Future job growth in the U.S. auto industry depends on supportive industrial and labour policies

As the inevitable transformation of the U.S. auto industry unfolds, supportive industrial and labour policy can help the industry reclaim its role as a source of well-paying, stable jobs, according to a report released on September 22 by the Economic Policy Institute.  “The stakes for workers in how policymakers manage the coming shift to all-electric vehicles” was written in collaboration with the BlueGreen Alliance, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, and The Greenlining Institute.   

Authors Jim Barrett and Josh Bivens report on the likely employment and job-quality implications of a large-scale shift to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) under various scenarios. Their key findings: employment in the U.S. auto sector could rise by over 150,000 jobs in 2030 under two conditions: 1. Battery electric vehicles rise to 50% of domestic sales of autos in 2030 and 2. U.S. production of electric vehicle powertrain components increases. Supportive policies are seen to make the difference between job losses and job gains. 

The report further states: “For the auto sector to continue providing good jobs for U.S. workers, strong labor standards—including affirmative efforts to encourage unionization—will be needed. … The jobs embedded in the U.S. automobile supply chain once provided a key foundation for middle-class growth and prosperity. A cascade of poor policy decisions has eroded employment and job quality in this sector and this has helped to degrade labor standards across U.S. manufacturing and throughout the overall economy …. The industry transformation coming due to the widespread adoption of BEVs provides an opportunity to reverse these trends. The transformations necessary to ensure that this shift to BEVs supports U.S. employment and job quality—investment in advanced technology production and strengthening supply chains—will redound widely throughout manufacturing and aid growth in other sectors as well.”  

The report is summarized in “What Will It Take for Electric Vehicles to Create Jobs, Not Cut Them?” (New York Times , Sept. 22) .

A vision and action plan to make Canada’s heavy industries our low-carbon “Next Frontier”

Clean Energy Canada’s new report, The Next Frontier, sees Canada’s heavy industries—including steel, mining, cement, and wood—as the “Next Frontier” – already employing more Canadians than the oil and gas industry (300,000 in heavy industry compared to 237,000 in oil and gas), and poised to increase exports to the rest of the world. The report contends that Canadian heavy industries have a competitive advantage over their global peers, largely because our electricity sector is now 83% emissions-free. And according to the introduction, the time is now: “The production of certain metals and minerals could increase by up to nearly 500% over the next three decades to meet growing demand for clean technologies, according to the World Bank Group. Global steel demand, meanwhile, is projected to increase by up to 55%; Canadian steel and aluminum are among the world’s cleanest and could be even cleaner. Mining companies such as Vancouver based Teck are also global leaders in copper production, while Canada is the world’s fifth-largest nickel producer—both key metals for electrifying transportation. And Albertan companies like E3 Metals and Summit Nanotech are finding ways to recover lithium from oilsands wastewater.”

The Next Frontier , released on March 24, calls for an action plan to allow Canada to capitalize on the convergence of global market trends and climate imperatives.  The report Canadian strengths and provides more examples of existing companies. It concludes with an action plan to move towards this lower-carbon economy, including recommendations: to expand domestic markets through clean procurement policies for government infrastructure materials; to identify strategic directions such as “establishing a self-sufficient battery and critical minerals supply chain to build and grow domestic battery and clean technology manufacturing”;  investment and research and development in well-positioned industries; and establishing standards which will support a “Clean Canada” brand to the world.  

And regarding our largest and most important trading partner, the U.S., the bottom line message is: “If we want Biden’s “Buy American” approach to include an asterisk beside Canada, we must adapt to what this new administration wants more of (clean energy and low-carbon goods) and what it wants less of (fossil fuels and emissions-intensive products).”