Unifor calls for federal leadership in Just Transition and a role for collectively-bargained protections

unifor logoMore than sixty members of Unifor met federal Members of Parliament in Ottawa on May 24, to convey the union’s positions on four major issues: pharmacare, child care, public control of airports, and Just Transition.  The press release is here ; the four page Just Transition backgrounder is here . In it, the union expresses its broad support of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and carbon pricing, calls for federal policy leadership to ensure that workers do not bear the brunt of climate change-induced industrial restructuring, and offers specific recommendations.

Unifor’s Recommendations are noteworthy in that they explicitly call for a role for collective bargaining (or worker representation in non-unionized workplaces).  From the text:  “Unifor sees two potential avenues to finance Just Transition. The first means is through the new federal carbon tax, which need not be entirely revenue neutral. A portion of the proceeds could be used to create a ‘Green Economy Bank’ or some such fiscal mechanism. The second option is to bolster the Low Carbon Economy Fund, which is already explicitly committed to job creation, but should be geared towards good, green job creation, and widen its mission.” …..  Unifor calls for “Labour market impact assessments to monitor the emergent effects of climate related policy; Community benefit agreements, to support regions that are more heavily dependent on carbon-intensive economic activities; The promotion of green economy retraining and skills upgrading, through appropriate funding for postsecondary institutions. This includes mandatory apprenticeship ratio’s linked to college training programs and skills trades certification processes; Preferential hiring for carbon-displaced workers, including relocation assistance; Income support, employment insurance flexibility and pension bridging for workers in carbon-intensive economic regions and industries; Tax credits, accelerated depreciation, grants and/or investment support for firms and industries that bear an extraordinary burden of change; In unionized workplaces, there needs to be a role carved out for the bargaining agent in negotiating and facilitating workplace transition. In non-unionized workplaces we need to envisage a role for workers to provide input on adjustment processes and procedures.”

Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union, with more than 315,000 members across the country in climate-vulnerable sectors such as energy, mining, fishing, as well as automobile and auto parts manufacturing.   Some of its existing collective agreements, compiled in the ACW database, have long-established workplace environment committees.

Alternative Budget proposals for a Just Transition and a low carbon economy

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its 23rd Alternative Budget (AFB) on February 22 in Ottawa, in advance of the federal government’s February 26 Budget release. According to the summary at Behind the Numbers “Our budget puts forward bold progressive policy ideas rooted in a rigorous economic and fiscal framework. Our approach considers not just standard budget items but delivers a gender-based analysis, examines income distribution effects, and projects the impacts on poverty rates.” High priority areas for the CCPA include universal child care, pharmacare, gender equity, free tuition, and a green, low carbon economy.

The report argues that the current, relatively low unemployment levels make this an opportune time to begin  “in earnest, the just transition to a green jobs future.” In a section called  “Industrial Strategy and Just Transition” the report  calls for a National Decarbonization Strategy to be developed through broad consultation, and to act as a co-ordinating body for other AFB proposals – notably an enhanced Low Carbon Economy Fund to support cities and infrastructure investments, and a trade promotion strategy.  A new $500-million Just Transition Transfer (JTT) is proposed,  to flow federal funds to provinces –  for workers and communities  affected through actions under the  National Decarbonization Strategy or for existing provincial just transition programs, such as Alberta’s Coal Workforce Transition Fund.  Finally, the AFB calls for  a new $1Billion Strategic Training Fund to increase training capacity at colleges and trade schools  – with the funds contingent on improved representation of  women, racialized Canadians, immigrants, First Nations and other groups that have been historically excluded from the skilled trades.

Regarding the environment, some of the  top-level goals are : Remove all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, development and transportation; enforce a stringent national carbon pricing standard  (rising to $50 per tonne by 2020); contribute Canada’s fair share of global climate financing; improve energy efficiency for Canadian homes, with $600 million annually to offset the costs of  retrofitting and construction; create a network of protected areas covering 17% of Canada’s land and freshwater and 10% of its oceans; strengthen environmental protection laws and make advances toward sustainable fisheries, and invest $50 million annually for a stronger environmental data and science system at Statistics Canada.

Read the full Alternative Federal Budget 2018  in English  or in French.

Oil sands companies called on to “keep it in the ground” – but Suncor opens new mine near Fort McMurray, deploys driverless trucks

Parkland report big oil coverThe majority of Alberta oil sands production is owned by the five companies: Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, and Husky Energy.  What the Paris Agreement Means for Alberta’s Oil Sands Majors, released on January 31 by the Parkland Institute, evaluates what the 2°C  warming limit in the  Paris Agreement means for those “Big Five” –  by assessing their  emissions-reduction disclosures and targets, climate change-related policies, and actions, in light of their “carbon liabilities.” The carbon liabilities are calculated using  three levels for the Social Cost of Carbon, ranging from $50, $100, and $200 per tonne. Even under the most conservative scenario, the carbon liabilities of each corporation are more than their total value, and the combined carbon liabilities of the Big Five ($320 billion) are higher than Alberta’s GDP of $309 billion. Conclusion: “the changes required to remain within the Paris Agreement’s 2°C limit signals a need for concrete, long-term “wind-down” plans to address the challenges and changes resulting from global warming, including the fact that a significant portion of known fossil fuel reserves must remain underground.” What the Paris Agreement Means for Alberta’s Oil Sands Majors was written by Ian Hussey and David Janzen, and published by the Parkland Institute as part of the SSHRC-funded Corporate Mapping Project.  A National Observer article reviewed the report and published responses from the Big Five companies on January 31.

autonomous electric mining truckRather than keeping it in the ground, Suncor Energy announced on January 29 that it is continuing to ramp up production at its Fort Hill oilsands mine, about 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.  The next day, Suncor also announced  the beginning of a 6-year phase-in of approximately 150 autonomous electric trucks at numerous locations. The company said it will “continue to work with the union on strategies to minimize workforce impacts,” and that “current plans show that the earliest the company would see a decrease in heavy equipment operator positions at Base Plant operations is 2019.”   Reaction from the local union is here in a notice on the website of Unifor 707A;  Unifor National Office response is here:  “Driverless trucks aren’t the solution for Suncor” .  The National Observer published an interview with a Suncor spokesperson on January 31.  According to”Suncor Energy says driverless trucks will eliminate a net 400 jobs in the oilsands” , Suncor is the first oil sands company to use driverless trucks, and “Suncor’s plan to test the autonomous truck systems was initially criticized by the Unifor union local because of job losses. But Little says Suncor is working with the union to minimize job impacts by retraining workers whose jobs will disappear. The company has been preparing for the switch by hiring its truck drivers, including those at its just−opened Fort Hills mine, on a temporary basis.”

The good news is that  “the era of oil sands mega-projects will likely end with Suncor Energy’s 190,000 barrel-per-day Fort Hills mining project, which started producing this month”, according to an article by Reuters.  The bad news is in the title of that article:  “Why Canada is the next frontier for shale oil” (Jan. 29) . The article extols the strengths of Alberta’s mining industry, and quotes a spokesman for Chevron Corporation who calls the Duvernay and Montney formations in Canada “one of the most promising shale opportunities in North America.”  For a quick summary, read   “Montney, Duvernay Oil and Gas Fields Seize the Momentum from Athabasca Tar Sands/Oil Sands” ( Jan. 31) in the Energy Mix.

Also,  consider the work of Ryan Schultz of the Alberta Geological Survey.  Most recently, he is the lead author of  “Hydraulic fracturing volume is associated with induced earthquake productivity in the Duvernay play”, which  appeared in the journal  Science on January 18 , and which is summarized in the  Calgary Herald  on January 18.  It discusses the complexities of how fracking has caused earthquakes in the area.

Canada needs a mix of reactive and proactive Just Transition policies across the country

Hadrian Decarbonization coverMaking Decarbonization Work for Workers: Policies for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy”  was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on January 25th.  In light of  the federal government’s pledge to launch a Task Force on Just Transition in 2018, this report makes a unique contribution by using census data to identify the regions in each province with the greatest reliance on fossil fuel jobs. While fossil fuel dependence is overwhelmingly concentrated in Alberta, with a few “hot spots” in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, the report identifies communities from other provinces where fossil fuel jobs represent a significant part of the local economy – for example, Bay Roberts, Newfoundland; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Saint John, New Brunswick; Sarnia, Ontario.  The report also makes the useful distinction between “reactive”  just transition policies, which are intended to minimize the harm to workers of decarbonization, and “pro-active” just transition policies, which are intended to maximize the benefits.   The author argues that, if the broad goal of a just transition is to ensure an equitable, productive outcome for all workers in the zero-carbon economy, a mix of reactive and proactive elements is necessary. Thus,  a national just transition strategy is required for fossil fuel-dependent communities, but workers in any industry facing job loss and retraining costs will also need support from enhanced social security programs.  In addition, governments must invest in workforce development programs to ensure there are enough skilled workers to fill the new jobs which will be created by the zero-carbon economy.

Making Decarbonization Work for Workers is  a co-publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program . The author is  CCPA researcher Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.

Union conference focus: fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

LNS convergence meetingLabour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.