Canadian-made Pacifica van priced out of Electric Vehicle incentives in Budget 2019-Update: layoffs announced at Windsor van plant

Hybrid Pacifica 2019 modelUpdated March 29 re associated layoffs at Windsor plant

Canada’s federal Budget 2019 delivered on March 19, included a number of policies  aimed at speeding  up EV adoption: a 2040 deadline to phase out new internal combustion vehicle sales, $130 million over the next five years  to build electric vehicle charging stations,  and consumer rebates for purchases of electric and hybrid vehicles ($5000 for purchases under $45K).  On March 22, CTV Windsor reported on a protest rally by Unifor Local 444  and local  NDP politicans, who are  infuriated that the EV consumer incentives program carries a price limit set at $45K  – which excludes the Canadian-built Pacifica Hybrid, priced at $54,000.  The  CBC also reported  “Federal rebate on electric cars will push consumers to buy American, NDP says” .

Brian Masse, NDP Member of Parliament for Windsor-West is promoting a petition demanding to have all Canadian-built hybrids, including the Pacifica Hybrid, added to the list of incentive-eligible vehicles.

Update:  On March 28, the Windsor Star reported  “FCA Canada to stop third shift at Windsor Assembly Plant, cutting 1,500 jobs”.  The article quotes a company email which states: “In order to better align production with global demand at its Windsor Assembly Plant, FCA notified Unifor today that it intends to return the plant to a traditional two-shift operation, beginning Sept. 30, 2019….Retirement packages will be offered to eligible employees. The Company will make every effort to place indefinitely laid off hourly employees in open full-time positions as they become available based on seniority.”  The plant will also be on shutdown for the weeks of April 8 and 15.  Although Premier Ford is quoted as saying that the government will “fight tooth and nail” for the workers, there is no mention of restoring the electric vehicle purchase incentives which the Ford government discontinued in Summer 2018.

In further critiques of the electric vehicle incentive package:  Almost immediately, critics pointed out  that there were no sales mandates for auto manufacturers, despite previous findings that car dealers were failing to meet a high consumer  demand- for example, in Batteries Not Included (2018).

Stalled: why North American lags as China and Europe lead the way on electric vehiclesis an Opinion piece by Will Dubitsky in the National Observer (March 20), which calls the EV purchase incentives “a halfway measure offering less than the consumer rebate programs elsewhere,” and judging the $130 million over five years  for charging and refuelling stations “mediocre” compared to equivalent commitments in California and the EU.

Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood calls the incentives “modest” in his overall analysis of Budget 2019, “Budget fiddles while climate crisis burns” (March 20).

U.S. energy employment report shows job growth in oil and gas, energy efficiency; decline in solar jobs

US energy jobs report 2019The U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2019 edition  (USEER) was released by the National Association of State Energy Officials and the think tank Energy Futures Initiative on March 6 , providing  detailed statistics about the energy workforce and the industrial sectors in which they work.  The 2019 USEER reports on the “Traditional Energy Sector” (composed of fuels; electric power generation; and electric power transmission, distribution and storage) as well as the energy efficiency sector. Those four sectors combined to employ approximately 6.7 million Americans, or 4.6 percent of the  workforce, with an employment growth rate of almost 7 percent in 2018, outpacing the economy as a whole.  The report also includes statistics on the motor vehicle and parts industry, (excluding automobile dealerships and retailers) – which grew at a rate of 3%, employing over 2.53 million workers. Of these, almost 254,000 employees worked with alternative fuels vehicles, including natural gas, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, all-electric, and fuel cell/hydrogen vehicles, an increase of nearly 34,000 jobs.

Noteworthy trends:  the number of jobs in solar decreased by 4.2% in 2018 (the latest Solar Foundation Census reported a decrease of  3.2% for 2017- 2018);  Oil and natural gas employers added the most new jobs in the fuel sector, nearly 51,000, most of which were in  mining and extraction; the energy efficiency sector  produced the most new jobs of any energy sector—over 76,000—with 2,324,866 jobs in total, and an anticipated growth rate of approximately 8%.

This is the second edition of the USEER Report to be published by the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative, and as before, it uses same the survey instrument and underlying methodology as was used when the U.S. Department of Energy was responsible, so that data is compatible for year-over-year comparisons. The survey was administered to over 30,000 employers across 53 different energy technologies in late 2018.  Data shows:  Employment numbers and trends; Employer hiring expectations for the next 12 months; Hiring difficulty by technology and industrial classification; High demand jobs and skills gaps; Workforce demographics by race, ethnicity, gender, and veteran’s status; highly detailed geographic location by state, county, congressional and legislative districts. A separate report on energy wage data is scheduled for release later in 2019.  Reports are available in several formats:   a  Full Report, Executive Summary, and reports by State, as well as individual sections for Fuels; Electric Power Generation Transmission, Distribution, and Storage; Energy Efficiency; and Motor Vehicles & Component Parts.

Reports on the future of Ontario’s auto industry: one by experts, one by the Ontario government

future of auto industryIn The Future of Canada’s Auto Industry , released on February 26, co-authors Charlotte Yates and John Holmes assess  the sector’s current state – focusing on trade agreements and technological innovation –  and recommend a suite of policies to boost competitiveness and avoid plant closures, especially timely in the aftermath of the “shocking” closure announcement of GM Oshawa.  Although concentrated in Ontario, the industry is important nationally: “The automotive industry contributes significantly to Canada’s economic prosperity through investment, employment and technological innovation. Currently, it is Canada’s second largest manufacturing industry, adding $18.28 billion a year to GDP, $86.58 billion a year to Canadian exports (17% of total merchandise exports), and employing over 126,000 people directly and half a million people indirectly.”

The authors acknowledge the importance of the future trend to electric and autonomous vehicles, and propose a green industrial policy with targeted supports for companies that commit to building green vehicles sustainably. They point out current  shortages of skilled workers and the aging workforce in the industry, and call for   a workforce development plan that will invest in engineering, technical and data analytic skills, including trades and apprenticeships and income supports for skills retraining towards a just transition for workers.  They acknowledge the challenges of global competitiveness and the need for research and development, and call for financial incentives, including tax credits and grants, and better access to capital for small- and medium-sized Canadian technology companies, as well as more focused R & D investments. In general, they call for deep collaboration between the federal and Ontario government, rising above bureaucratic and jurisdictional interests.  Flagged as the most important condition for future success for the industry:  “government policy needs to prioritize the North American automotive platform centered on the Great Lakes. Canada–U.S. auto production and trade could be further integrated to create even greater competitive advantages of efficiency associated with a larger regional production footprint. Canada continues to need preferential tariff access to the American market for finished goods for this model to succeed.”

The Future of Canada’s Auto Industry was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  A summary article which appeared in the Toronto Star on February 26,   “Electric, driverless vehicles key to survival of Canada’s auto industry ” gives short shrift to the trade relationships and the complex global dynamics of the auto industry, which figure more prominently in the actual report.  The authors, John Holmes and Charlotte Yates, are both members of Canada’s Automotive Policy Research Centre (APRC), with long and deep knowledge of Canada’s  auto industry.

autostrategy_2019Ontario government discussion paper recommends less red tape and “pro-jobs labour reforms”: 

In a second report, the same issues are discussed but with much different emphasis and level of analysis.  The Ontario government’s  discussion paper, Driving Prosperity: the Future of Ontario’s Automotive Sector  was released in February under the “Open for Business” mandate.  The government describes the paper as:  “… a 10-year vision for how industry, the research and education sector, and all three levels of government, can work together to strengthen the auto sector’s competitiveness and bring new jobs to the province.”  In the introduction, the government states “We are driving prosperity in the industry and creating a pro-jobs environment by cutting red tape, eliminating the cap-and-trade carbon tax, allowing businesses to write off job-creating capital investments faster, and
embracing pro-jobs labour reforms.”

Although the government report acknowledges technological disruption and trade issues as challenges, there is no direct mention of the GM Oshawa plant closing – and in fact, most of the statistics provided are from 2017.   The issue of retraining and skills upgrading is raised in the general context of changing technologies, stating: “ We also want to minimize the disruption caused to workers and their families by technology and production mandate changes. We need to find new ways to respond to complex challenges. We need to establish new relationships with government partners in labour and academia to help Ontarians find faster and smarter training solutions.”

 

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.”