Skills and training for Clean jobs in the U.S. : Focus on infrastructure and auto manufacturing

A January 25th blog by the Brookings Institution is a recent addition to a series of publications about  the workforce implications of the transition to a clean economy. “The Green New Deal promises jobs, but workers need to be ready to fill them”   (Jan. 25) broadly discusses the range of occupations which will be affected by the transition to a clean economy, and promises forthcoming research which “will delve deeper” into the workforce issues – going beyond simply job estimates and forecasts to look at skills and training requirements and barriers, as well as working conditions.

Brookings AV workforce infographicSpecific to the transformation of the auto manufacturing industry, Brookings has published “What GM’s layoffs reveal about the digitalization of the auto industry”   (Dec. 13 2018) and in February 2019,  “Equipping today’s AV workforce with skills to succeed tomorrow” , which defines the “digital mobility workforce” to include truck drivers, automotive service technicians and mechanics, and many other jobs beyond the engineers we normally associate with autonomous vehicle production.  The article cites the Michigan Alliance for Greater Mobility Advancement (MAGMA),  a component of the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN), which  exists to identify the skill needs, and train for, “Michigan’s rapidly changing automotive industry as it moves towards CAV, cybersecurity, embedded software systems, and other emerging technologies.”

Earlier Brookings reports focus on infrastructure jobs,  including  Infrastructure skills: Knowledge, tools, and training to increase Opportunity (May 2016), and  Renewing the water workforce: Improving water infrastructure and creating a pipeline to opportunity   (June 2018) .  Opportunity Industries: Exploring the industries that concentrate good and promising jobs in metropolitan America  (Dec. 2018) also provides an important look at the potential to improve workforce development policies, although it focuses on “good jobs” and “ promising jobs”,  rather than green jobs,

Can greener strategies like a Lucas Plan work for GM Oshawa?

gm oshawaReaction to the November 2018 announcement by GM that  it was closing five production plants in North America has been ongoing – as the WCR last reported in December in “GM Oshawa closing – A sign of the disruption to auto manufacturing”.  Unifor, the union representing most of the affected auto workers, has organized a vigorous  Save Oshawa GM campaign , involving demonstrations and rallies; a plant walkout on January 8;  a boycott of GM products, including a boycott of GM cars made in Mexico    (launched on January 24); and a television ad campaign which will include air time on the Super Bowl broadcast.  Unifor also  commissioned an independent economic impact study which found that the closure of GM would  result in an immediate decline of $5 billion in Ontario’s GDP and a subsequent loss of $4 billion per year to 2030.  Both federal and provincial revenues would shrink, and  job losses are projected to reach 14,000 in Ontario and a further 10,000 elsewhere across Canada by 2025.  Unifor President Jerry Diaz has met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, but Premier Ford’s January 14 press release , “Ontario Advocates for Auto Sector Jobs and Investment”, is silent on the GM closure. Federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Premier Ford both met in separate meetings with GM executives during the Detroit Auto Show in January, but did not soften the company’s position .

What role can greener strategies play? :  High time for a green jobs strategy in Ontario” in the National Observer (Dec.24) states: “Ontario is correct in supporting the transition of Oshawa plant employees with unemployment and retraining measures, accelerating the return to work of displaced workers. A more strategic approach by Ontario would have been an early response to GM’s prior suggestion that its Oshawa production was guaranteed only until 2020, for example, by creating strategic retraining opportunities in alignment with emerging industries.”

Several newspaper columnists have taken up the idea of re-tooling the Oshawa plant- beginning with David Olive’s immediate reaction to the announcement  in the Toronto Star in November, “It’s time for a truly Canadian automaker”;  Linda McQuaig  in the Toronto Star with  “Trudeau should consider buying GM and making electric cars”; and most notably, Jennifer Wells in the Toronto Star on January 15, “For the GM Oshawa plant, hope is not a strategy” .

Wells has based her brief article on a much more thorough piece by Sam Gindin “GM Oshawa: Making Hope Possible , which appeared in the Socialist Project newsletter, The Bullet, on December 13.  Gindin is a veteran of the labour movement and Ontario’s auto industry, having served as the CAW’s Research Director from 1974 to 2000. He argues that the current reactions are a dead end, and  “larger, more radical aspirations [are]the only practical way out.” He proposes a “Plan B”, under which “the facility and its equipment should be placed under public ownership with no further compensation – the plant and its equipment have already been paid for by the sweat of workers and the $3-billion in unpaid subsidies from taxpayers.” Workers could stage “periodic industrial actions”, including “days of action” and possibly occupation of the plant, to prevent GM from removing its equipment.  And what to do with the plant in the future?  Gindin proposes a New Lucas Plan , following the model of the famous industrial conversion project in the 1970’s, when U.K. labour unions met management’s plans to restructure and cut jobs at Lucas Aerospace with worker-generated proposals to re-tool and produce socially-useful products, using their existing skills.  Among the unions’ proposed products – in the 1970’s !! – were heat pumps, solar cell technology, wind turbines and fuel cell technology.  Gindin’s 2019  list of socially-useful products includes the energy-related products that our current climate change crisis requires.

In the U.S.,  some of these same ideas appear under the “Green New Deal” label. The Detroit Green New Deal is a coalition of labor, environmental, and community groups protesting the GM  plant closures; participants include the Democratic Socialists of America, two groups from Unifor Local 222 (the Oshawa local), Sunrise Michigan, Good Jobs Now, and many others.   Their “rallying cry” is “Make Detroit the Engine of Green New Deal”, and their Official Statement   calls for  GM to honour its labour contracts and its legal and moral commitments by keeping all the plants open, creating more union jobs, and contributing to the building of a green economy.  If GM does not agree to keep the plants open, Detroit Green New Deal demands that the plants be seized and put to public use (similar to Gindin’s “socially- useful products”).

Looking beyond the GM workers and their immediate predicament, the Detroit Green New Deal coalition demands “a Green New Deal that takes us on a path to rapid decarbonization of the economy, implements a federal union jobs guarantee, and ensures a just transition for workers, people of color, the poor, and other marginalized groups.”  These demands are more focussed , but reflect the social justice principles behind Sam Gindin’s closing argument: “…thinking outside the box, engaging in larger struggles and actively involving our members in the discussions and strategizing over what to do and how to do it, carries the promise – or at least the potential – to revive our movement. There is no other way to overcome the demoralization of so many of our members, move to set aside the destructive divisions between unions that are such a barrier, and play the kind of social role that can excite a new generation of leaders and activists.”

Bringing these arguments home to the issue of climate change and work, and the tensions of the green economy,  is the 2010 article, “Can trade unions become environmental innovators?: Learning from the Lucas Aerospace workers” . Authors Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, and Dave Elliott  concluded with: “We believe that drawing on the Lucas experience – trusting in and building on workers’ skills and desire to produce something useful for themselves and the environment, developing strategies with workers (technicians, and academics), instead of for them – would create a greater chance for the realisation of socially and environmentally just policies.”

Business looks at climate change: Davos publications include auto manufacturing, electronic waste

The overall theme of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos Switzerland in 2019 was the 4th Industrial Revolution. Climate change issues were top of mind in discussions, as the annual  Global Risks Report for 2019  had ranked the top global risks to the world as  extreme weather and climate-change policy failures.  Discussions, speeches, blogs and reports are compiled on the themes of The Future of the Environment and Natural Resource Security and Climate Change   .  Highlights include : “6 things we learned about the Environment at Davos” , an overview which highlights Japan’s pledge to  use its G20 Presidency to reduce plastic ocean pollution; the launch of a new organization called Voice for the Planet  to showcase the youth climate activist movement: and  a pledge by 10 global companies have to take back the electronic waste from their products.  Also of interest, the speech by Greta Thunberg, who is at the centre of the new youth climate activism – “Our House is on Fire” ; and “Why income inequality is bad for the climate”,  a blog by the President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.

WEF Reports of interest: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology Innovations, which offers technology as a means to make the current industrial food system safer (and possibly more sustainable).   Shaping the Sustainability of Production Systems: Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for competitiveness and sustainable growth  discusses the coming world of manufacturing, focussing on the electronics and automotive industries of  Andhra Pradesh, India and the automotive industry in Michigan U.S.A., including a discussion of Cobotics 2.0 (collaborative robots) , Metal 3D printing, and “augmented workforce”.

new circular vision for electronics - 2019 reportThe circular economy was also discussed, with a spotlight on electronic waste, which is estimated at 50 million tonnes of produced each year currently.   A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot  was released by the E-waste Coalition, which includes  the International Telecommunication Union (a UN organization), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others.  The report, summarized here,  is an overview of  e-waste production and recycling, and includes a brief discussion of labour conditions, calling for upgrading and formalization of the recycling industry as a “major opportunity”. It states:  “the total number of people working informally in the global e-waste sector is unknown. However, as an indication, according to the ILO in Nigeria up 100,000 people are thought to be working in the informal e-waste sector, while in China that number is thought to be 690,000.” As for the dangers… “using basic recycling techniques to burn the plastic from electronic goods leaving the valuable metals (melting down lead in open pots, or dissolving circuit boards in acid) lead to adult and child workers, as well as their families, exposed to many toxic substances. In many countries, women and children make up to 30% of the workforce in informal, crude e-waste processing and are therefore particularly vulnerable.”  According to the report, the International Labour Organization is scheduled to release a new report in March 2019, to be titled  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste.

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.”