refinery in northeastern Alberta,  designed to process 78,630 barrels per day of dilbit.  The Conference Board uses macroeconomic modelling to conclude that there will be long-term positive effects of the construction and operation of the refinery, in increased GDP, government revenues, and employment opportunities. For the construction phase alone, the report estimates 75,884 person-years of total employment impacts; the operation phase is estimated to contribute 6,658 full-time jobs for the life of the refinery.   An Alberta Federation of Labour  press release  quotes  president Gil McGowan:   “This report confirms what we’ve been saying for years — that adding value to our resources through upgrading and refining makes sense for the province and for the country” .  The AFL had commissioned a report in 2014, In-Province Upgrading Economics of a Greenfield Oil Sands Refinery  , which examined  the potential economics of in-province upgrading of oil sands produced within Alberta.

Proposals for Alberta: Job creation and a healthier environment

A new report from the Pembina Institute, in cooperation with Blue Green Canada and the Alberta Federation of Labour, discusses the employment potential for renewables in Alberta – and concludes that investing in renewable sources of electricity and energy efficiency would generate more jobs than would be lost through the retirement of coal power. Further jobs still could be created by additional investment in community energy, and further jobs again by investing in long-term infrastructure and electricity grids. Job Growth in Clean Energy – Employment in Alberta’s emerging renewables and energy efficiency sectors   provides detailed statistics and  includes a major section on methodology; Pembina’s job estimates are higher than those of the Alberta government, partly because Pembina’s modelling includes solar energy while the government’s estimates are understood to be based on extrapolating from Alberta’s historic experience with wind. The report makes policy recommendations relevant to the Climate Leadership Plan and the current Energy Diversification Advisory Committee and encourages a speed-up of the phase-out of coal-fired electricity.  (See also a related Pembina report, Canada and Coal at COP22: Tracking the global momentum to end coal-fired power –and why Canada should lead the way ).

A worker-generated  proposal for job creation and GHG reduction is described by Andrew Nikoforuk in “A Bold Clean-Up Plan for Alberta’s Giant Oil Industry Pollution Liabilities” in   The Tyee (Nov. 4)    . The author summarizes the RAFT plan proposed by two workers from Grande Prairie, Alberta.  Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today (RAFT)   is “a plan for the unionized abandonment, decommissioning,and reclamation of Alberta’s aging and expired fossil fuel infrastructure over the next 50 years…” The Plan begins with a proposal for an expert analysis of the state of liabilities from inactive oil and gas wells and abandoned pipelines – including analysis of the health and environmental effects, and the existing mechanisms to address the problem.