Green Jobs Oshawa still fighting for GM plant conversion; EV investment goes to Detroit-Hamtramck plant

green jobs oshawa logoAn article by former CAW Research Director Sam Gindin appeared in The Socialist Project newsletter The Bullet on Feb. 3.  “Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa” describes the ongoing work of Green Jobs Oshawa to fight back against the closure of the GM Oshawa plant with a proposal to convert the plant to  electric vehicle manufacture. Green Jobs Oshawa commissioned an economic study in 2019, The Triple Bottom Line Feasibility Study  which estimated that the plant conversion could create 13,000 jobs with modest government investment and a worker ownership model. Gindin’s new article seeks to explain why the Green Jobs Oshawa campaign hasn’t succeeded yet, and suggests new thinking and new roles for workers, Unifor at the local and national level, the Candian Labour Congress, and the government. (A related, good-news article, “The man of wind, water and sun” in Corporate Knights  (Jan. 16) profiles Toronto lawyer Brian Iler and describes his efforts, along with the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation  to retool GM Oshawa. Iler is described as “the creative legal mind behind a host of cutting-edge renewable energy projects, social ventures and co-ops that have challenged received wisdom.” )

General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck AssemblyIn the meantime, on January 27, General Motors announced “Detroit-Hamtramck to be GM’s First Assembly Plant 100 Percent Devoted to Electric Vehicles” , promising creation of 2,200 jobs.  Production of an all-electric pick-up truck will start as soon as late 2021, to be followed by an all-electric Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle, and an electric Hummer.  Like Oshawa GM, the Detroit Hamtramck plant had been slated for closure, but the corporate press release states that GM will invest $2.2 billion in the U.S. plant and an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects. Encouraged by favourable tax treatment by the state, GM has committed more than $2.5 billion toward electric vehicle manufacturing in Michigan since Fall 2018 –  recent news of GM’s corporate push to electric vehicles appears in The Detroit Free Press in  “GM bids to buy land for a new battery factory in Lordstown” (Jan. 15) ; “GM commits to $2.2 billion investment and 2,200 jobs at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ” (Jan. 27) and in the New York Times, “G.M. Making Detroit Plant a Hub of Electric and A.V. Efforts” (Jan. 27).

Canadians are trying to find a silver lining, as reported by the Windsor Star newspaper in  “GM’s first all-electric vehicle plant in Detroit will have Canadian spillover benefits” . The article quotes the president of Canada’s Automobile Parts Manufacturing Association: “if GM meets the volume expectations of the vehicles in the Hamtramck re-launch, Southwestern Ontario suppliers may pull in up to 30 per cent of the content opportunities that will arise.”

GM Oshawa investment will save 300 jobs; Toyota announces new production in Cambridge

GM May 2019On May 8, General Motors Canada and Unifor held a joint press conference and  issued a statement  announcing that GM will invest $170 million to save approximately 300 of the 2,600 union jobs at the Oshawa Ontario manufacturing facility, slated for closure by the end of 2019 as part of  the North American restructuring announced in November 2018.

After a vigorous and high profile union campaign against the closure, an “Oshawa Transformation Agreement” has been reached, including:

  • A $170 million investment by GM to convert the plant from vehicle assembly to stamping, related sub-assembly, and “other miscellaneous activities for GM and other auto industry customers.”
  • Part of the Oshawa Plant property will be converted into a test track for autonomous and advanced technology vehicles, to  support GM Canada’s existing  Canadian Technical Centre , in particular its Oshawa and Markham campuses where the company  develops software and hardware for Autonomous Vehicle Systems, Embedded Controls, Active Safety Systems and Infotainment.
  • The company will also donate the three-acre Fenelon Park and the 87-acre McLaughlin Bay wildlife preserve to the City of Oshawa “for the permanent benefit of all its citizens.”

But what about the workers?

A separate Jobs Transition Backgrounder states:

  • GM Canada will offer special relocations to Oshawa employees for jobs at the St. Catharines propulsion plant or the Woodstock Distribution Centre;
  • GM will offer enhanced retirement packages to retirement-eligible Oshawa Assembly employees “including vouchers toward the purchase of new GM vehicles, a benefit that will support both retiring employees and GM dealerships in Durham Region and surrounding areas.”
  • In June 2019, GM Canada, Unifor and the Ontario government will open a Jobs Action Centre in Oshawa, offering  personalized transition counselling, a skills / jobs matching database and “other supports.” Durham College, the local community college,  will support the Job Action Centre with a dedicated jobs portal and several job fairs planned for 2019.
  • Durham College, Centennial College, and Trent University Durham will offer training tailored to regional and GTA-based partner employers.
  • “GM Canada will offer training support for qualified Oshawa Assembly hourly employees.” (no further details stated in the public release).

Unifor Local 222 , which represents the workers at the Oshawa plant, have called a meeting on May 9 to inform the membership about the resolution of their grievance against the company, which sought to increase incentives and severance packages.

In better news for Ontario’s auto industry:   Starting in 2022, Toyota will begin to produce the luxury  Lexus NX at its Cambridge plant, in both gasoline and hybrid versions . ( Cambridge currently produces of the mid-size luxury Lexus RX and RX hybrid). According to a report in the  Hamilton Spectator : “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Ontario Premier Christine Elliott, and a host of local mayors and dignitaries were at the Fountain Street facility Monday afternoon to announce the plant had secured the right to make the company’s Lexus NX gas and hybrid compact SUVs starting in 2022. The news came almost a year after the federal government partnered with the province — at the time led by Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals — to each invest $110 million in the company as part of an overall investment of $1.4 billion by Toyota.”

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.”